My whirlwind tour through Dubai has come to an end. The Masdar City images posted from my first visit were viewed by 30,000 people around the world, I saw sharks carelessly dumped in the back of a truck, and spent quality time with a member of Ajman’s royal family – the Green Sheikh. At times, walking through Dubai, I felt like a disconnected ant, but every negative was cancelled out by something more positive. These next images tell the most hopeful story of them all.
Trinidad Hernandez from the Al Ittihad school for boys in Abu Dhabi invited me to speak with local Emirati students who are currently learning about environmental issues.
Naturally I pounced at the opportunity since throughout my three weeks here my biggest hope was to get on the “inside.”
This, to me, seems like the best way to understand the issues within their unique cultural context.
Twelfth grade students were not required to attend school on Wednesday since they had just graduated, but several 10th grade classes met me in the physics lab, where I gave three consecutive presentations. My goal was not to rehash some of the doomsday stories that the kids hear all the time but to send these kids home with new ways of thinking.
Mostly, I wanted to them to think at all about where stuff comes from. And I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the students understood that the majority of plastics being used are petroleum-based, and agreed that throwing away such precious resources makes no sense.
We talked about how 12,000,000,000 plastic bags are used in the UAE alone, and how one bottle of plastic requires 1/4 its volume in oil. The students showed surprise when we discussed how half of the Falaj Mualla camels in the UAE choke to death on plastic waste.
Oil and camels are relevant subjects in this country, since both play an important role in the UAE’s daily and historic fabric.
We also emphasized how important it is “to think about where stuff comes from, and where it goes when we are done with it.” The kids were able to see examples of out-of-the-box thinking such as living walls, oat shoes that can be buried, and products made from recycled materials.
But the kids needed to know how to put this new perspective to constructive use. What can they do to improve the situation?
While some of the students were slow to respond, a few offered up recycling as a potential solution. And I agreed. Another boy asked,”how do I make a change if my father doesn’t want to?”
I admitted that he probably understood the answer better than I, but suggested perhaps that just “doing” can make a difference. That may have been unhelpful, so next time, I hope I will have a better answer.
Most inspiring? I was there. That a western woman (and writer, no less) was given such incredible access to young minds demonstrated not only trust, but an acknowledgement of just how serious environmental issues are being taken.
More on Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and environmental issues:
photos courtesy of Trinidad Hernandez