SPD Spotlight: Girawa
In this blog series, we’ll be platforming the work of some of the signatories of the São Paulo Declaration on Planetary Health around the world. There are all kinds of organizations doing fantastic work within Planetary Health — if you are looking for ways to get involved in the movement, to strengthen the Planetary Health perspective of your own work, or to find inspiration and practical advice, be sure to follow this blog series and take a look at the work of these wonderful signatories.
What is Girawa?
Girawa is an educational organization working internationally, with a mission ‘to inspire change in education that embeds nature and Planetary Health in every relevant subject at school and university’. They are dedicated to equipping the next generation with the tools and knowledge to prioritize Planetary Health in their future careers, empowering them to develop solutions to the issues that will impact their communities. They focus on delivering education relevant to specific local contexts through bottom-up pedagogy and indigenous knowledge.
How did Girawa begin?
Girawa was formed when founder, Dr. Anusha Seneviratne, saw an opportunity to combine her expertise in non-communicable diseases with her links to the Sri Lankan education system. Her Sri Lankan heritage means that she has a close connection to the community, particularly local schools with which she has previously worked. Using her connections and experience from within these communities, Anusha reached out to educational professionals at the Foundation of Goodness in Sri Lanka to propose a preliminary program of Planetary Health education for school children aged 11–18. She developed these educational materials in response to the needs and requests of local educators, utilizing her professional and academic background to platform Planetary Health in a local Sri Lankan context.
Where does Girawa work?
Girawa currently works across the UK, Sri Lanka and Brazil within 15 schools, and is looking to expand in the near future. Dr. Anusha originally worked closely with the Sri Lankan communities with which she had nurtured long-standing relationships, but as the team grew, her colleagues brought their own international perspectives to Girawa. Girawa’s volunteers are based across the world, including the US and Kenya. The team uses their pre-existing connections to local communities across the globe to connect with educators and students, working with communities to respond to their needs and empower them with the knowledge and skills to address pressing Planetary Health issues in their local contexts.
How does Girawa work?
Girawa works with local communities, educators and students to empower and educate, equipping students to solve the pressing Planetary Health problems they face now and in the future. The team reaches out to local schools, tapping into their existing community networks, to find out what kinds of issues the local community are facing from a Planetary Health perspective. In particular, they have partnered closely with the Foundation of Goodness in Sri Lanka and Clubé Saúde Planetária Lins, based in Brazil. They respond to the needs and requests of educators and students, creating educational materials that speak to the communities’ specific contexts. Girawa maintains a solutions-oriented perspective, focusing on the ways that students can create a Planetary Health perspective within their future career paths. Girawa aims to inspire children at the local level, encouraging them to understand the issues impacting their lives and to become leaders in the development of local solutions to Planetary Health issues. Girawa also publishes a blog, exploring planetary health topics (which you can find here), as well as lobbying world leaders to prioritize the health of the planet using evidence compiled from the projects it runs (more information here).
Crucially, rather than delivering educational materials from a top-down instructional perspective, Girawa helps educators to learn from and deliver the lessons and activities themselves. Educational materials respond to the needs of the community and are adapted to local contexts. In this way, educators are empowered to develop a Planetary Health perspective of their own, as well as being equipped with key tools and educational materials to deliver vital lessons to students. In the long term, these educators will hopefully be empowered to deliver training at other local schools, creating a ripple effect within the community.
What are Girawa’s future goals?
In the near future, Girawa hopes to expand its geographical reach, bringing on volunteers with existing connections to local communities in even more countries globally. Dr. Anusha and her team also hope to accumulate funding that will help them to focus on Girawa’s important work, while balancing their other commitments. Longer term, Girawa hopes that students and educators who have benefited from the Planetary Health teaching will embed this perspective into their future careers and personal lives, becoming leaders in the fight against climate change and ecological collapse to empower their communities and develop solutions.
Advice from Girawa:
Dr. Anusha points to the importance of building strong networks and connecting with like-minded people, such as the Planetary Health Alliance. She also notes that tapping into one’s own community links and existing relationships is a great place to start making Planetary Health a priority. It may seem overwhelming if you are beginning to look for ways to make Planetary Health part of your work, but taking your existing connections and resources and just building on those is a fantastic way to start.
To learn more about Girawa’s important work, please visit their website here, where you can also get in contact with Anusha and the team. Profound thanks to Girawa for their enthusiasm and collaboration on this blog post, and their ongoing work as part of the PHA.