Up Close … with Michele Martin, secretary for NGO Sustainability for Seychelles (S4S)-‘Good environment education is about teaching people how to act and live in harmony with nature’


Michele MartinHer involvement in such projects like promoting sustainable living through messages on SPTC buses, sustainable management of glass waste, rainwater harvesting, wetland management projects in various communities namely Port Glaud and Port Launay are only but some of the different initiatives of Michele, the environment education specialist and all her colleagues, all nature lovers.

But meeting up with her recently at the S4S new office at Arpent Vert, the energetic, friendly, outgoing and humble young woman preferred only to be referred to as the secretary for this  environment non-governmental organisation registered in 2007.

It seeks to promote sustainable living in Seychelles in collaboration with citizens, the government, other NGOs and the private sector.
But who is Michele Martin?

Young life, education and profession
Michele is half Seychellois on her mother’s side. Her family lives in a university town near Toronto, Canada. Her mother, after her studies, left Seychelles for Canada where she studied nursing. She met Michele’s father, a Canadian, in South Africa while he was travelling and they went to live and settled in Canada where Michele, the second of three daughters, was born.

Michele came to Seychelles twice on holiday as a child and this was in the 1970s. Several years later she came back as part of a project for her master’s degree in environmental education. She was based at the Ministry of Education where she was the first environmental education coordinator.

After occupying the post for several years, in the late 90s, with the changes being undertaken by the Ministry of Education, Michele took a position at Birdlife Seychelles but continued to train teachers at the School of Education and later the National Institute of Education (NIE) on a part-time basis for some time.

She left in 2001 to go back to Canada for five years during which she started doing her PhD. She came back and resumed full-time teaching at the NIE and doing her PhD at the same time. She taught for some four more years.

“I really needed to take a break to finish my PhD but then I started working for our NGO,” said Michele.
This was the start of what was to later become S4S as we know it today.

“It was in fact in 2007 that a group of us got together because we realised there was a need for an NGO that really works on the life style of people as many of the environmental NGOs were focused on biodiversity which was really good. But nobody was thinking about what we do with our waste for instance,” Michele explained.

“Nobody was focusing on actually helping Seychellois realise that there are lots of things we do in our everyday life which have a great impact on the biodiversity and the eco-system that supports us. And all this has to do with the things we do such as the way we clean our house, how we go to work, how we use water and electricity at home… so we started the NGO Sustainability for Seychelles,” Michele recalled.

Michele completed her PhD in 2011 and today, among all the activities she is involved in, she is also a part-time lecturer at the University of Seychelles.

The NGO Sustainability for Seychelles
“At the beginning it was just a group of volunteers getting together and doing things voluntarily and gradually we started getting funding for projects and people could be paid to do some of the work,” Michel pointed out.

Michele, who is very passionate about sustainable environment preservation, said her husband Andrew Jean-Louis, who is also well known in the renewable energy sector and also a member of S4S, shares her passion.

She said S4S has four main areas of action : Waste, water, energy and climate change.
Michele believes S4S is gaining recognition for the work it is doing in promoting sustainable living and the project on rain water harvesting has created a lot of awareness among the population.
“S4S is being called upon by different organisations and businesses to provide environment consultancies which are not always related to education,” she pointed out.

She gave as example help and advice they provided Ephilia resort, Friends of Prisons and others who want to carry out projects for their organisations to go green.
“More and more businesses are realising the benefits of sustainable development and they are looking for specialist advice,” she said.

She noted that this is very encouraging and will no doubt be a further boost to the development of S4S as it will intensify and broaden its activities.
S4S also hosts a lot of workshops on different environment aspects for institutions, organisations and other bodies.
“Our aim is to work closely with all environment agencies and organisations,” Michele said.

“We are trying to explore ways to be financially sustainable so as to continue to diversify our activities and have more staff,” she added.

Michele availed of the opportunity to thank all S4S partners for all their support, especially Trois Frères Distillery and Seychelles Breweries Limited who provided tanks for the rainwater harvesting project.

Family life
Michele, who lives at Danzil at Bel Ombre, is the mother of two sons -- Noah 13 and Isaac 11. She loves the environment where she lives.
“It’s really nice there but there is still a lot of room for us to improve,” she said.

She recalled when her family bought the house they had solar panels for all the lights and in the event of power cuts, when everybody else would be in the dark, her house would not be at all affected. But she noted that eventually they connected to PUC as they had to rent the house when they went abroad.

Michele said they still use a lot of rain and river water even though their house is connected to the PUC water system.
“We use a lot of rainwater for the toilet and washing and other activities which require a lot of water like watering the garden, bathing the dogs and washing the car.. “.

“We are lucky because at Danzil there is a lot of water and if there is a water system break down or restrictions, we just switch to the alternative sources we have,” she said laughing.

 Rain water harvesting is one of the many projects Michele and her organisation S4S have been involved in

With regard to the general public’s understanding of the issue of sustainable development, Michele believes people are starting to better understand the role of energy, water and other aspects of the environment.

“Before, when we talked about the environment people used to think only about preserving nature by not cutting down trees, littering and proper waste disposal, but now people are more aware of the variety of issues we are grappling with such as climate change and the fact that there is more to our environment than littering and preserving it and collecting waste,” she pointed out.

Michele said the end result of good environmental education is for people to know how to act and live in harmony with nature so that we do not have so much negative impact.

“But I believe we are still miles away from that and we have a lot of education and awareness to give. With the liberalisation of the economy, shops are full with a larger variety of things that people are just buying without paying much attention to the increase in waste and rubbish they are causing from all the different packaging,” Michele said woefully.

“Life styles are becoming a lot more materialistic here and as people seek to live more comfortably, we are just going down the wrong path,” she added.

“Even though Seychelles has done a lot in terms of conservation, preserving our different species, I believe we still have a lot of work to do in several areas, for instance like eradicating invasive species which is still a problem,” she reflected.

“But we have to admit we have done a lot and government policies protecting the environment are there but when we look at the issues of sustainable life styles, we really need to pull our socks and start to do more in those areas because other countries are moving ahead. They are setting very clear targets for renewable energy, reducing energy and water consumption and reducing waste. Furthermore, we do not have strong targets that we are working towards,” she mused.

“There is a lot of talk but on the ground there are still so many issues to address,” Michele added.
Taking littering as example, Michele said: “Littering is the easiest environmental action somebody can commit but which can easily be dealt with if all of us were to put all our rubbish in the bin; a very basic thing, but the littering problem persists in our country and it is regrettable because people know it should not be done. It is not a question of awareness and it is not a question of bins anymore as there are enough of them. It’s attitudes that need to be changed.”

Leisure time
Among her leisure activities Michele enjoys the sea, swimming and doing some snorkeling at times. She loves gardening, cooking, baking and making fruit jams for friends and family. She also used to do oil paintings of the environment and nature but admits she does not have much time for that now but hopes to be able to take that up again sometime.

Michele, who learned belly dancing in Canada, also used to have a belly dancing club here and she is thinking of taking that up again as a fitness class.
“Dancing is great fun and I just like and enjoy it,” she said laughing.

She recalled that as part of her PhD, she looked at how to use community art to make environment education fun.

She recalled the projects she did involved children and artists and this was when the idea to spread the messages on SPTC buses came about.
“I really enjoy these activities and at present I am planning an artist retreat weekend on Curieuse,” she revealed.

“It will be a great opportunity for the artists to learn more about climate change and how to think about themselves as agents of change in society,” Michele added.


by Marie-Anne Lepathy