By Kanita Sabotic ’22 (Rožaje, Montenegro, placed by American Councils in Kapolei, HI)
What is an engaging way to keep children entertained while teaching them about mental health? Inspired by learning about mental health and the environment at the IDEAL workshop, Anastasija Dukić ’18, Lejla Višnjić ’18, and Marija Tomović ’20 decided to share their newfound knowledge in an impactful way. Knowing that children are next in line to build a better world, the alumnae reached out to an elementary school to implement their project, “A Flower is a Friend.”
“Because mental health is an uncommon topic [of discussion] in Montenegro, our first positive experience with the topic was during our FLEX exchange year in the United States,” said Anastasija. Struggling with homesickness, the alumnae reported that their host families introduced them to yoga, adult coloring books, and using nature to improve their mood. For example, the alumnae found that going on long walks through the neighborhood, gardening, and getting fresh air and vitamin D helped battle anxiety and stress. Therefore, they used their love for nature to introduce the topic of mental health to children at a local primary school, which allowed the alumnae to collaborate with one of its biology classes.
On November 8, 30 students aged 10-11 at Maksim Gorki Primary school in Podgorica gathered with their teachers and the alumnae to plant nearly 100 flowers in the school’s backyard, all while the alumnae and two teachers discussed the impact that the environment has on our minds.
When Anastasija shared that “colors can relate to our emotions,” many students gave their perspectives on how each color reminds them of a certain person. “It’s funny,” reflected Lejla, “how every flower grows in its own special way and time, just like we do.” Through their discussion on mental health, the children learned that every individual is unique and special in their own way.
One teacher shared, “What these girls did today with our students is something I wish we did more during our classes: practical engagement. The concept of students having to do something like plant flowers is a great way of connecting with them and sparking their interest in learning new things.”
This project was a drop in the lives of all the children who participated, but the alumnae hope it will create a ripple effect for life. Learning that a change in the environment can improve one’s well-being is an important lesson many fail to understand during their lifetime. According to the teachers, the students shared their new knowledge with their friends during their lunch break. The alumnae are grateful and excited to see that the ripple effect has already begun.
Anastasija Dukić ’18 (Podgorica, Montenegro, placed by Greenheart Exchange in Yakima, WA)
Lejla Višnjić ’18 (Podgorica, Montenegro, placed by Greenheart Exchange in Harrisville, NY
Marija Tomović ’20 (Podgorica, Montenegro, placed by Greenheart Exchange in Minnetonka, MN)