Teaching youth to plant for the planet and change the world from the heart of Europe

22 March 2018

A project run from a remote and beautiful part of the German countryside is transforming young people into climate scouts with a powerful message to share.

The Sustainability Guides and Climate Scouts project is run from the International Meeting Centre, St. Marienthal in Ostritz in the Free State of Saxony near the border with Poland.

Established in 1992, the centre conducts around 60 Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) events for more than 2,500 families, youths, adults and experts each year.

The guides and scouts project started in 1998 and welcomes groups of students for intensive courses that combine study with practical outdoor activities, and make good use of its forest experience trail and nature protection station.

Over 1,100 youth have taken part so far including 680 learning-disabled and socially disadvantaged young people who traditionally have very little access to ESD. Its geographical location means it is perfectly placed to bring together students from Germany, Poland and Czech Republic. And a new model project is currently underway which opens the door to ESD for refugees as well.

One of the most exciting aspects of the project is the Plant for the Planet scheme where children have planted around 34 hectares of forest and undertaken more than 30 small-scale energy and water conservation initiatives.

Project Manager Georg Salditt said: “Our message is really twofold: we are teaching peace and the environment. We are well placed at the very heart of Europe to bring young people together who may not normally have met and to demonstrate to them that we are all human beings and we must respect each other and the planet.”

The work with refugees who come from Syria, Afghanistan and African countries and elsewhere also has a double aim.

“We want to make sure that if they make their lives here they know how important it is to protect the environment, but also if they are able to return home or to another country that they carry those messages back with them,” said Georg.

Not only is the centre itself a model of sustainability with its own environment management system: when children leave the course they take back with them ideas on how to transform their own schools. The centre ties all theory very tightly to practice. In some schools, environmental representatives have been appointed and students introduced permanent energy saving routines for heating and ventilation and for the reduction of paper use and waste.

As part of the project young people also learn about the effects of climate change on societies in the form of soil erosion, extreme weather phenomena , rural depopulation, economies and the environment especially with regard to forest damage. They are motivated by quick feedback on successes in energy and water conservation and updates on the amount of forest planted.

Crucially children also take part in communication workshops to learn how best to share and pass on what they have learned at open school days or town halls.

For Georg one of the most satisfying aspects of his work is watching the transformation take place before his eyes.

“It might sound silly but students do actually write to me one or two years after the course and say that these five days changed their lives not only as far as the environment is concerned but as a human experience. Some had never met anyone from another country at all. And they got to plant a tree!”

And there is a new project already underway.

“We are now working to introduce a project to protect bees and insects. Everyone loves honey and honeybees so we think it will be a success,” he said.