Living Sustainably with the Earth Charter: The Beluga School for Life, Thailand

The Beluga School for Life is a learning village-community with approximately 240 inhabitants, located in the province of Phang-nga in the south of Thailand. The UNESCO Associated Beluga School for Life, member of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) and active supporter of the Earth Charter, is home to 150 Thai children from difficult backgrounds, including tsunami survivors, children from poor families and children without domestic security.

The children live together with mentors in small family houses or larger community accommodations. These “families” are also embedded in neighborly and village-like structures. In that social context the children find opportunities to play and to develop responsibility for community. The project also comprises a home for younger children, a kindergarten, a primary school, a secondary school and vocational education.

The sustainable development approach shapes the school’s educational concept, which connects to Principle 3 of the Earth Charter to “Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful,” as well as Principles 9b and 9c, which state:
“b. Empower every human being with the education and resources to secure a sustainable livelihood, and provide social security and safety nets for those who are unable to support themselves.
“c. Recognize the ignored, protect the vulnerable, serve those who suffer, and enable them to develop their capacities and to pursue their aspirations.”

Following the Earth Charter guidelines for education, the children learn and live in a socially competent, environmentally responsible and entrepreneurially active fashion. Children use their creativity to discover for themselves what sustainability means. Therefore, their school lessons take place not only within the usual limits of the classroom and one specific subject, but are enriched by “learning centers” which incorporate interdisciplinary and project-based learning. Rather than just thematic elements in the curriculum, these learning centers are actual architectural facilities.

The learning centers are:

  • The Center for Organic Farming – with cultivated areas on the large school grounds (7 ha) and a farm (4 ha) for livestock, fruit and vegetables;
  • The Center for Body & Soul – with a small building complex for massages, yoga and spa treatments as well as a soccer field and a basketball/volleyball court;
  • The Center for Nutrition & Health – with a canteen and a professional restaurant kitchen;
  • The Center for Cultural Heritage and Development – with an amphitheater, a tsunami museum, a pavilion of religions and buildings for music, dance and art;
  • The Center for Culture-Sensitive Tourism – with 18 guest pavilions, a swimming pool and a restaurant; and
  • The Center for International Communication – with two buildings for computer and language classes.

The learning centers are run by specialists and aim for income generation, according to Buddhist economics and the philosophy of sufficiency economy, in order to reduce operating costs. For example, 100% of the culture-sensitive tourism proceeds from overnight stays, meals and activities directly benefit the project. The children learn by watching the employees directly in their work, as well as through participation in numerous daily workshops. Education is not hypothetical, but grounded in exclusively practical learning experiences. These experiences include child-based discovery learning and a strong focus on entrepreneurship education that aims to prevent the children from being trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty as adults. Above all, the Beluga School for Life safeguards the children’s right to happiness.

The project was created in 2005 by Niels Stolberg, President and CEO of the Beluga Shipping GmbH. The Beluga School for Life was named by the German UNESCO Commission as an “official project of the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development.” Moreover, it is recognized by the IUCN Commission for Education and Communication (CEC) and participates in the “Plant-for-the-Planet” initiative.