Both the book “Can the Desert be Green?” and the practical work of Lawrence Ko are admirable! Starting from hearing of the efforts to plant trees in the desert of northern China to where he is today (with the many he has inspired) is a journey worth documenting. That is what this book does, serving as an inspiration to all who read it.

Working with Shanghai YMCA as his first partner in China, together with the support of young leaders, I note how Lawrence’s journey started as a proposal submitted in 2000 for a twinning agreement which quickly moved on to implementation. Successful projects are always fostered best in partnerships, and the project has displayed Lawrence’s ability to build on such relationships.

Lawrence’s awareness of environmental issues is commendable and was always well integrated into what outwardly seemed only a tree planting project. Issues such as “global toxification, atmospheric contamination, cultural subversion, land exploitation, species extinction, soil destruction, waste management, modern science and technology, the myth of unlimited economic growth, over-consumption and population growth” were all on his mind right from the start

The task was clear and Asian Journeys was to effectively embark on this dauntingly hard and insurmountable mission. But this is where Lawrence’s Christian commitment came through clearly. It was the “biblical hope for the redemption of the creation” that offered him the solid basis to get started. Alongside were also the inspiration from the Chinese sage Confucius (Kongzi) and his contemporary Laozi. Confucian scholars develop a mastery of the ancient texts through decades of classroom study whilst Laozi’s followers wandered about encouraging the learning of truth through immersion in nature.

I love the integration! Lessons are best learned in the “classroom of life”, as states the adage that “A journey of a thousand miles is better than ten years of study.” This helped Lawrence to underline the importance of “learning journeys”, exploring the realities of life, and learning not only “cognitively but experientially, as one engages all the five senses.”

I am fascinated by Asian Journeys’ approach to youth development, where it goes about intentionally to “develop and mentor youths with a combination of both Confucius’ and Laozi’s emphases, integrating research with experiential learning, combining talks and forum discussions with structured activities and reflections outside the classroom, along the journey of life.”

With my own emphasis on “Integration”, as developed in several articles and books, I see this as a powerful blend that will leave lasting learning impressions on all. As is clear, Lawrence wants integration to lead to internalisation, and without doubt “such practices can help build personal convictions and collective commitments.” As he affirms “Only then are we truly Earthed!”

Integrated learning is the way forward and this has been confirmed not only through my own experience and the readings of some of the foremost educators in the world, but also as I reflect on the state of our educational systems today. For me life is all about learning and learning is all about life. And Lawrence Ko’s book, as well his practical project, powerfully demonstrate the truth of this philosophy.