Today we are talking to Meliha Bektašević, the coordinator of the Bloom Earth program. All the children at Bloom know her and spend time with her every week, taking care of the greenhouse and vegetable garden, and learning about the forest around the school. In this interview, Ms. Bektašević talks about the importance of being in the forest and how it can help build resilience in children.
Meliha, thank you for taking the time for this interview. To start, tell us something about yourself.
My name is Meliha, and I am currently the coordinator of the Earth program at Bloom School. I have a Master in Forestry and I am passionate about Forest ecosystems.
Why did you choose forestry?
After finishing medical high school, I didn't want to continue with medicine. I felt a strong connection to nature because I am a hiker and constantly take walks in nature, and I wanted to learn more about the natural environment. So I decided to enroll at the faculty of Forestry. I have never regretted that decision because it is a wonderful field of studies that taught me a little bit about everything: nature, its protection, and the important role it plays in our lives.
Why is nature important?
As humans, we cannot live without nature. First, because the forest provides us with the air we breathe. And second, because it cleans and retains all the water. Without the forest, we would not have water. So, the forest provides us with two of the essential elements for life.
Have you ever worked in another school? If so, how similar or different is it to work here at Bloom?
I worked as a teacher at the Forestry school. There are only small differences since I focused on practical work there as well. One difference is that I work with children of all ages at Bloom, whereas I only worked with high school students at the Forestry school. Another difference is that Bloom has a greenhouse and a mini fruit and vegetable production, as well as a forest. At the Forestry school, the focus was entirely on teaching children about the forest: how to protect it; how to use it; what we can obtain from it; and so on...
What knowledge would you most like to impart to the children?
I would like to teach them about the importance of nature and to help them connect with it in some way, so that it becomes a normal thing for them. Many children are afraid of insects, animals, or getting dirty... My goal is to minimize those fears or to familiarize them with these things, so they won't be afraid in the future. There are many children at Bloom who now comfortably pick up earthworms and handle insects with their hands, which they were initially not able to do.
Why do you think it's important for them to confront these fears?
I think it's especially important because no one can know what will happen in the future - what trials await them. Through nature, children can learn to be prepared for anything. Life will never be all sunshine and rainbows, where they have a perfect environment without any contact with nature. Even in their apartments, they have contact with animals and insects, so I believe that the more we bring them closer to what is natural, the easier it will be for them to adapt to other things in life.
What have your students taught you?
They taught me not to be afraid in certain situations. For example, many children couldn't speak either English or Bosnian when they first arrived at Bloom at the beginning of the school year. Through spending time together, they quickly relaxed and were very bold in testing things - saying a word even if it wasn't grammatically correct. This influenced me to be more relaxed when talking to them, in English or any other language. I don't overthink about whether something should be said a certain way anymore. Instead, I focus on saying it in a way they will understand. At one point, they even corrected me when I made mistakes; and I helped them with their Bosnian. Whenever we come across a difficult technical term or a new word in English, we learn together.
Do you have a favorite moment from this academic year?
Honestly, the most beautiful moment for me was the beginning because I had just arrived here. The acceptance I felt when I arrived with fifteen eager children already waiting for me to go working in the garden. The most wonderful part is that I know I'm doing something beautiful and that the children are having a great time during everything we do here.