My mother was a self-proclaimed  ‘tree hugger’. Before buildings in Dubai had recycling bins, we sorted our trash and took it to the local recycling centre. We shopped without plastic bags, always ate leftovers and volunteered at beach clean-ups. These practices were not always convenient but they were important. Caring for the environment was a value we embodied as a family. 

Today, children learn about the environment very differently. Climate change is a regular lesson in classrooms around the world but we learned this at home. Caring for the environment began with our faith and heritage, and we were not unique in that way. 

From religious verses to ancestral traditions, respecting the planet is prevalent in most cultures and books of worship. Despite our differences, care for the environment has the power to unite people from around the world. After all, the one thing we as humans have in common is our shared home: planet ear\th. 

Reflecting on how this value has impacted my life, I wanted to share three things I learned from my ‘eco-friendly’ upbringing:

I. Nature is grounding

The grounding power of nature is undeniable. Stephen Moss said, “nature is a tool to get children to experience not just the wider world, but themselves” and I would have to agree. 

From personal experience, our time spent outdoors ignited our senses and connected us on an almost, primal level to the planet.  As teenagers, my mom would address our mood swings by taking us outside. Today, after a rough week of work, I do the same, because  I vehemently believe that nature balances the spirit. 

II. Sorting waste teaches mindfulness

We did not enjoy sorting out recyclable materials from our trash bins, but it made us hyper aware of the repercussions of our actions. This practice reinforced the idea that there is a consequence to every decision. Recycling meant sparing the planet of landfill waste. It showed us how one simple action had a lasting positive impact on the world and this idea transcended into our daily words and choices. Sifting through our waste to reduce our impact on the environment not only taught us to be kind to the planet, but it also taught us to be kind to ourselves and others.  It was a lesson in mindfulness. 

III. The call of duty

On weekend mornings, my mother would haul us out of bed for a beach cleanup. As we picked up garbage from the beach by our house, we learned that not everyone who shares our planet, shares the same commitment to protecting it. It was something we struggled to comprehend. 

Cleaning up the litter and rubbish on our beaches was a lesson in responsibility. It reminded us of our collective duty to our shared home. Cleaning up a mess we did not make was something we had to do because it we owed it to the planet. 

As we work on the upcoming series ‘Aya & Yusuf’ series, I am looking forward to the episodes that teach young audiences to care for the environment. Stay tuned for more on this. 

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