Mr. Matewos Ghebrekiristos loves greening his surroundings. It was a childhood hobby turned in to a campaign he shares with his students and together they registered great achievements. Mr. Matewos is a science teacher in junior high school. In every school he has taught he leaves a green print.
That green print is none other than multiple kilometers of forested lands in the school yards or outside. In his thirty-year long career as a teacher he has been a role model and a lifelong friend to thousands of students and their families. Mr. Matewos’s passion has got him to making a big contribution to the Earth; he fights desertification.
- Thank you for your time. Tell us about you please.
My name is Matewos Ghebrekiristos. I am currently teaching science in Hadenet Junior Secondary School in Villagio, Asmara. I started teaching in 1989 but my passion for greening activities goes back to when I was very young. My family moved to Tsetserat when I was twelve years old and, as many would agree, the fact that the area of Tsetserat is filled by eucalyptus trees is really delightful. My guess, therefore, is that the green beauty I saw growing up caused the passion I have for planting. As I grew up, of course with the help of education, I realized my passion was so important that slowly I learned to accept it not as a hobby but more as a responsibility that I feel rewarded to do.
- But how did you turn this passion of yours to an extra-curricular activity for tens of thousands of students of science class? How did you get the idea of making planting trees a hobby that could be shared with your students, their friends and families?
I love my profession. While teaching I also make sure that students understand the importance of the teaching and learning process. In order to do so I approach my students in friendly ways. I never want to cause stress to any of my students during science classes. The result of a relaxed class atmosphere is an open forum of discussion between the teacher and his or her students. That is exactly how I got the idea of sharing my passion with the earliest batches of my students. Once I did they accepted it gladly and so we started a joint venture. I have been a teacher for almost thirty years in multiple schools of different parts of our country. Now, I can assure you that during the length of my profession I came across thousands of junior school students who, even if they move to higher levels of education, still feel concerned about the environment. Moreover, whenever young students join junior school, the excitement I get by sharing the idea of greening the environment is the same every year.
- As you are a science teacher I am sure that you link the greening activity with theoretical lessons in class regarding plants and planting.
Yes. You are right. At the end of the day my main profession is teaching. Therefore, I have the responsibility of guiding my students. That being said, the official curriculum in Eritrea is student- centered and does include topics of afforestation, deforestation, soil erosion, water conservation and, in general, basic environmental studies. So for students the extra-curricular activities we carry out in planting is an additional experiment from which they gain extra knowledge. In fact, when we plant we don’t simply go planting seeds in any open area. What our students do is very scientific and student-based technical approach to the concept of greening and water and soil conservation. We first discuss in class. Then the students analyze the importance of water conservation and the benefit of afforestation in groups. Each group conducts its own study. Once we all agree on the universal truth that afforestation is important and a matter of urgent reaction, we go out of class and study the soil inch by inch. We do terracing activities and we do calculations to know how much water we can conserve in every cubic meter and, lastly, we plant and then regularly follow up our gardens.
- As this is an extracurricular activity, I assume it must also be voluntary. But normally the students who voluntarily join you are one hundred percent. How is this so?
I believe they all understand the impact of planting. Many of the students normally have other extracurricular activities such as sports or book clubs but they still make time for planting. This shows how civilized and mature they are. Families and our society in general are extremely encouraging.
- Do you think you are a good example to them?
I hope I am because when we plant I don’t simply watch my students from far. I dig the soil and plant with them. I believe our venture succeeded thanks to the passion and understanding of all my students in these past thirty years. So I feel the obligation to encourage them as they have encouraged me.
- You have accomplished many and, in fact, big greening activities in every school you were assigned to. And because we are talking about big projects, do you have any one who supports you?
The biggest support comes from the students. Just their devotion alone is a valuable sustenance. Once we plant, students, normally bring water from their homes and they make sure they take good care of their trees. We also put up nursing houses and students are literally the owners. They understand the advantages of recycling and they do it heartily. Furthermore, I receive support from the ministries of Education and Agriculture. Especially, the Ministry of Agriculture provides seedlings and sends experts who come and visit our classes. Finally, there are many individuals from within the country and abroad who support our endeavor.
- Do you ever get tired?
I don’t. It is my hobby and the ones helping me make my hobby a journey that is extremely remarkable and impactful are my friends. Therefore, I enjoy every second. I am a teacher, so I always stay in junior school but the students I’ve taught in the different schools grow and advance to high levels and venture the world with different professions but we always keep in touch. My students come to my house for coffee ceremonies even now when they are adults. In few words, my hobby made my life and that of thousands of people extremely joyful, so it is not tiring at all. It is actually the source of bliss.
- Eritrea has made fighting desertification one if its major national plans and now we see dams being constructed everywhere and large swaths of land being terraced. As an expert yourself what is your opinion?
The Government and People of Eritrea have indeed achieved a great deal especially in this field. To actually fight desertification in semi-arid areas is daring and the popular activities have surely been fruitful but I believe there is lack of knowledge. Knowledge of afforestation should be spread, through awareness raising campaigns, to the people in layman’s language so that everyone can understand and work for the cause at household level. There is still so much more to do.
- Mr. Matewos, is there anything you want to add before we finish our talk?
I want to thank my students, their friends and families as well as the ministries, administration offices and individuals who took interest in planting trees with me. Thank you!