Conservationist inspires Dubai school’s plastic-free mission


After stellar response from GEMS Modern Academy, Gina Fernandes plans to scale up her fight against waste

Students of GEMS Modern Academy with a batch of disposable bottle caps collected by them from their homes over two weeks.

Dubai: An environmental campaigner has inspired a Dubai school in its mission to go plastic-free and plans to encourage others towards sustainability as well.

Gina Fernandes, an Indian graphic designer in Dubai, recently raised conservation awareness among the students at GEMS Modern Academy. The private school has done away with disposable plastic cups and bags. Instead, students and staff carry their own water bottles, while textbooks are handed out in jute bags designed by the school.

Fernandes started reaching out to the UAE community about environment care after seeing images of a suffering beached whale in Norway that was put down because of plastic waste choking its guts. She was also shocked to learn about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating mass of plastic waste larger than Mexico.

Students put the finishing touches to the mural of a whale that was made using 5,000 plastic bottle caps. The mural was inspired by images of a beached whale in Norway.

Being an artist, Fernandes started an informal “awareness through art” campaign to highlight the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, which calls to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”.

At GEMS Modern Academy, she was joined by students, parents and staff in creating a mural of a whale using 5,000 plastic bottle caps, collected by hundreds of pupils from their homes over two weeks.

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Gina Fernandes with the mural of the whale. The graphics designer worked with students at GEMS Modern Academy.

“It’s a sculpture dedicated to all the whales and fish that have died because of our trash and carelessness,” Fernandes said.

“It’s a call for awareness — let us be cognisant of what we are consuming and how we deal with waste. Let us educate ourselves and our children; they are our future and we owe it to ourselves to start making a difference.

“I want to leave a seed of realisation that what we do has consequences. We are not separate from the environment — we are the environment … What we put in the ocean comes back onto our plate.”

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Fernandes thanked the GEMS Modern Academy community for supporting her campaign. She would like to approach more schools and establishments now, inspired by the response from GEMS Modern Academy.

“A lot of parents listen to their children; their voices are more powerful than we think, especially when they are enthusiastic about making a difference,” Fernandes said.

Nargish Khambatta, principal of GEMS Modern Academy, said: “Our parents have worked very closely with us on a number of sustainability projects and [Fernandes] in particular has been driving small but significant changes. Since this September, we have done away with plastic bottles completely with the simple slogan, ‘Say No to Plastic’.”

She added that the school also gave out textbooks in jute bags designed by the school, replacing plastic bags permanently.

Khambatta also highlighted other initiatives of the school, including its Sensorial Garden project, which includes the collection of food and plant waste to prepare organic compost from “Bokashi bins” placed in every KG class. The school has also engaged with a community in Hyderabad, India to empower women who make bags of kora cotton. What’s more, the school implemented the Purukal Project where its students helped build toilets for girls in Dehradun, India.

Speaking about the school’s initiatives, Kambatta said: “Like with any profound undertaking, there are large numbers who have embraced the change early, while we are still working on ensuring the desire is intrinsic — for only then will it be long lasting.”


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