Mannar, Sri Lanka, July 2018 - Engaging students in environmentally friendly activities is improving overall performance and attendance in schools across Sri Lanka, giving hope to thousands of students who are returning after being displaced by conflict and ensuring their families are resettled in a sustainable way.

UN-Habitat is supporting the implementation of the Greening Our Schools initiative in the northern Sri Lanka district of Mannar which aims to improve the learning environment through construction of primary and secondary school buildings, provision of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, and construction of teachers’ quarters. It is expected to benefit over 10,000 returnees -  among them 5,500 schoolchildren.

The Greening Our Schools initiative draws support from two projects funded by the Government of Japan - Sustainable Resettlement through Community-driven Improvement of the Learning Environment in Mannar District and Rehabilitation of Community Infrastructure Improvement of Livelihoods and the Empowerment of Women in Northern and Eastern Provinces.

The Greening our Schools initiative provided selected schools with several varieties of saplings including mango, papaya, guava, jackfruit and coconut for fencing and planting in vegetable plots along with school gardening kits consisting of a garden hose, sprinkler, spades, and other tools. Three months into the initiative, gardens in four of the schools were flourishing despite the dry weather in Mannar district.

Through green fencing, school gardening, and tree planting the initiative has improved the green environment in schools. By providing sustainable supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables the initiative will contribute increasingly to school feeding programmes.

“Each plant has been assigned to a student so they take responsibility for looking after it. Every plant has a benefit as it will bear either fruits or vegetables. This initiative has also encouraged students to undertake gardening activities in their own home gardens,” says Ms. M. C.Mary Rejes, a teacher in one of the participating schools.

The initiative has also helped bring about positive change in the children’s mindsets. “These trees and vegetable plants will give us a lot of benefits including protection from soil erosion, providing shade and nutrition. Taking care of the plant assigned to me has now become a hobby and I enjoy it very much,” says Thiyakarasa Sritharan, a middle school student.

Teachers believe the school gardens and green fencing inculcate a sense of discipline and responsibility among school children who pass on good habits such as healthy eating, self-reliance and environmental awareness to their families. Parents have been involved directly through school development committees with many trained by agricultural extension officers helping to maintain the school gardens.

The initiative is being expanded to more schools and UN-Habitat is committed to ensuring long term sustainability of the initiative.

The Greening Our Schools initiative which encourages participation by all stakeholders has been endorsed by the Department of Agriculture, the Zonal Education Office and the Divisional Secretariat Offices in Mannar district and has the support of local farmers’ organizations and school development committees.

A recent Sri Lanka Country Programme evaluation by UN-Habitat shows satisfactory overall and project-specific results achieved for the period 2013-2017. These achievements were evident in the areas of post-disaster construction, housing, urban planning, climate change, disaster risk reduction, water and sanitation, low income settlements and upgrading, and humanitarian relief.

The evaluation showed that the Country Programme made significant contributions to Goal 11 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable – as well as to other Goals.