Schoolchildren launch UK-UAE illustrated poetry anthology calling for urgent climate action

An illustrated anthology of climate poetry co-created by pupils at coastal schools in the British Isles and United Arab Emirates will be formally presented to some of its young authors at a special event in March.

We Are The Ocean was developed by around 400 schoolchildren, aged 10-13, and features 12 poems written in English and Arabic that express their hopes, fears, and actions for the planet’s blue environments.

The anthology was printed by the Emirates Literature Foundation and unveiled at the UN’s COP28 conference, in December last year, where it was shared with international diplomats and delegates in Abu Dhabi.

Now the book has been brought to the UK for the first time by project leaders at the University of Exeter and will be presented to some of those who helped bring it to life. At the event, to be held in the School of Education on the University’s St Luke’s campus on Wednesday 6 March, several of the children will read poems from the book to an invited audience.

We Are The Ocean is a powerful plea by the children to take better care of our blue environments,” says Dr Sally Flint, Creative Lead of We Are The Possible, the international UK-UAE collaboration that has orchestrated the work. “They are the inheritors of this planet, and through education, science and art, they have connected with the ocean and their fellow children to create a lasting legacy – one that we hope will resonate with audiences everywhere.”

Anita Wood and Dr Sally Flint

The anthology was developed following an educational collaboration called Schools Across the Ocean. Led by the University of Exeter, the Emirates Literature Foundation, and the University of Khorfakkan, the project twinned 14 schools in the two countries, drawn from the Channel Islands, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset in the UK, and from Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, and Abu Dhabi in the UAE.

Guided by a teachers’ toolkit, developed by Anita Wood and a team of experts from the School of Education at Exeter, staff were able to follow a weekly programme of learning activities, such as exploring the importance of seagrass ecosystems and capturing nature through art. Over the course of several weeks, the children shared work and connected with their international counterparts via the online Padlet platform. They were also taken on field trips to their local seaside to learn in the natural environment.

Through a series of workshops designed by Dr Flint, the children were then encouraged to write and draw intuitively, using facts and feelings. With renowned children’s author, Professor Wendy O’Shea-Meddour (also University of Exeter), and UAE-based writer Sarah Abdullah, the team collated the children’s creative outputs and wove them into 12 poems in English and Arabic. 

Her Excellency Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and UN Climate High Level Champion for COP28, and Edward Hobart CMG, His Majesty’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, both provided forewords for the anthology. Renowned British artist Kurt Jackson also supported the project by enabling the children to study some of his seascape paintings.

“The Schools Across the Ocean project provided our children with an invaluable opportunity to work on sustainability projects together and to really think about other places around the world and our oceans,” said Demelza Bolton, Head Teacher of the school in West Cornwall. “This has left many positive legacies and has genuinely transformed what we do at St Just Primary, such as joining up our classrooms with other schools both in the UK and overseas. And the poetry anthology will stand as testament to the way that the children can make their voices heard.”

The children learning on Sennen Beach in Cornwall

Schools Across the Oceans was developed so that it draws from the wealth of research and schools’ partnership work undertaken by academics within the School of Education at Exeter. Professor Alexandra Allan, Head of the School, said: “We are extremely proud of all that the project has achieved, both globally and locally. The project aligns with the work which we are undertaking in our exceptional teacher education programmes and with our mission as a School, which is to develop excellent educators who will transform lives and make a positive difference.”

Both We Are The Ocean and Schools Across The Ocean were part of a larger, interdisciplinary project at COP28 focused on the importance of poetry, music, theatre and education in tackling the climate crisis and imagining a more sustainable and healthier future. COP28 We Are The Possible orchestrated a programme of creative events and workshops in the Green and Blue Zones at COP, as well as other cultural venues in the UAE.

It is led by the University of Exeter and funded by the British Embassy in UAE, the Met Office, and UKRI. Partners also include The Theatre of Others, BIMM Institute, Khorfakkan University, and the British Council.

“Schools Across the Ocean has changed the way children think and feel about the ocean and other communities in the UK and UAE,” adds Cecilia Mañosa Nyblon, Director of We Are The Possible. “Connecting with nature, science, art and stories has deepened their understanding of the ocean and what they value most. Their words matter and they are calling on the adults to act now to safeguard the future of our planet.”