Graham Nash wrote, “Teach Your Children Well,” but when it comes to conserving water, the Jewish National Fund would rather have children teach their parents well.
Students in schools across Israel are collecting the rainwater that falls onto their school buildings, harvesting and reclaiming it right in the schoolyard and learning the ins and outs of water conservation in a completely hands-on way. The goal of the program, dubbed the Rainwater Harvesting Program under JNF’s Green Horizons initiative, is to bring the reality of Israel’s water crisis straight into the schoolyard and put the power to solve it into the students’ small hands.
For years, Green Horizons has been helping Israeli youth unplug from their computers and phones and instead plug into nature, with hardcore hikes and outdoor programs that emphasize teamwork, relationships and self-reliance. Their Rainwater Harvesting Program, which includes donor-funded equipment coupled with education and guidance provided by Green Horizons guides, is now in place at about 30 schools across the country.
“The idea is not only about collecting water,” says Karmit Arbel of Green Horizons. “The idea is that it’s a donation that contains the system itself, the people that are taking care of it and installing it, as well as education for five years.”
Schools participating in the program are fitted with special gutters that trap rainwater and funnel it into a series of barrels and filters, which extract sediment, leaves, dirt and dust. The rainwater is then harvested and reclaimed, and depending on the school’s location and its rate of yearly rainfall, used for services within the school’s campus including flushing of toilets and irrigation of school gardens.
As students learn that they are capable not only of turning off a tap but actually harvesting an entire season’s rainfall and re-using it to the benefit of the environment, they are, JNF says, inspired to go home and teach better water practices to their parents.
“We are making them into little water terrorists,” Arbel says. “That means that when they go home to their parents they already know how to use a water meter and they see how much their parents are wasting. They can start criticizing. The idea is to make it so simple so the kids will see it as a simple solution … it’s not in the hands of the government, it’s not in the hands of the municipality, it’s in their hands.”
Israel leads the world in water recycling, giving as much as 80 percent of its water a second life. The United States, for the sake of comparison, currently recycles less than 10 percent of its water.
Yes, Arbel says, Israel is a success story, but that doesn’t mean its citizens can become complacent. Vast amounts of Israeli rainwater are still being lost to runoff and evaporation, so it’s crucial that Israelis learn to conserve as much as possible and also that cutting-edge systems to claim and conserve water continue to be installed.
This program, she says, achieves both of those goals. And the students seem to agree.
“It helps us to learn how to save water and how to help, so we won’t run out of water,” says Shirel Yona, a 10-year-old student at Naot Lonn school in Beersheba. Shirel’s fourth-grade class was selected this year to manage and oversee one of the water recycling systems, with Green Horizons guide Daniel Be’er making weekly visits to the campus to oversee the project and work with the students.”
“Thanks to Daniel we have studied with our friends and we’ve taught them things they didn’t know,” adds Shirel’s classmate Shachar Meara, who is also 10. “We can save a lot of water at home just like we do at our school. Now we have a lot of water that goes from dirty to really really clean.”
Shachar’s parents, she says, wholeheartedly approve of the project.
“They’re really proud of us,” she says. “We are saving water. It’s not just work, it’s also fun. And Daniel teaches us everything we need to know.”
Shachar and Shirel, along with two other classmates, are eager to show off the program’s water harvesting barrels, which sit in a corner of the school’s shady courtyard. They are adept at reading the meter and measuring how much water has been collected, as well as managing the complex electrical system that helps purify the water and transform it into something fresh and usable.
Just adjacent to the system sits an empty plot of land that JNF staffers say will become a garden, fed with the newly-filtered water that is pumped through the system. At other schools in rainier parts of the country, such as Jerusalem and in the north, the system can collect and supply up to 95 percent of a school’s water needs. In Beersheba, where the climate is much drier, there may only be enough water collected to harvest a garden, but nevertheless the students are excited to watch the fruits of their labor blossom.
“The hardest thing is waiting for the rain to come,” says Tamar Biton, 10, another classmate involved in the project at Naot Lonn. “And once it comes, we have to wait again. But we can save water, and that’s important.”