Lessons in life, and in the importance of giving back to the community, are being learned at United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) through a project that is taking students out of the classroom and into the garden.
Fresh produce grown in a new organic vegetable and fruit garden created at the university is being distributed to charitable organizations and families in need around Al Ain, as the students who plant, care for, and harvest the ingredients discover how growing food can help them to grow as individuals.
The Student Organic Garden Project is the brainchild of Dr Sahera Bleibleh, Assistant Professor in the Architectural Engineering Department of UAEU’s College of Engineering, with its aim being to provide life-learning experiences and promote a culture of service among students, while also reflecting the university’s key role in the fabric of Al Ain life.
“It is a student-led project designed to strengthen their connection to the community and increase their leadership capacity, as well as being an educational exercise focused on social service and the importance of nature,” she explained.
“In addition to the academic curriculum of the university, we are looking at the bigger picture – educating children about healthy eating, taking care of plants, and qualities such as patience and taking responsibility. The organic garden is a lesson for the students about the needs of the local community in Al Ain, and how they can become engaged with these needs and help to address them.
A not-for-profit initiative led by the Architectural Engineering Institute-UAEU Chapter, inaugurated in November 2016, the 500sqm garden currently has 22 plants and trees that supplement the products of its soil by growing herbs such as mint and parsley. The organic garden is sponsored by Al Shuwib Organic Farms. Some of the plants – including its lemon and mango varieties – were donated by Al Shuwib Organic Farms and other local organizations, with UAEU’s Student Affairs Committee supporting the project by encouraging participation among the university’s student body and is recognizing the student’s time to be counted for community service credits.
“The initiative has been very well supported by our department, and we have collaborated with UAEU’s Food and Agricultural Department for financial contribution and technical advice, such as with the soil and water tests conducted before its inauguration. We also have the technical support of UAEU’s Facility Management department as well as Student Affairs,” said Dr Bleibleh. “
“The idea behind the garden being organic is to encourage discussions about indigenous plants and how they should be taken care of. Although we have limited funds at present, we eventually hope that we can look at expanding the garden.
“The key benefit of being involved in this project for students and team members is that they have to get their hands dirty – they plant all the trees, they harvest all the produce. Through this, and in an informal education setting, we are looking to instill and nurture the leadership skills and love of voluntary work which will serve them well later in life.”