Growing the Future – WithOneSeed

St Michael’s Grammar School News – February 2013

The innovative ‘WithOneSeed’ social enterprise is based on a simple yet powerful idea: using subsistence farmers’ skills to combat climate change. Lyn Jenkin, WithOneSeed’s Communications Director, explains. ‘Our pilot project is in mountainous Timor Leste in a sub-district called Baguia, where we’ve engaged 130 subsistence farmers in 10 village-based Community Tree Cooperatives. The farmers are paid on an annual basis to plant and maintain mahogany trees on their land, but that is just the start of the projects breadth’ she says..

In just 3 years, the program has already had a significant impact, with 20,000 trees having been planted. ‘The first project evaluation suggests that farmers are using the money earned through the program to keep their kids fed and at school, while the funds also help to build local economies and increase farmers’ independence,’ Lyn points out. ‘Over the past ten years, Timor Leste has been an aid-dependent country, with reduced choice. Putting a dollar into someone’s pocket gives them the opportunity to choose how they want to live. In this way, WithOneSeed aims to not only improve livelihoods – it also creates economic participation and more resilient communities.’

WithOneSeed’s Australian activities are raising awareness about our neighbours. ‘Conditions in Timor Leste are sobering,’ says Lyn. ‘Just one hour by jet from Australia’s shores, people are living on just 80c a day and many children do not complete primary school. The program is increasing Australian people’s understanding of their local region.’ St Michael’s plays an integral role in these efforts. ‘The School has been incredibly supportive, in terms of providing assistance such as, second-hand books, stationery, uniforms and furniture and educational advice,’ Lyn reveals.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne in association with WithOneSeed’s Universal Education program, holds classes where schools are able to participate in the Carbon Futures Program. According to Lyn, ‘Carbon Futures teaches students about the carbon cycle and about their own impact on climate change. This increases their understanding about their environment and also gives them a sense of what they can do to live sustainably.’

Several groups from St Michael’s participated in the Carbon Futures Program at the Gardens last year. ‘WithOneSeed also presented an afternoon on climate change to 120 Year 8 St Michael’s students, where they learned how technology use contributes to the global problem,’ says Lyn. ‘Some groups of ten students calculated that their families owned around 200 computer devices between them!’ However, Lyn stresses that WithOneSeed is not anti-technology, quite the reverse in fact. ‘The program not only helps people understand technology’s environmental impact, but also explains how it can be used sustainably,’ she clarifies. Students are encouraged to offset their technology by paying an annual $5 donation for each device they own, to the Computer Emissions Fund. This money is used to plant trees and supports the reforestation project in Timor Leste.

After a promising start, Lyn is optimistic about increasing the School’s involvement in the program’s Timor Leste component. ‘What we did last year with St Michael’s was a fabulous experience,’ she says. ‘My colleague and I were in a remote mountain area in Baguia,– where most of the students hadn’t used a computer – and we managed to arrange a Skype conversation between a year 8-9 class there and a group of year 10 St Michael’s students sitting in a classroom in St Kilda, using a mobile phone to tether a connection.’ The results were amazing. ‘Neither group had experienced anything like this before, which demonstrated how technology can connect classrooms across the region,’ Lyn recalls. ‘In future, we aim to foster further relationships – perhaps even sponsorships and exchange programs – between St Michael’s students and remote schools in Timor Leste.’

‘In Baguia, we are working with farmers and school communities to build nurseries and propagate seedlings,’ Lyn says. ‘This January, we saw plans of nurseries under construction and photos of propagated mahogany seeds. While St Michael’s students can participate in programs at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, their peers in Baguia can participate in the village-based school community nurseries for hands-on environmental science experiences.’ WithOneSeed is also developing a Youth Ambassador program, enabling those interested in environmental issues to join like-minded young people to become advocates for education in this area.

Support for WithOneSeed’s four commitments – environmental sustainability, economic participation, universal education and regional partnerships – is rapidly growing. ‘The program has been commended by the Federal Educational Minister for implementation across the National Curriculum,’ Lyn confirms. ‘We’re also working with educators in Australia and East Timor to develop region-wide educational programs and e-learning modules. With the help of St Michael’s and many others, we’re steadily building a groundswell of supporters.’

To find out more about With One Seed, visit www.withoneseed.org.au