The benefits of a partnership and inclusive approach towards developing a future Galway city that is sustainable and integrates nature into its infrastructure was shown in late June when children from 13 city primary schools took part in Glór na Óganach (‘The Voice of Youth’) organised by the Galway National Park City (GNPC) initiative supported by the Galway Education Centre and its director Carmel Burns. It was an online event chaired wonderfully by Fionnghuala Geraghty, a teacher of Scoil Chaitríona Senior, where pre-teen students gave their opinions by way of talks, pre-event surveys and classroom discussions about what they want in a post-COVID Galway. This event was unprecedented and amply shows the important need and role of a multi-sectoral movement such as the Galway National Park City initiative.
We often talk about what children want but very seldom give them the opportunity to voice their own opinions on how they wish society to develop.
But their answers and comments yesterday were breathtakingly fresh, honest and full of commonsense. They displayed an awareness of the benefits of looking after nature in the city and having increased areas for biodiversity, in planting more trees and having more wildlife; in the need for information noticeboards in areas of nature; in the need to lessen screen time and to play outdoors in clean, safe green spaces and in playgrounds with flowers, more hands-on play equipment and having both walls and trees that they could climb; in the attractions of having lots of classes outside; in having safe walking and cycling routes to school and in/around the school, in banning once-off plastics and in increasing the possibilities of enjoying the local waterways.
Interestingly the overwhelming majority of these boys and girls felt that it was the woods, the seashore and the wildlife that they most liked about Galway city.
They were also fully aware of the dangers of biodiversity loss and of climate change.
So it was heartening to know that our youngest generation have strong feelings of what is most beautiful about our city, are expressing deep concerns about what is wrong with it and know what needs to be done to make it better for both people and wildlife.
So the challenge is for the adults to listen and to learn from the children in order to ensure that we hand them over a ‘liveable’ planet.
Glór na Óganach was the first gathering of pre-teens on the subject of a future city. But not the last. There was meeting in mid-November with primary school teachers on the subject of the Outdoor Classroom facilitated by Carmel Burns director of the Galway Education Centre as part of the Galway Science and Technology Festival where it was agreed a second such event will take place in the Spring.
We all learned from the experience of the June event, in how to improve on it and to look at the possibility of hosting a children’s forum tríd Gaelige and a forum for infants and 1st, 2nd classes.
Finally a big ‘Bualadh Bos’ to Fionnghuala Geraghty for her awesome work in preparing the teacher/student surveys and in chairing the event, and of course to the teachers from the 13 schools who made it all possible in the final week of the school year when they are exceptionally busy. Go raibh míle maith agaibh!