‘Less poop, more trees’ – children turn walking into an urban exploration

The Birkirkara school children taking part in the ongoing ‘Nimxu Mixja’ project have taken a definitive stand in favour of a better urban environment, as MaltaToday finds out in conversation with the project’s initiators Kristina Borg and Raffaella Zammit, as well as the insights of educators within the town’s St Theresa College

“Walking practice is not simply a means of transport. I do walk from A to B, but walking goes beyond that”
“Walking practice is not simply a means of transport. I do walk from A to B, but walking goes beyond that”

Walking is something of a counter-intuitive measure on the island, where despite our country’s small size the car seems to have taken precedence, resulting in an infrastructural, social and cultural race to the bottom characterised by congestion and poor air quality.

But artist Kristina Borg and curator Raffaella Zammit – Executive Director of the Gabriel Caruana Foundation – are pushing back against this unfortunate bugbear of Maltese life by doing the thing we’re always told to do when it comes to such initiatives: getting them while they’re young.

“Walking practice is not simply a means of transport. I do walk from A to B, but walking goes beyond that,” Borg said. “It’s an artistic practice in itself, a means of exploration of our landscape and social environment – be it urban or rural – where our body on the move leaves an impact on the surroundings.”

Borg recalls the moment she realised Zammit – a long-time vocal proponent of alternative methods of transportation on the island – would make a very viable creative partner for a project that deals with these dynamics… which is also where the kids came in.

“We brainstormed different approaches and prospects of walking practice and approached the Birkirkara Primary School – St Theresa College,” Borg and Zammit said, explaining how ‘Nimxu Mixja’ introduces Year 5 students to walking as an “artistic process in a transdisciplinary way, linking to more than one subject of the curriculum”.

“Through playful activities, the students were able to foster a sense of community and a deeper understanding of their schooltown. The Year 5 classes had the chance to experience four walks and a post-walk processing session each,” Borg and Zammit said.

The experiment was certainly appreciated by both the pupils and their educators, with St Theresa College assistant head Mariella Zikic enthusing over how the project, “provided the children with exciting and different experiences to help them learn”.

“The pupils enjoyed this very much and as a school we already approached Kristina and Raffaella to try and find ways how to keep this project going through the coming years,” Zikic added, emphasising the multi-disciplinary nature of the project.

“Nimxu Mixja does not simply focus on the physical activity but also encourages the pupils to stop and listen and observe the surroundings through experiential learning. During the walks, the pupils had the opportunity to record what they observed through note taking or by taking pictures using their tablets. After each walk the pupils had an activity in class where they used different genres to express and share what they observed, be it a drawing, writing a poem, or a slogan. All this tied up well with the academic subjects.”

Weighing in on the experience, the pupils’ teachers – Melanie Camilleri, Maria Bonanno, Cynthia Grima and Kimberly Said – observed how the ‘pre-walk’ stage of the process was also a key factor in ensuring they get the most of out of the project.

“At this stage, the students acquired skills involving the use of tablets, reading and interpreting maps. It was also an opportunity for the students to explore different areas of Birkirkara which they weren’t aware of before, while sharing suggestions on how they can improve their hometown.”

In effect, the project seeks to broaden one’s experiential horizons even within one’s own hometown - something that we cannot take for granted when we’re discouraged from walking and concentrating.

“The project helped the children become aware of the negative but also the positive aspects of their environment and so, it helped them to think of ways on how they can protect their environment from such negative situations,” the teachers added.

Increased experiential awareness, coupled with an understanding that we should, in fact, look for ways to tangibly change our immediate surrounding are certainly welcome outcomes of the ‘Nimxu Mixja’ project, and Borg has certainly witnessed this play itself out during the sessions.

“Though most of the students live in Birkirkara, it was thought-provoking to learn that ‘Nimxu Mixja’ has allowed them to explore new areas of their hometown, specifically a number of alleys,” Borg said, pointing out how the children’s own perceptions throughout the exercise could also help set the right priorities for society at large.

“In our fast-paced life we are too alienated. How many of us do stop and think? Children are less inhibited to act and deal with the situation. A slogan that they had come up with – ‘Less poop. More trees’ shows how frustrated they are with what they find while walking. Once the necessary elements are provided, we can become more aware of our environment,” Borg added.

‘Nimxu Mixja’ will have a culminating event on June 2 at 9.15am in front of the Birkirkara Primary School, Brared Street, where pupils, their parents and teachers and members of the community will be invited to walk together to The Mill - Art, Culture and Crafts Centre to see an exhibition of the participating pupils’ works. The ‘Nimxu Mixja’ exhibition will remain open until June 14. Opening hours: 5pm to 7pm on Monday, Thursday and Friday. The project is developed in collaboration with the Gabriel Caruana Foundation, and supported by Arts Council Malta’s Kreattiv fund

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