Dubai: An initiative to promote organic farming has begun in two schools, in Dubai and Sharjah, thanks to the efforts of 16-year-old Darshan Murali.
The Dubai-based teen who studies at Our Own High School in Al Warqa, is part of the UAE’s ‘Unique Friends of Kerala’ (UFK) community group.
Through the efforts of that team, Darshan, the youngest member - who wants to pursur a career in civil service - has been able to achieve successful results from the two organic farms cropping up in the two UAE schools.
UFK started as a Facebook group that has now grown into a community of over 80 members that regularly participates in many social services that range from blood donations, coordinating Iftar tents to collecting clothes and donations for the 2018 Kerala floods.
“I joined UFK in 2017 and it was very important for me to be part of a community,” said Darshan. “The organic farming initiative began when I joined and a test run of this project took place in a villa in Sharjah. After the success of that first farming venture, the team suggested moving this project to schools where children can learn about farming first hard. I immediately recommended the school I am attending, Our Own High-school in Al Warqa,” he said.
Darshan and the UFK team ensured that they gave the students and teachers the right guidance to complete a six-month cycle and the success of the project resulted in over 60-kg of produce that was partly donated to the Red Crescent and given to students and teachers, as well as being donated to labour camps.
Beyond the classroom
In 2019, Darshan and the team decided to broaden their project to GEMS Millennium in Sharjah where the school was excited to welcome this new venture. Teresa Varman, Principal and CEO of GEMS Millennium School was grateful when Darshan approached them with his idea, “For two years we’ve been trying to get a garden going and Darshan came at the right time. When he came we saw the passion that was very obvious. The children were excited about all the digging up and being part of the earlier process.”
Varman believes that it is very important that students understand the process behind the vegetables they see on the table. “You can teach this in the classroom, but going there and getting your hands dirty gives a different learning experience,” she said.
Sharing a proud moment experienced by students during the initial harvest, she added, “The students were taking ownership and saying ‘that’s the one I planted’, there was a sense of achievement and wonder.” Parents and students as young as kindergarten are involved in the project with the guidance of the older students.
Support from the ministry
For Martyrs day 2019, which falls on the 30th of November, Darshan and the GEMS Millennium school planted 48 organic plants in honour of each of the martyrs. On the occasion, an official from the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment visited the school to support this project. “He gave the students a session on the importance of organic farming and explained to them that many vegetables they see in the markets that may have a cheaper price could have chemicals that is not used in organic farming,” said Darshan.
“The next step that UFK wants to take is to continue encouraging organic farming in more than 10 schools. Also, we want to promote self-sufficient farming in terraces and balconies so that people living in apartments can participate in their homes as well,” Darshan added. His priority is not the results of the farming but the process of teaching students about it and he hopes that farming could become an occupation that is respected again, “It doesn’t matter if the vegetables grow, what matters is that we are planting and passing this message across.”