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How to change the world

The story of how big ideas can impact communities.

It can all seem so overwhelming. 

Hideous traffic jams. Thick choking smog. Rampaging bugs and viruses. Noise. Chatter.

In a small classroom, on the edge of a teeming busy city, it sometimes feels like we are a little lovely insulated oasis - protected from trials of modern grinding life. A sanctuary where we can help each other to learn to be better people, to understand and care. It is a precious experience. But take a few steps outside of its boundaries and it is as if it does not exist - a flower on the edge of a field carelessly touched by a passing plough.

But things are not as fragile as they might seem.

Here in St Andrews, a Year 1 teacher, Helen Mullen, tirelessly devoted hours of her own time and energy over several years to generate interest and community action from the students she taught. Her passionate concern for the environment and the plants and animals that live there inspired those around her. Three years ago, she conceived of and created a student group called ECO Beasts. This group had the aim of educating students about the kinds of environmental damage that is occurring around the world and what causes it. Following the maxim “Think Globally, Act Locally” the students then would develop projects that would support the school and its community to become more responsible Global Citizens. Sometimes it would be an awareness video they made. Sometimes they ran competitions.  They gave presentations to staff and parents about ways that we can all help make things better. They lobbied the mega stores of the city with success to begin to reduce the need for single-use plastic bags, years before this idea was enshrined in law.

eco beasts

Under Helen’s leadership and with the support of St Andrews the project attracted the interests of similar school groups in the Bangkok area and then in the rest of Thailand beyond. A website was launched and events and mini-conferences created for the students to share their vision and ideas. The website and the over-arching concept was called ECO Beasts, a place for students and their teachers to share ideas and experiences on how we can live in the world sustainably. The ECO Beast website now hosts a treasure trove of sustainability teaching materials developed for schools to use worldwide. It also has information on how teachers in other parts of the world can apply the lessons of ECO Beasts to harness the vast positive energy of young people to form their own ECO Beast teams to help change happen in their communities. 

eco beasts

Sadly for us, Helen left the school last year and she is now teaching in South America carrying out similar activities. But like any idea that is truly valuable ECO Beasts has not faded away without her. It is going from strength to strength not least because it articulates the real and urgent need for global action. There are now two teachers leading the push towards having a sustainable school and community.

Last week something rather wonderful happened. In London, at a meeting of 250 schools and educational organisations from around the world, a little school on the edge of Bangkok was awarded International School of the Year 2020. St Andrews entered the competition on the basis of its work on sustainability and won that category and because of the ECO Beasts program making an impact far beyond the school boundaries, it was seen as exceptional enough to win the overall competition.

Teachers are in the transformation and empowerment business. We are good at creating safe, caring environments where learning can flourish. Helen Mullen did that too, but she also did something quite extraordinary. She was able to find a way to make change not just for the few hundred children she taught directly in St Andrews, but to impact on dozens of other schools in Thailand, thousands of students throughout the country. As the principles she taught are embraced more and more widely, we can see a way for the preservation of the whole world for now and for generations to come.  

So thank you, Helen. It was an honour to have worked with you. Your energy and inspiration are changing the world. Thank you for protecting the flower from the plough.

eco beasts