Defining Sustainability: Taking a Community Approach to the New Sustainability Curriculum

A few months ago, we introduced you to our new curriculum model for 2014-2017,  focused on sustainability and the ultimate creation of a Children's Learning Garden. This model will incorporate lessons learned in previous years about clean water, waste management, and nutrition. Students, teachers, and community members will expand upon knowledge gained and apply their skills to each phase of the garden-building project, drawing from their resources within themselves and the community before reaching out to obtain others. The teachers realize that becoming a more sustainable community will involve flexibility and experimentation, and they are eager to work on the modules. They have faith that the community will embrace sustainability, as the teachers themselves, the student families, and many households have already began to use their sustainability knowledge at home. The teachers and the students will work to encourage and guide community members who become confused, embarrassed, or discouraged in the face of change.

Dena Hawes, Executive Director, with students

However, before the sustainability model can truly begin, the GBA teacher team in DR Congo must create a working definition of what sustainability means to them. Dr. Jerry has been brainstorming the idea with GBA’s Program Committee. Each member of the committee offered insight into some components of sustainability, including the idea of providing for future generations, and the concepts of interconnectedness, re-using, service, and sharing.

“Maybe it's that you CAN create something from what appears at first to be nothing,” Linnea Stifler muses. Something that initially appears to be worn out or too damaged to use can be transformed to have an entirely renewed purpose; a different perspective is often needed in order to frame an issue or item in a new light.

While physical resources are often important, the Program Committee also points out that resources don’t always have to be tangible to create a beautiful end product. Dr. Jerry notes that “…you need resources like imagination, love, faith,...and from nothing, you can create something.”

Along with the Program Committee, the teachers have also been working to define sustainability. In order to facilitate an inclusive definition, each person contributes their thoughts; like patches in a quilt, their definition of sustainability is comprised of many stories and voices. The incorporation of many voices in essential in creating an atmosphere in which all people at the school feel comfortable to participate and have ownership in the final products of the model.

Mr. Pombo describes sustainability as “a strong hand with five fingers that work in unity.”  Some teachers focused on sustainability in natural matters, like examples of water and trees, while others focused on examples of lifestyles and learning. “Sustainability would look like a teacher who improves himself by acquiring new teaching methods,” Denise shared.

New teacher Chancard illustrated the sustainability of a teacher-student relationship. “Sustainability would look like a student who repeats his teacher’s sentence.” Keeping with the “quilt” style of building on the definition, Mado added “…who repeats his Teacher’s sentence with his own words.”

Other teachers agreed and added their own perspectives. Dr. Jerry concluded by saying that the example of a student-teacher relationship demonstrates sustainability because the student eventually becomes not afraid to modify his or her teachers’ thoughts and express his or her own reflections or opinions. The student is comfortable in learning, sharing knowledge, and interacting with teachers and adults. This creates a learning environment that is conducive for the growth and exchange of ideas, which in itself is sustainable, and can also help to foster new solutions for recurrent problems.

The students and teachers alike are learning. They continually encourage each other to make sustainable daily life choices and to keep working on the sustainability model, even when obstacles arise. In one recent exercise, Dr. Jerry had the teachers write letters to themselves picturing what the future will look like in 2019, five years after the start of the sustainability model. This kind of visualization provides inspiration for the teachers as to what they can help accomplish at College des Savior.

Indeed, a forward-thinking approach like this is one that lies at the core of GBA’s programs and philosophy. With an orientation towards long-term success, community assets and leaders, a willingness to share our stories and knowledge with others, and a commitment to sustainability, we are confident that not only will we begin building a garden in 2017, but we will also have built thousands of personal connections, skills, and life experiences along the way.

Please join us in this exciting next chapter of our work. Stay up-to-date with our newsletter and blog, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and consider donating your talents, time, or resources to the program. Your support makes a difference in the education of the students, the teachers, and the entire community.