Meet the Family Leading the Charge in Green School Innovation

Making education sustainable, one classroom at a time
Yustinus Tjiuwanda/

Backpacker love stories are certainly common. Less common however, is a love story that ends happily ever after, with an eco impact on a global scale. 
Nicola Courtin and Duncan Ward met while backpacking in Laos, and have since created a life together that is uniquely nomadic and inspiring. A few years after the two first met overseas in 2013, Nicola flew to Cambodia to meet Duncan to learn more about the organization he had founded just the year before. Nicola had been inspired by Duncan’s passion, and was excited to see Classroom of Hope in action.

Today, Nicola is a mom, and the creative director and co-founder of Classroom of Hope. Together, she and her partner Duncan, CEO and Classroom of Hope co-founder, are taking action to change the world for the better.

Education for all

Classroom of Hope is based on the belief that every child deserves access to quality education and a safe and secure learning environment. It started as an educational NGO, with a mission to build schools in communities in need across the globe. Its recent projects have expanded their organizational objectives and have the potential to create a much larger ecological impact.
“When we were (in Cambodia) visiting the schools and the children,” recalls Nicola, “I experienced a full-body knowing that I wanted to be a part of this. It was a life-changing trip for me. Not only did we finally discover that we were meant to be together, but we also realized the incredible team we could make in building Classroom of Hope. We've been working together and doing life together ever since.”

Nearly a decade into their partnership - both personal and professional, Nicola and Duncan have grown not only an international NGO but also a beautiful family. With two little girls in tow, the pair have settled in Bali where they enjoy a lifestyle immersed in nature, culture and travel.

A family lifestyle rich in learning

“There is an ease about living here that I feel grateful for daily,” says Nicola. “My kids get to be in nature constantly. This island offers endless possibilities of places and experiences to explore. It’s a dream for kids. And adults too!”

This isn’t to say that life is without its usual routines and hard work. Nicola and Duncan may be enjoying the tropical weather and a slower paced life than what you might experience in Canada but when work and family are so intertwined, it takes some careful balancing. There is no 9-to-5 schedule, but rather a flexibility that they have learned to embrace. Whether traveling to their site in Lombok (an island just off the coast of Bali), hunkering down for a day of meetings, or sorting out school pick ups and child care, life in Bali is simply another, prettier version of the family grind.

“I have learned to have flexibility in my days which means I work evenings or weekends sometimes,” says Nicola, “but it also means I get to be more present with my family. The balance is not always perfect. I am constantly learning how to juggle work and parenthood. But I have grown to love the freedom. I cannot imagine not having it.”

Breaking down barriers

Being able to expose their children to a rich culture and nature is just the beginning of what life in Bali has to offer Nicola and Duncan. They also have an amazing opportunity to provide their children with an education in meaningful service, education and gratitude.

When their project in Lombok began, their daughter Aura (4-and-a-half years old), came to the project site nearly everyday. She played with students who were eagerly awaiting the completion of their school. Despite language barriers, Aura connected with kids her age and gained insight into what life looks like for children in small communities of rural Indonesia. This piqued Aura’s interest in her parents’ work and what Classroom of Hope is all about. 
Recently, Nicola and Duncan have seen their efforts evolve into a spectacular eco-collaboration. This past year, they have successfully partnered with Finland-based Block Solution to build schools on the island of Lombok, Indonesia, using Block Solution’s environmentally friendly block-modules. 
“These blocks are 100% sustainable, lego-like blocks that are made of recycled plastic,” Nicola says. “It is a win-win. They clean up plastic pollution and provide children with a quality learning environment.”
Building Block Solution schools in Indonesia was a no-brainer. Aside from having their home in Bali, there’s the fact that Indonesia is the world’s second-largest contributor to plastic pollution, generating roughly 24,500 tons of plastic waste per day. Building classrooms in Lombok would help mitigate the massive pollution issue and help to rebuild schools lost during the massive earthquake that rocked the island in 2018. Each classroom built removes 2-3 tons of plastic waste from the environment and provides a safe, earthquake-resistant learning environment where children can thrive.

Global change, one block at a time

Starting with Lombok, Classroom of Hope intends to rebuild 200 schools and 4,000 homes which were destroyed by the earthquakes. Building with Block Solution technology also helps to decrease carbon emissions by 2 tons of CO2 per home or per classroom.

By the end of 2024, Block Solutions Indonesia plans to have 4 factories operating across Java, Sumatra and Lombok, which will enable them to remove 20,000 tons of plastic waste from Indonesia's environment per year. On an international level, Block Solutions Finland has a vision of building 800 factories across the globe. This technology has huge potential to target the world’s plastic problems. 
Nicola and Duncan are thrilled to be seeing their organization grow and flourish. They are looking forward to showing their daughters how hard work and compassion can impact entire communities and how their environmental efforts can impact the globe. As Duncan works more closely with Block Solutions, Nicola continues to act as the voice and creative guru of Classroom of Hope. Together, their family will be inspiring change for years to come. 

You might also enjoy: Nurturing Environmental Leadership in Children, Edible Schoolyards, and Teaching in Nature.

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