Friday, November 6, 2015

Teaching Kids about Green Healthy Homes

The project team from left to right
(Shireen Khaldi, Maiss Razem, Zein Razem)
Since being awarded the Alumni Community Action Grant for the project ‘Teaching Kids about Green Healthy Homes’ in July 2015, I have been thrilled at the passionate responses from students in exhibiting genuine concern for our environment. This project represents an initiative to teach 14-year-old students about green healthy homes. By showing a model of a green home, showcasing energy saving devices in the classroom, and distributing water-saving devices, the students are engaged and learn the positive role they can play to become environmentally conscientious citizens of Jordan, which is a country that is scarce in energy and water resources.

The project, which I named ‘Bayti-Bee’ati’, which translates to English as ‘My Home is My Environment’, is run by a team of three that includes myself and Shireen Khaldi as the architects and presenters of the sessions, and Zein Razem who is a co-presenter and activity coordinator.

                     Model of a Green House showing shadows  in summertime                     

                            Team presenting at Haya Cultural Center                   
So far we have held six sessions: four at UNRWA Schools for Girls, and two at community centers. Unlike most schools in Jordan, community centers provide a meeting space for many students from various schools to widen our circle of influence, and reach out to both boys and girls. The experience thus far has been rewarding for us and the kids.
Children learning to make miniature home models

In Jordan, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) provides basic education to over 115,000 students from Palestinian refugee families at 172 UNRWA schools, with girls making up around half of UNRWA students. By networking with staff members who worked at these four schools the project was warmly received. Three sessions were held,  at UNRWA Schools of Marka district in September, and one at Zarqa district where three took place during October; the first of which at Haya Cultural Center for kids, the second at Zaha Cultural Center to Princess Rahma and the team of Greener Amman 2020, and the third one at the UNRWA School of Nazzal district. In total, 205 students attended these sessions. They were especially interested in the model (pictured below) that embodied all the environmental aspects of what represents a green home.
The Team with HRH Princess Rahma &                                                                                        
Mr. Imad Dabbas, Head of ‘Green Amman 2020’ Committee
Throughout our presentations, I noticed how the students were captivated by the view of the model in front of them—leaning from their desks to capture every detail of the model’s exterior. Many students asked incredulously: ”Did you make the model yourselves? It is really amazing!” When I assured them that we made did them from scratch, several of students announced that now they aspire to become architects! It is in these special moments that my team and I feel most proud. We are serving as models of professional and creative women for students still finding their paths.
"Several students announced they now aspire to become architects!" ~ Riman
Students discovering design features of models
When asked what a green home is, the majority of the kids answered that it is a home with a lot of plants, which shows the limits of the literal use of the word ‘green’ in their environmental vocabulary. Once the roof of the house was removed, the students were divided into groups to view the house’s interior and brainstorm about the environmental features they think are unique to the house which included furniture materials, colors, room layout and zoning.
The model proved to be a thought-provoking tool and a source of admiration by all such as Nada who reflected, “I liked the model, since it is well-made and very beautiful and I hope to make one just like it in the future.” Not only was the message of the importance of environmental architecture delivered to the children, but the joy of contemplating the design and artistry of the house also brought them a deeper understanding of architecture as a profession.
Eager students answering questions about the environment
Next, a thermal imaging camera was passed along the desks showing the areas where heat was emitted in the classroom from possible sources such as artificial lighting and windows, which added another visual conceptualization for the kids to learn of the need of thermal insulation and the use of non-heat emitting lamps.  The students were thrilled to see the environment of their classroom transformed into heat emitting objects, as they were shown how the classroom’s light bulbs and windows were bright yellow/red compared to their blue surroundings.
Maiss showing the heat detected by the thermal imaging camera
In general, the students easily understood some environmental concepts such as the value of recycling, use of energy-saving lamps, and the importance of planting (since most of these practices are taught and/or implemented in their schools). It was evident; however, that many were oblivious to the energy and water shortage problems Jordan faces today. The term ‘grey water’ was a new concept for them. One student remarked, ”Why do we need to use grey water if I can simply open the water tap and get clean water instead?” This made me realize that the water crisis in Jordan is not understood, and that it is not enough only to deliver a message that we need to save water, but also to communicate the extent of efforts and financial burden the government has undertaken to provide potable water with very limited resources.
Students from First Marka School showing water saving devices
In the end we hope and truly aspire to instigate behavioral change through the knowledge gained by these kids to positively influence their households.  After analyzing the responses from 136 evaluation forms filled by the students, 71% answered they had no prior knowledge of green homes, and 60% did not know about what an architect does; an insight that warrants further attempts at spreading awareness through this project. While the grant ends in October 2015, ‘Bayti-Bee’ati’ is only in its startup phase. In fact, organizations such as Zaha Cultural Center and Amman Ahlia University, have expressed interest in partnering with us in the future. In order for this movement to spread and to become a national campaign, not only targeting schools of Amman but other governorates as well, we will need partner organizations’ help. I am hopeful and eager to continue this impactful mission that is stirring ripples of change in my beloved Jordan.

For more information on what has been achieved so far, visit ‘Bayti-Bee’ati’ Facebook page at: Maiss Razem is a Jordanian alumna who received a Master’s degree in Architecture from Virginia Tech.

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