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January 5, 2010

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Migrant kids in 'green' vanguard

MIGRANT workers' children in a Yangpu District school are in the vanguard of efforts to protect the rural environment. They're persuading their parents to save energy and even get rid of mosquitoes without chemicals. Zhang Qiang reports.

Drive a solar-powered car and advance five steps. Smoke and retreat seven steps. Drive to the office near your house and lose a round.

These are some of the rules of a board game devised by young environmentalists, mostly children of migrant workers, at Shijie (World) Primary School in northeast Shanghai's Yangpu District.

The 30 students are members of the Green World Environmental Protection Science Group, named the 2009 Global Best Group among 20 teams in the Yangtze River Delta by Shanghai Roots and Shoots.

The educational game, played with dice and cards, is similar to Monopoly, but the idea is not to accumulate property and leave a huge carbon footprint. It's about living green, choosing energy-saving appliances, recycling, saving water and not using chemical pesticides in the farming area where there are a lot of ponds and mosquitoes.

As they play, the message gets driven home: the "greenest" player wins. And the kids take that message home.

"The kids are highly aware of their responsibility in environmental protection, and they are very creative in spreading the ideas," says Li Yujing, manager of the Shanghai Roots and Shoots office.

The school's science group was started around 10 years ago to encourage students to take part in environmental protection. Their counselor is Bei Chunhui.

Every week there's a group activity; Members do research and brainstorm about grassroots approaches to environmental problems. College volunteers take part and provide basic knowledge about issues such as water saving, energy saving, species and forest protection, the importance of the oceans and what's happening around the world - like melting glaciers.

"Kids can play an influential role in environmental protection as they are open-minded and accept new ideas readily," says counsellor Bei. "They can spread awareness not only among their friends but also in their families. Many families change their bad habits at their kids' insistence."

One of the major projects this year is eradicating mosquitoes without dangerous pesticides in the urban-rural fringe area where Shijie Primary School is located. It's a farming area where there are areas of garbage and standing water where mosquitoes breed. The insects are a problem for as much as six months a year.

More than 70 percent of the students are from low-income migrant workers' families that know little about environmental protection. It's common to use polluting and unhealthy chemical insecticides and smoky mosquito-repellent burning coils.

Getting rid of mosquitoes without harming the environment is a pressing topic.

Fourth-grader Gu Yuhang makes mosquito traps, using an empty tofu box and sticking it in the ground with a chopstick. He spreads a sticky soap solution inside so the flying insects will be stuck.

Many students are raising basket fish that eat mosquito larvae; they keep the fish in bowls at home and release them into nearby ponds so the fish can help reduce the mosquito population.

Some students make their own mosquito-repellent soaps and sachet bags according to a recipe provided by college volunteers. They use evening primrose, fragrant daphne shrub, lavender and geranium.

The young people also patrol their communities and talk to residents to clean up the standing water and urge them not to kill or catch mosquito hunters like frogs and pollywogs.

"The kids are setting examples for the adults," says counsellor Bei. "Some residents who rarely pay attention to the environment started cleaning up and sweeping after the kids were so persistent about getting rid of mosquitoes without chemicals."


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