Planting seeds of eco-schools

Local NGO aims to raise children's eco-awareness

By Vanessa Witenko
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
(August 28, 2002)

With global warming, droughts and floods, a new program has been launched in the Czech Republic to educate children about the environment. The program, ARCHA 21, an environmental research program funded by the German Environment Ministry, seeks to renovate traditional kindergartens in this country into environmentally friendly ones and raise ecological awareness in schoolchildren. Currently, one kindergarten is in the process of being renovated: the 50- student Materska skola Karafiat in Klatovy, west Bohemia.

The renovation project is being advised by Agentura GAIA, a nongovernmental organization that combines feminism and environmentalism, and aims to have kindergarteners take a holistic approach to learning.

According to the ARCHA 21 concept, schools are renovated from traditional buildings and playgrounds into more natural settings. At Materska skola Karafiat, instead of swing sets and rectangular sandboxes, streams will flow through the school grounds beside meadows and vegetable gardens. There will also be a greenhouse to be used as a community center, providing the kindergarteners an example of natural living: The children will learn to grow, cook and eat their own vegetables. Though the concept counts on eco-friendly buildings to house the students, this aspect has not been put in place in the Klatovy school due to budgetary constraints.

The project aims to promote gender equality as well, but as co- founder of Agentura GAIA Marie Haisova says, this is easier said than done. "In the Czech Republic, gender is an unknown problem," she said. "Many Czechs don't know what this is." She cites instances while observing children -- the boys eat very quickly and then go play with toy cars or sit around a table and debate, whereas the girls eat slowly and then go play with their teacher's hair. She says the girls should be encouraged to debate and do work other than the traditional female roles. But since most Czechs do not understand gender issues, much time must pass before ideas about feminism are integrated into the curriculum. "The atmosphere is taboo, even when there are only women," says Haisova.

The ARCHA 21 concept depends heavily on community involvement. The entire community participates in the building and design process of the school renovation project. Locals plant trees and participate in fundraising events.

As for funding, in the case of Materska skola Karafiat, money for the renovated gardens came from the local budget. However, the idea of transforming the school building into something greener ran into difficulty, as this part of the ARCHA 21 project is supposed to be funded from outside sources. At the moment, according to GAIA, the NGO is looking for additional funding from businesses and will be receiving help in the form of a grant from the Dutch Embassy in Prague.


Since the Materska skola Karafiat project received a lot of attention in Klatovy, other kindergartens are requesting money. However, with limited resources GAIA cannot fund everybody, according to Haisova. "I want to focus on one school and do a good job," she said. "If everyone has a little money, they just spend it on stupidities."

But Klatovy Mayor Karel Mraz disagrees. He says that he doesn't want to see one kindergarten with everything while the others struggle. He admits that Agentura GAIA has done wonderful work with the gardens but fears that the NGO won't be able to fund further projects. "So far they have only bought one computer for the school," said Mraz, who points out that it is the community that is paying for the garden renovations. "The community cannot afford to finance further projects," said Mraz.

For now, the idea of introducing ecological materials, solar heating and extra interior space in Materska skola Karafiat is on hold, but Haisova is hoping for a better chance following the elections this autumn. "One-quarter of the council members will change," she said.

Despite the postponement in Klatovy, Haisova is working toward changing other kindergartens in the Czech Republic. With funding from ARCHA 21, Agentura GAIA conducted a survey through an educational magazine this past June and July asking parents of children enrolled in the nation's kindergartens to rate their schools. The research should be completed in September. ARCHA 21 will then choose five kindergartens to participate in an ecological transformation.



  • What: ARCHA 21, a project aimed at promoting environmental education for children
  • Where: One school in Klatovy, Materska skola Karafiat, is in the process of being renovated
  • How: Advisory services are provided by Agentura GAIA, a Prague-based NGO.


    Vanessa Witenko may be reached at