Often criticised for its consumerist lifestyle, the UAE can be a challenging place for the environmentally conscious. But for three Dubai-based mothers, this was an opportunity. Rather than sit and complain, Mojdeh Khalili, Namita Khanna and Gwen Sproule started an environmental club at the American School of Dubai, where their children are students. "I was interested in teaching children values, the values of respect and the values of being a good global citizen," said Mrs Khalili, a working mother of two who proposed the idea of a club.
Club Gaia was set up in August 2007 with the goal of educating elementary-school children about recycling. Since then it has grown to 60 students aged seven to 18 and has four staff members who co-ordinate its activities with the school. The scope of environmental issues it covers has grown as well. This was evident at the school's Earth Day celebration yesterday, when the negative impact of plastic pollution, energy saving and climate change were all raised.
Last year the school set up a recycling station to collect paper, plastic and cans. There are now plans to install water dispensers to reduce the use of plastic bottles. The school became the first outside the US to join the Cool School Challenge, a high-profile programme that shows students how to calculate their carbon emissions as well as ways to reduce them. After assessing the energy used by two school buildings, the amount of waste generated and the impact of their travel to school, the students in Dubai have come up with small changes that could save about 50 tonnes of carbon emissions a year, Mrs Khanna said.
The club tries to raise environmental awareness in fun ways, by visiting Pacific Controls, one of the UAE's first certified green buildings, for example, and making a pile on the basketball court of the plastic bottles used in a week to show the impact of plastic waste. Meanwhile, the Emirates Environment Group observed Earth Day with presentations at three events in Abu Dhabi, organised by the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, Zayed University and the Petroleum Institute, and with tree planting at Fujairah Men's College and Al Raya and Al Saada government schools in Dubai.