Soraya Ann Shahnaz is only eight but she knows how to separate her trash as well as her A-B-C.
Whenever she discards trash, she consciously puts each recyclable item into different bins in the kitchen.
“The bin on the right is for plastic and glass bottles. I throw used paper and card boxes into the other bin. Mummy and Daddy will drop off these items at recycling centres when they are full,” says the Year Two student. Her mother, radio announcer Aishah Sinclair, says there are many ways to help children foster a love for the environment. The best way is to put some fun into the lessons.
“I read stories on green habits to Soraya and her younger sister, Aina. We go for walks in the forest. Along the way, I have fun conversations with them on what they can do to conserve the environment,” says Aishah.
At home, the girls potter around their mother’s edible garden. In her small vegetable patch, Aishah plants ladies fingers, eggplants, papaya, lemon grass, and several types of limes. She also has an aquaponic system in her garden to grow herbs.
Though young, Aishah’s children are learning about seed germination and the many stages in a plant’s life. Her girls love to harvest the vegetables. Through the fun process of picking ripened vegetables, they understand the importance of nurturing plants.
“My daughters understand where food comes from. It helps build healthier eating habits at home. It helps us save money and establish our connection with food,” says Aishah, 38.
Aishah is no stranger to environmental causes. In 1990, her mother Khadijah Abdul Rahman founded Yayasan Anak Warisan Alam (Children’s Environment Heritage Foundation) to educate children on the importance of caring for of the environment. Growing up, Aishah went on many fun outings to forest reserves, mangroves and beaches. It taught her how to appreciate and love nature.
In 2012, Aishah co-founded Free Tree Society, a nursery in Bangsar that gives away plants six to seven times a year.
Like her mother, Aishah says she is merely prepping her daughters to care for their home in the future.
“My girls are taught how to recycle, bring their own containers when packing food and refuse plastic bags. We use metal straws instead of plastic straws. This is the legacy we are handing over to them, so we need to know how best to care for nature.”
Soraya is given the chore to help water the indoor plants. She is also encouraged to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible.
Her mother constantly reminds her to switch off the lights when they are not in use, and to turn off the faucet when brushing teeth. She is also taught to donate toys and books that she doesn’t use.
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Aishah says children can be the biggest advocate for the environment if they understand the importance of caring for the planet.
“Kids can influence their parents, schools and friends to change to more environmentally friendly practices. Get them connected to nature. Take your children to the local park and forests, go for treks, have a picnic at waterfalls or streams during the weekends. Only then will they be able to appreciate the outdoors.”
Aishah hopes Malaysians will emulate the Japanese and be more civic-minded about the environment.
“The Japanese are taught how to clean up after themselves and to be responsible for everything they do. We are all part of a bigger community and our actions will affect us all.
“This is something that needs to be taught from a very young age at home and in school,” says Aishah, who encourages Malaysians to make small environmental changes in their lifestyle, including recycling and reducing the usage of single use plastics.