Together for the environment. Potsdam and Zanzibar prepare for the hot season

Catharina Engelke, Maria-Sibylla Hesse

In a forest near Potsdam, a resourceful forester has set up a small experimental nursery with plants from the Mediterranean region, including palms. Will they thrive on the sand of Brandenburg? Some of Brandenburg’s pine monocultures burnt down in the last few dry years, others fell victim to the bark beetle due to heat stress: there is need for action.

Our school garden also needs constant soil improvement and irrigation. The sparse rainfall should flow from the large roofs of the school buildings into cisterns if we don’t want to end up with sprinklers constantly using drinking water. The houses heat up, there is a need for shading, for cooling. These are only a few of the many tasks that a school campus faces in times of climate crisis.

Climate-proofing the school and grounds

The quality of being outside must also be increased – especially in pandemic times – so that small learning groups can find niches without disturbing each other. A “green classroom” with a sheltered blackboard and a brick seating rotunda was created during the house-building main lesson in class 3; next to it, the sports teacher maintains a meadow that he uses for javelin throwing – at other times it serves as a retreat for the upper school, for which an upper school project built weatherproof outdoor furniture out of pallets.

Those who like it shadier can retreat to a tree-lined oasis in the former kindergarten grounds and chill in hammocks: also a project outcome made of recycled material.

Gradual change in mentality through Fridays for Future

Our pupils gladly go to the resurgent demonstrations. Awareness of daily, responsible action is gradually growing and sometimes radiates out into families in that the use of plastics is reduced or clothes are swapped or upcycled instead of buying new ones.

Yet our ecological footprint remains substantial, and the global North must curb its consumption. But how?

Using local help

Developing school and everyday life together with the children and young people – e.g. as part of our project lessons – takes time and ideas. For this, one can fall back on many NGOs. The “ Urbanität und Vielfalt” (Urbanity and Diversity) association, for example, brought us endangered small local wild plants that were immediately used to promote biodiversity. The city is also helpful: a visit to the interim waste disposal site always makes an impact, especially on the nose, and encourages waste reduction.

The city administration is equally cooperative. For example, their representative for “Potsdam Climate Neutral 2050” explained to us how complicated the processes are when you want to break down the transport and energy transition to the level of the individual districts.

For expert help, it is also worth taking a look at the local research landscape. For example, we benefited from lectures by the “Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research”, whose neologism “hot age” was chosen as the word of the year in 2018, and sought expertise from the “Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies” (IASS).

If you want to act across countries or continents, twin cities are a good place to start. Potsdam was already linked with Zanzibar in GDR times; in recent years this friendship has been reactivated.

School friendship between Potsdam and Zanzibar

Beyond the town twinning, we as a school have also forged a bond to Zanzibar with the Zanzibar Steiner School and have been in lively, regular exchange since 2018. The school was founded in 2012 and is located on a beautiful, large and vegetatively diverse site. The oldest school children are in class 8.

Once a year, a colleague who picked up the thread for us three years ago and taught there during her sabbatical, visits the school. There are exchanges of letters between classes and we are informed as a school community about ongoing projects and current needs.

Waste of electricity here, power failure there

In September 2019, class teacher Mussa Muhammed visited us when he was invited to Berlin as part of the Waldorf100 celebrations. He took part in the project lessons of the upper school and vividly described what it’s like to teach with an unreliable power supply where there is often no electricity for light and fans for days on end. We learned how important a system for collecting tropical downpours could be, first for the targeted irrigation of the plants grown according to Demeter principles in the school garden and later, in extension, also for processing as drinking water.

Thanks to some proceeds from our Advent bazaar, parents’ donations and the generous financial support of a Zanzibari Demeter spice farm, the construction of the rainwater treatment plant could be started in spring 2020. Now it is already in full use and as the next step we would like to enable the filter tank system for the treatment of drinking water.

Prize money invested in the future

The upper school project “Do something! Climate Change” dealt with ways to reduce plastic and paper consumption. Information about these and other ecological measures were disseminated via the weekly paper “Schulbote”. The project established the Waldorf cooperation with the Zanzibari school. For this, the young people were in 2020 awarded a 4th prize in the schools competition on development policy, as well as the Potsdam Environmental Prize in the schools category.

We handed over all the prize money to the Zanzibar Steiner School for the further development of its water management; this was supplemented by the proceeds from the WOW Day. For the future, we would like to see further forms of exchange and encounter both here and there. | |

»Urbanität und Vielfalt«: |

Abou the authors: Catharina Engelke is a class and subject teacher at the Potsdam Waldorf School; Maria-Sibylla Hesse is an upper school teacher for history and projects.