There is a teaching in our faith traditions that instructs us that even if the last hour of this world approaches and one is holding a palm shoot, then plant it. The emphasis here is on planting trees and vegetation regardless of the situation one finds oneself in.
In another positive instruction we are told: “If a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift for him.”
The announcement by the Prime Minister recently of plans for the National Botanical Gardens in the Waterford area is very welcomed news. Declaring it to be a place unlike any other seen before in Barbados, the Prime Minister spoke to the concept of the Gardens and the international flavour that it will take on. I endorse wholeheartedly the idea of having more green spaces for Barbadians to enjoy and benefit from. And I fully support the plan to involve all segments of our society as well as to give the opportunity for our partners, friends and supporters in the wider world to participate.
Green spaces, properly conceptualized and maintained, can further enhance what Barbados has to offer to the Barbadian public and the tourists who visit our shores hoping for more than the sea, sand and sun experience. I was in Queens Park recently to watch my son play cricket. This park is truly an oasis in the heart of our capital city. It is a peaceful and serene place although surrounded by the noise and clutter of Bridgetown. One feels like one is in a totally different place amidst the trees, vegetation and the sounds of the birds chirping when one enters Queens Park either on foot, bicycle or in a vehicle.
These are places where one needs to go from time to time to get away from all the noise and to get lost in one’s thoughts and just enjoy nature. As I mentioned last week, I love to travel around our island and enjoy Barbados’ finest sights and natural gifts. There are so many places worth exploring on this small island. And many Barbadians have invested much of their time and resources in creating spaces, some small and discreet, and others on a grander scale to showcase the beauties of Barbados.
Adding natural gardens of beauty in the midst of densely populated areas will certainly increase the value of the surrounding neighbourhoods. In addition, it will give spaces for recreation, exercise and other wholesome activities that will go a long way in building communities and character.
There has been considerable work done in recent years exploring the value of urban green space for health and wellbeing. Urban green spaces provide environmental benefits through their effects on negating urban heat, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, among others. They also have direct health benefits by providing urban residents spaces for physical activity and social interaction and allowing psychological restoration to take place. With obesity and mental health issues on the rise such green spaces with opportunities for exercise, rest and restoration of one’s body, mind and spirit can only do good for the people around it and who utilize it.
The challenge, like with other places, is ensuring proper maintenance and care of the facilities provided. Sadly, we fall down in that area in so many places of beauty on the island. There are those who throw garbage indiscriminately, who care nothing about the environment around which they live and which their survival is dependent on. While there are others who will wilfully destroy or remove plants and other elements in such places.
So, besides the Botanical Gardens being a space to enjoy, let it also be used as a place of learning, teaching people the value of such spaces and the inevitable harm when the same places are abused or destroyed.
I note also that some persons have commented that in addition to beautiful flowering plants and trees, consideration should also be given to vegetation that gives fruits and vegetables – items to eat and consume. I agree wholeheartedly with these ideas. The gardens must contain flowering trees but also fruit trees and other vegetation that is edible and serves as food. Again, these types of plants can be used for teaching moments on how individuals can grow similar plants at home.
I acknowledge that there will be concern about our already scarce water resources going towards such a grand project that will definitely require water for sustainability. Again, here is where ingenuity will have to work and where we can draw upon international best examples in water scarce countries that have been able to achieve similar.
We owe it to nature to give back; it has given us so much but we are greedy and over the years, we have the tendency to take and take and return very little. Our progress has been counted by the number of concrete structures we have put up and the number of roads we have built. This is important but our progress cannot be without balance, balancing what we take from our natural resources and what we give back. We see the examples daily in countries that have stripped their natural resources in pursuit of material gains and the dire consequences they now face as a result.
Our support must be to our environment and uplifting any deeds done that will enhance such. If it is getting rid of plastics, planting trees, not throwing garbage all over the place, reusing, recycling or whatever we can do, a little or a lot, let us all pledge to do it and go about doing it. Teach our young ones to care about their environment as well, show them through our examples. We do so not only for ourselves but for our future generations.
I give my full support to the National Botanical Gardens and encourage all Barbadians to do the same.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI and a Childhood Obesity Prevention Champion. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)