Sandy Seeds to set pace for mindful ecological education in UAE

'Sourcing an education that offers children a chance to thrive on a social and emotional level is just as important as academia.' Justine Bain, founder of Sandy Seeds

Mindful education. A picture shows young girls, with Sandy Seeds, the UAE’s first mindful ecological education programme, watering plants. (Sandy Seeds)

2017/04/30 Issue: 104 Page: 20

The Arab Weekly
N.P. Krishna Kumar

Dubai - Sandy Seeds, the UAE’s first mindful ecological educa­tion programme, is a grass-roots initiative offering a universally recognised cur­riculum that focuses on food educa­tion and technology, eco awareness and mindfulness.

Sandy Seeds, founded by Justine Bain, includes community work­shops, research education and food technology programmes along with the design and implementation of gardens at schools in addition to teacher training in edible gardening and mindfulness.

Bain and her partners Jennifer Small and Kamelia Bin Zaal said they hoped the initiative will have positive effects on the younger gen­eration. The project aims to address childhood obesity, mental health is­sues and food education.

“When my first born started school, I was already aware of the global statistics and that stress and diet-related diseases were massive­ly on the rise, mental health disor­ders were reaching an all-time high in our younger generations and this made me feel very uneasy for my own child’s future, so I decided to act,” Bain said.

She began a 21-month pilot study in the Dubai English Speaking School (DESS).

“The response from the school, the parents and the children was truly outstanding,” she said. “That prompted me to take it to the next level and build a strong team that could help me reach out to other schools and the community at large.”

Small has a background in busi­ness administration and education and advises on daily operations. Bin Zaal is an award-winning Emirati garden designer committed to pro­tecting and enhancing the environ­ment.

As the Sandy Seeds team look to launch its programme in September, their curriculum would be offered to both English- and Arabic-speaking schools. They said they hoped to generate interest from all curricu­lums.

“We first advise the schools to take on our resources,” Bain said. “If the school does not yet have a gar­den or an area for cooking or practis­ing mindfulness, then we can help them with this.

“The next recommended stage is training. It is very important for the sustainability and the success of the project that faculty is armed with the expertise to carry out the initia­tive and make it a whole-school ap­proach. We also like bringing in the wider community and the parents, so everyone is speaking the same language,” Bain said.

“Bringing the produce to the table is just one aspect of the programme, albeit an exciting one for all in­volved. It does vary from school to school depending on budget, space and how prepared they are.”

Sandy Seeds has grown in align­ment with the government’s estab­lishment of wellbeing initiatives “as it works in unison with schools to ensure wellbeing is top prior­ity among all educators alike,” Bain said.

“Sourcing an education that offers all our children a chance to thrive on a social and emotional level is just as important as academia.

“Aside from creating calmer learn­ing environments for our children, mindful education encourages us to look at the positive cognitive ben­efits of greater focus, attention and improved grades for the students.”

“From a social and emotional per­spective, we see greater emotional regulation and compassion and, from an overall wellbeing view, we see a decline in obesity, anxiety, de­pression and stress. It truly is a life skill that should be offered to all,” Bain added.

Bin Zaal said: “It’s really as crea­tive as each school wants it to be. The children themselves can get in­volved and help design planters that are made out of recycled materials such as plastic bottles or old tires.

“However, we offer more than just edible gardens. As a landscape designer, I can help the children and teachers get the most out of the spaces they have available and hopefully within a budget that is feasible. It is about trying to get the children involved as much as pos­sible from the start. It’s a group ef­fort.”

About incorporating “mindful­ness” in classrooms, Small said: “Our trainer engages with faculty and addresses any concerns they may have prior, or during the train­ing process. As a result, we find the teachers reciprocate the adoption process with their own students, which supports a smooth transi­tion.”

N.P. Krishna Kumar is an Arab Weekly correspondent in Dubai.

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