It was a festive day for pupils of Shitou Primary School when Volkswagen came to town.
Students of the school, who are from the Bai minority, dressed in traditional clothes to welcome their first foreign teacher - who came to speak as part of the automaker's "Green Class" program.
Ingrid Vahland, a German environmental advisor and wife of Winfried Vahland, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group China (VGC), said after the classes that she "felt at home with the passionate but innocent children".
Bai minority students present drawings on environmental topics to Winfried Vahland, German environmental advisor and volunteer teacher of the Green Class, and Molly Yang (left), director of corporate communications at Volkswagen China.
She talked about "global warming and my life" from various perspectives: climate and life, the consequences of global warming, why global warming is happening, how global warming will change the world and what we can do to slow it.
Her words encouraged students to discuss the measures they can take themselves to help the environment.
It was Vahland's third time to join in the Green Class initiative, but it's the first time for her to visit a school in a poor rural area to talk about the environment.
Shitou Primary School in Yulong County in Lijiang of Southwest China's Yunnan Province is nestled in the Laojun Mountains, where the Nujiang River, Lancangjiang River and Jinshajiang River converge.
It is known for its culture and beautiful landscape.
"Although the environmental issues in big cities are much more urgent, we should not ignore children in rural regions, especially in protected nature zones," says Vahland.
She says she believes children will spread the know-how they learned in class to their parents, friends and neighborhood. "It's necessary to protect the environment before we destroy it. We are now on a right path."
The Green Class is a part of the German auto conglomerate's Green Future Environmental Education Initiative organized in conjunction with China's State Environmental Protection Administration's (SEPA) communication and education center.
The program will run for three years and aims to further raise awareness in children about environmental protection and building an eco-friendly and energy-conserving China.
It is part of a series of environmental programs by the auto giant that also includes a competition for young journalists, an energy-saving and emission reduction design competition and visits between students at green schools in China and Germany.
"We promised to SEPA to invest at least 8 million yuan for the three-year project. We have donated 2.5 million yuan this year and plan to invest 4 million yuan next year," says Molly Yang, director of corporate communications at VGC.
"We first give lessons to green schools, the result of the joint efforts by SEPA and the Ministry of Education, about the environmental protection successes of developed countries. VGC is the first large multinational company to collaborate with the green schools on a long-term basis," adds Yang.
The country now has over 34,000 green schools.
Different from the previous two Green Class tours in Beijing and North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the two-day lecture in Yunnan also provided environmental education to students in Tai'an Middle School in Yulong County and professional training sessions on environmental education to more than 200 outstanding teachers at 100 green schools in the province, with the hope that they will go on sew the seeds of environmental awareness among their students and fellow teachers.
Associate professor Tian Qing from the environment education center of Beijing Normal University shared with the teachers the instruction methods used at primary and secondary schools.
Guo Geng, an environmental expert and senior engineer at Beijing Biodiversity Conservation Research Center, also shared with the teachers his experience in environmental education and had in-depth discussions with them.
As the sole automotive partner of the Beijing 2008 Olympics, Volkswagen also integrated Olympics elements into the green initiative by inviting the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games women's table tennis singles champion Chen Jing to meet and talk with students in the mountainous area.
Sharing her own experience, the first Chinese champion in women's table tennis singles in Olympics history encouraged students to embrace the "faster, higher, stronger" Olympic spirit in their daily lives when it comes to both studies and sport.
"We are discussing with the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG) about two torchbearer students from green schools. We are also thinking about inviting some students to Beijing to watch the Olympic Games," says Yang.
As the official auto partner of BOCOG, VGC will supply 5,800 environmentally friendly vehicles to the Olympics from its brand a Volkswagen, Audi and Skoda.
This year, VGC announced a fuel and emissions strategy for the future. By 2010, fuel consumption and emissions of all Volkswagen cars produced in China will be reduced by 20 percent, the company says.
(China Daily November 26, 2007)