A time for students to speak in nature’s behalf

About 168 students from 19 colleges and universities across the Sultanate were divided into 40 teams. On October 22 and 23, they will be using their words to argue about their position in a public speaking competition organised by the Environment Society of Oman.
This is the seventh inter-college environment public speaking competition ESO is organising. They are providing Oman-based students an opportunity to develop deep appreciation for the environment and challenges them to think critically of solutions to problems that plague it.

The topics this year are loaded. The teams were expected to research and debate on ‘Sustainable Built Environment: Are we Achieving it?; the “Impact of Fashion and Makeup Industry on the Environment”; “The Future of Agriculture in the Middle East” and “The Impact of Wars on the Environment.”
The four winning teams will be sent to the regional finals competing against teams from different Arab nations culminating in Dubai on November 27 and 28, 2018.
In the press launching of ESO held yesterday at the Cultural Club in Al Qurum, one of the panelists is Management Organisation — Behavioural Marketing graduating student Taha al Qasmi. He is the competition’s ambassador, earning the distinction after his own impeccable performance in 2016 where his team won 4th place in the regional finals.
“It was massive, students from different countries were there and all were conditioned to debate,” he shared.
Given the luxury to talk freely in Arabic, it is easy to see why Taha would perform well as a public speaker. He is outspoken and his intelligence is backed by wealth of data he has come to acquire despite his young age.
“My personal journey started when saw one of the competition posts of ESO on Instagram. One of the themes was about Environmental Education. I was very interested about it so I went to visit schools in Bousher — three of them and I looked into the curriculums of these schools to check whether they included anything about the environment,” he shared.
“We looked at the Arabic Curriculum as well as the Islamic education. Based on what we saw and discovered, we created a plan on how environment topics can be introduced into the academic curriculum. Our position included creating activities in schools that would convey some environmental key messages — important themes that the students need to be aware of,” he added.
Taha and his team’s effort resulted in them snatching one of the prizes in the competition in Oman.
“We won second place in Oman and in Dubai, we won fourth place,” he said.
“The competition in Dubai was very different. There were a lot of other nationalities there. The competition was really strong because everyone was dedicated to winning. I started my presentation by showing everyone the photo of his Majesty the Sultan, and telling the audience that, ‘We thank God because we are the only country in the Arab World that actually got a Ministry of Environment’,” he shared.
The win gave Taha a “woke” moment. He has come to understand the importance of being an advocate for the environment and was internally motivated to pursue a cause.
“When you are passionate about something, you don’t need anyone to run after you to tell you what to do and how to do things. You find your own ways to help,” he shared. This resulted in him volunteering as a mentor to a new batch of student competitors.
“In 2017, I started mentoring teams. I mentored three teams all of which have won,” he shared.
“When I mentor these students, I tell them not to focus on winning. I deviate them from focusing into just getting an award but actually build their consciousness. I challenge them to understand the environmental issues, imbed in them environmental awareness, of rousing them to take part, to make a change and a difference. I remind them of their role in the whole environmental scheme,” he said
“I was happy that the teams I mentored all get the first prizes here in Oman. Inshallah, all the five I am mentoring now can replicate the win — if not all of them winning, at least the upper two prizes.”
Taha is not all words though. While the mentorship is his way of giving back to his fellow students, he also did his part for the environment in practical terms.
“Despite graduating from my university at the end of this year, I have created an environmental club at my college two years ago. Some of the initiatives we have is recycling paper and plastics. We created a system where a company picks up the recyclable twice a month. I feel like I’m leaving them a footprint and hopefully the initiative will be there and remain even after I’ve left,” he said.
For Taha, the competition is just to get the students started — a way of enticing them to start something good.
“It is extremely important for students to feel this connection with the environment. We are directly connected to this Earth. We hear a lot about climate change and desertification issues but we need to know, where does our responsibility fall? Each and every one of us is responsible. We are born on here, we live on this Earth, and in Islam, we also believe that we are going back to be examined for the things we do here. It is very important to feel that connection and that responsibility,” he said.
ESO Oman Board Member Dareen Mehdi said that the debate is “an interactive platform that allows students to truly understand the impact people have on the environment.”
“Through their research and discussions… students will learn how to make a change and eventually become ambassadors for the environment. Through the years, the competition has made a positive impact on hundreds of Omani students who have learned how to be more environmentally responsible.
This year’s competition is sponsored by Mitsui E&P Middle East BV, Omnivest, Oman LNG Development Foundation, Daleel Petroleum, CGG, and Shell Oman.
For competition details, visit www.omanspeaking.org or www.eso.org.om.