Being an Erdkinder in Slovenia
Written by: Irawadee Thawornbut
Hello, my name is Irawadee Thawornbut, I am currently 16 years old and I am a social entrepreneur from Thailand. I founded of Sandee for Good (www.sandeeforgood.com), a one-stop platform for online donations where donors can purchase and delivery items to nonprofits without ever leaving their houses. Other than entrepreneurship, I am also very passionate about education and improving the ways that children learn. Growing up on the tropical island of Phuket, the island with people coming from all over the world, the environment has taught me to be globally minded and always listen and accept new ideas and differences. Additionally, I grew up with a montessori system, in a beachside school, meaning I was taught to learn from everything that’s happening around me, to observe, appreciate, and take care of nature. This is a montessori quality that I have never forgotten since my earliest years. However, reflecting back to reality, not every child got this chance to live close and connect with nature. Some grew up in apartments in concrete cities their whole life, I live like that nowadays. This leaves me wondering what effect that will have on our future generation; as we move further and further away from nature, connecting and caring less about the earth? It doesn’t seem like the right path to go. That is why I think the education system all around the world can improve for the better, it can improve so children remain part of the earth, so that humans will forever cherish and look after this planet. It is exactly why I was so glad to have found and be part of Montessori Development Park program Erdkinder of 21st century. This program is exactly what our generation and the future needs in order to be conscious of the choices humanity is making and always being aware of the changes arising. I will now describe my overall experience and key takeaways from the one week I spent at Montessori Development Park.
An exchange of cultures
At Erdkinder, I was able to meet children near my age from another part of the world. Growing up in Thailand my whole life, although I’ve been to many parts of the world and have an international network of friends, when it comes to the details of the ways of life, I just knew things about Thailand. Therefore coming to Montessori Development Park Slovenia, I was able to meet and live in a different culture, in this case, Slovenian, at least for awhile, and I sure did learn a lot. I had a chance to learn Slovene words and eat Slovene food, I learnt little details like how they count a pair of sausages as one sausage, and how it is a norm for people to go trekking and explore the forests. Additionally, I learnt about the Slovenian landscape, how it has the 3rd highest percentage of trees cover the country in all of Europe. It is little things like these that helped me recognize and appreciate the beauty in the difference in cultures all around the world. Furthermore, I was also able to share and present Thailand’s culture while my friends sat and listened in a dimly lit Tipi tent, excited, their eyes wide with wonder. It felt really good to know that my Slovenian friends are equally as excited to learn about my culture as I am with theirs.
Connect with the environment while also connecting more to ourselves
Everyday, I got the chance to wake up in the middle of a park, I’d walk out of the Tipi tent at 7am with the warm sun shining onto my face. The land was beautiful in its own way, with patches of white and yellow wildflowers naturally positioned throughout, some had marks of sheep footsteps indicating that another form of life had previously been there. Sometimes Ms. Kim would encourage us to walk and meditate while having our shoes off. In that week walking up and down and living amongst greenery and farmland, I got to know how good it felt to live close to nature, to stay grounded. My mental state was so focused and I felt so fresh. It was a feeling I’d never have had, living back in the city. What was more impactful than connecting with the environment was the fact that I got to connect with myself. During my time there, I chose not to use my phone or connect to the internet, as there was no electricity to recharge my battery once it runs out. That was probably the best choice I’ve ever made that summer, as it was a chance for me to find out how I would be without my phone. It was something I’ve forgotten since I was 8 years old (8 years ago), it reminded me of how it was when people communicated through loud calls from people’s mouth, without phones. It reminded me of when running around and playing with my friends was the first choice of entertainment, not Instagram or social media, and lastly, it showed me that it felt so much better to live without my cell phone. During that time, I got a chance to sit down and be present with myself, no phones, no checking messages, just connecting with myself. Observing the environment around me and also checking in on how I’m actually feeling. If the conditions in the program weren’t like it was, I would never have fully felt how good it is to connect more by being disconnected.
Learning to live with people, having a sharing mindset
One of the most important values shared at Montessori Development Park was to learn to be grateful of everything and everyone surrounding us. Whenever we had our breakfasts, we express our gratitude to the sources of food that provided us with the ingredients of the day. During our evening fires or even normal discussions about different issues, while we were encouraged to speak up with our opinions, it was even more important for us to always listen to other people’s perspectives. The values taught at Montessori Development Park helped all of us to be aware of everything positive that is happening around us and remember to express how grateful we are for it. This is very important in everyday life, in order to maintain the meaningful relationships that we have while meeting new people and new environments. In addition from responding to positivity around us, we also learned how to turn negativity into positivity and learn from our and each other’s mistakes. If there was every conflict (of which we had little to none at all), I know that at Montessori Park, we are taught to be sympathetic of other people’s reasoning and their actions. We are taught to be understanding and forgiving, knowing that everyone makes mistakes and we should help one another grow and learn from them. If you notice, Montessori Park is about learning, growing and improving collectively as a united community. We care for each other and it is part of our mission to develop as a whole rather than as one individual.
Yes, we each had our own designated chores, but at the Park, that meant everyone helped each other no matter what, because we all live in the same environment so we have to collectively work together for the better for all of us (notice the correlation to a world issue happening right now?).
Learning to live sustainably and develop important life/survival skills
One of the best parts of the days at the Park was the evening fire after we’ve finished all our chores. The reason why it’s the most fun part of the day for me was that I got to observe and learn how to make a fire for the first time in my life. Yes, my first time, my whole life, I lived in conditions where I never had to think about how to make a fire, I never thought that I would ever need one. In contrast, I found out how important knowing how to make a fire was if electricity didn’t exist in the place I’m in. Furthermore, everyone of us had regular chores to complete, this includes, walking to get large amounts of washing and drinking water from a well on a hill, prepare food everyday, making the list of ingredients to make the food, taking care of the farm animals, and looking after the environment around us. Again, having lived in a city, I’ve never really gotten to do everything from step one by myself, and never really understood how absolutely everything ran. Now I do and am so glad that I attended Erdkinder of 21st century. In addition, other than physical skills that were obtained, I think that another set of skills gained was mental skills. We learnt how to be responsible, resilient, and calm while we did our designated chores. I noticed my brother learning to look after himself and be more responsible to the chores he was given.
Connecting with animals and understanding them as our neighbors
Erdkinder took place in a farm that took care of animals like horses, sheep, and a goat. One of our chores during our program was to take care of the animals, feed them and clean their spaces. Before coming, an animal like a horse was an animal that I didn’t know that I could trust. Although I’ve had some horse riding experience back in Thailand, I was always told to be careful of horses and their unpredictability. This means I was never close or fully trusted horses, until I came to Montessori Development Park. Here, I learnt that there was a reason behind horses behaving a certain way, we just have to treat and raise them better. Staying in the program overall helped me understand more of the animals that share the earth with us. I understood that they too have loved ones, have social lives, and reason in behaving, just like humans. I think this is really important for everyone, future generation or not. We need to be sympathetic of the different species that share our planet and be able to live with them in harmony, not harming one another. After all, we have the same home.
Staying aware and conscious about the choices humanity is making and being ready for the emerging technologies, along with its effects
Another important aspect of Erdkinder of 21st century was the study of emerging technology and evaluating its effects on us and on the world around us. Despite living in a simplistic no electricity and running water environment, we are still taught to remain alert and aware of the changes happening around us. I was impressed by how much 12-18 year old students could research and express their own ideas regarding the emerging 5G technology that has both its advantages and disadvantages in this world. The students in the program learn how to formulate their statements regarding the issues and supporting it with scientific research. This is a lifelong skill that will be necessary for people at any age. If children are taught to be able to do this, there is nothing to worry about, in terms of their wellbeing in adapting to the ever changing world. Furthermore, I think it is very important to know how to self advocate for ourselves, put matters in our own hands and take action when it is necessary. At Montessori Development Park, we were taught to do just that, as we decided on actions we could do to educate the public on the advantages and disadvantages regarding the emerging 5G technology. This is a small step towards building a strong base of the future generation who are active and take action for the better of our world.
Adults trust children and believe in us
In order to be able to self-advocate, we children need to feel empowered and know that they are able to do so. This can be done by adults who constantly tell us that we have a voice and it is heard. It is exactly that that’s happening at Erdkinder. Our teachers who guide us have always seen value in our opinions and allowed us to explore our ideas and opinions on our own instead of straightforwardly judging whether something is right or wrong. Furthermore, in tasks that I never know adults would trust us in, like designing a whole active stable for horses and building a winter shelter, the teachers at Montessori Park let us do them; while they only helped observe and assist. I think this is what makes Montessori Development Park so special, children are given the power to speak up and take matters into our own hands, helping us realize that we are enough to make a change. This kind of mindset can be applied to any real world situation, take for example, the young people that started the Fridays for Future movement all over the world.
Connect with nature, but also remember to check in and connect with ourselves, look after our wellbeing, spread positive thoughts and remain conscious about the changes happening throughout the world.
What have I taken back with me to Thailand?
- lifelong learning skills
- the ability to self-advocate
- long-lasting friendships
- inspiration to make this world a better place everyday through looking after it and making people happier
- incredible stories to share about the experience and hopefully spread awareness to have more people join the program
Final thoughts about Erdkinder of 21st century programe?
- Erdkinder of 21st century is not a program, but a way of life.
- It showed me the value and strength in unity amongst our diversities.
- I think an Erdkinder-educated generation will be ready to tackle what the future has for us, because Erdkinders are equipped with both the mental and physical tools needed to maintain a happy and sustainable life on earth.
- I’d encourage everyone to come experience because we won’t know how good it is for us if we’ve never know that feeling existed in the first place.
- These are experiences and skills that we will never know we needed if we stayed in the city, but they are experiences that we all deserve to have as a species living on earth.
- In a time which can be described as the tipping point of human species, in order for us to survive, we not only have to love our planet, but we also have to love each other a lot more. It is exactly what being an Erdkinder is, being children of the earth.