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Smart Sustainable School in Vanuatu

Grass-root Initiatives

Upholding The Standard

There are many people who frown on the word ‘sustainable’, believing that the standard behind the use of the word isn’t good enough… and that may certainly be true. The problem though isn’t with the word itself, the problem lies with the upholding of the standard.

The word ‘sustainable’ is defined as ‘1) able to be maintained at a certain rate or level’, which means, for a practice, culture or philosophy to be sustainable it must operate within the limits of natural or assisted resource replacement. Either way, if you want to get picky, it entails that a minimum amount of regeneration takes place, because the regeneration replaces the resources used. Without regeneration there can be no continuation in the harvest; that part of the cycle that capitalizes on the fruits of our previous efforts, where we work with Nature, not against It.

And this brings us to the second part of the definition; ‘2) able to be upheld or defended’, which means, having the intrinsic qualities that defines the practice, culture or philosophy as being good, noble and worthwhile of our efforts and attention, to preserve and perpetuate.

Holistic Sustainable Development is the not-for-profit aid organization that has resulted with the merger of the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) with Sustainable Development International (SDI). SDI is the background management organization for Holistic SD, built on the solid foundation of what once was PRI, (which still exists as a trading name) though which enables a 100% tax deduction through Holistic SD’s ‘tax deductible gift recipient status’.

One of Holistic SD’s major objectives is to implement sustainable living around the globe characterised by 2-way long-term support or permanence of and by the surrounding ecosystem.

As it pertains to agriculture, sustainable farming systems are capable of maintaining their productivity and usefulness to society indefinitely. Such systems must be resource conserving, socially supportive, commercially competitive, and environmentally sound.

Sustainable development also involves educational initiatives to develop the knowledge and skills of the people, the use of economic incentives and the development of new and appropriate technologies. These are important to ensure families are able to maintain stable incomes and be provided an opportunity to change their lives.

A key focus area for Holistic SD when it comes to sustainable development is the South Pacific Islands, which can also be referred to as the backyard of Australia. We are now well established with branches in Vanuatu and Fiji, with work already successfully undertaken in Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Tonga.

Holistic SD defines ‘Smart Solutions’ as “The design of sustainable humanitarian aid and development programmes through establishing holistic systems that integrate people, constructions, natural resources such as soil, plant and animal, based on ethical principles that work with nature as opposed to working against it.”

One of the South Pacific Island Projects being undertaken by Holistic SD currently is in Lenakel, Tanna Island, Vanuatu.

Vanuatu has the highest proportion of children who have never attended school in the Pacific. On average a child walks at least 4km a day to attend school, which is a contributing factor for poor academic performance and a decline in school attendance and participation.

Holistic SD is working to solve this issue by building a sustainable, permaculture-designed primary school in Lenakel, Tanna, Vanuatu. The Vanuatu Sustainable Primary School will focus on long-term sustainability by featuring a primary school that provides free education, a site for permaculture demonstration and skills training, and a community development centre.

The school will utilise the local Vanuatu curriculum with the inclusion of Permaculture as subjects. The Permaculture site will also be used to bring further unity and support by utilising it as a strategic approach to develop impactful community programmes.

The registration and government approval process began in 2017 and has officially been approved by the Vanuatu Government to operate as a school utilising their curriculum.

The Permaculture garden has already been in operation and has been utilised to provide training to the local community as well as providing food for the locals. Using shipping container buildings, the school community captures their own water from the roofs and stores it in tanks. They use composting toilets and are otherwise trained to reduce, reuse and recycle waste. That which can be safely composted is composted to return to their food growing gardens. As well as two small playing fields the school is to be surrounded by vegetable gardens in zone 1, food forest in zone 2, animal-grazing paddocks in zone 3, separated by swales and small catchment ponds. Further out, the natural bushland is encouraged.

There are 120 students who will benefit from this initiative once completed and at least 500 from the local area, though many are benefiting already.

Contributions to help fund these projects not only help other human beings to have a higher quality of life, who are otherwise far less fortunate than us, but we help to raise awareness of Permaculture Principles worldwide too. You shouldn’t underestimate the value of that.

Those of you, who know Permaculture, know its value… priceless.

To contribute towards this project please donate at

Geoff Lawton

Geoff Lawton is a world renowned Permaculture consultant, designer and teacher. He first took his Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Course in 1983 with Bill Mollison the founder of Permaculture. Geoff has undertaken thousands of jobs teaching, consulting, designing, administering and implementing, in 6 continents and close to 50 countries around the world. Clients have included private individuals, groups, communities, governments, aid organizations, non-government organisations and multinational companies under the not-for-profit organisation. In 1996 Geoff was accredited with the Permaculture Community Services Award by the Permaculture movement for services in Australia and around the world. Geoff's official website is Geoff's Facebook profile can be found here.

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