Reflections on the Journey Behind Follow Your Heart Book by Sareen Ali

Title: Reflections on the Journey Behind Follow Your Heart Book

By Sareen Ali, MD, MSc AGHE, MSc GH(c), Graduate student in the Global Health Program at McMaster University.

Follow Your Heart is a heartwarming book and an inspiring movement. It aims to revolutionize traditional educational systems by placing emphasis on social and emotional learning (SEL), and ecological awareness for children in a safe and inclusive environment that champions all of their inner talents while nurturing their multipotentialities. This foundational concept was the driving force for the book’s original creator, Valentina Russo. She shares her childhood story of a stifling western school system in Italy that failed to recognize and support her numerous abilities thus creating a feeling of confusion and isolation. As an adult, she vowed to revise the education system with her innovative business plan that will emphasize emotional wellbeing in children and advocate for exposure to a multitude of professions to encourage multipotentialities. After an unsuccessful attempt at funding the project, it was largely forgotten till the pandemic lockdown which helped to set-in motion a series of events that would lead to the creation of Follow Your Heart book as we know it.


During the COVID-19 pandemic that gripped the world in 2020, Agnes Haule, a legal advisor, and an educator from Matimira village in the Ruvuma Region of Tanzania asked her friend and colleague, Margherita Paola Poto for assistance with acquiring books for the local school library which Margherita and her team members from ECO_CARE had helped to build. Margherita is a researcher, professor and an environmental lawyer who coordinates ECO_CARE. Filled with purpose, Margherita focused on finding age- and language-appropriate materials for the school children. However, it proved to be a challenging task. While randomly discussing this issue with her close friend Valentina, the conversation ignited the memory of a deeply loved but long-forgotten business plan that Valentina had created years prior. It involved the story of a brave little girl who yearned to break-free from her traditional schooling so she could be much more than what society told her to be. Inspired by the story behind the project, as well as the vision for its contents, Margherita realized its potential and through Valentina’s support, started reworking the project with Emily Murray, a global health researcher and an ECO_CARE team member.


Through numerous discussions and collaborative work, Follow Your Heart was recreated with deep grounding in scientific research and theoretical frameworks. It evolved into a tripartite educational resource targeting three different audiences: multipotential children, researchers and university students, and educators. The objective is to foster emotional and ecological awareness in children by engaging them in diverse and stimulating school activities that support cognitive learning through indoor and outdoor play. This dynamic curriculum was introduced as part of a book launch for Follow Your Heart through workshops that were conducted in the United Kingdom, Italy, and France. The book was well-received in all these locations and the workshops had intergenerational audiences varying from curious children to their parents and grandparents, as well as local educators. The hope for future workshops is to conduct follow-up surveys amongst the users so that the contents of the books are constantly enhanced using community-led co-design methodology. In addition, efforts are being made to publish academic articles to highlight the importance of SEL and ecological awareness in children for facilitating emotionally grounded adults who are conscious of the complex inter-relationships that exist between self and the environment so there is more ownership for protecting our ecosystems and mitigating climate change.


Note of the editor: Sareen Ali wrote this piece during her McMaster practicum with Margherita Poto and Emily Murray (McMaster, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, May-June 2023) and developed her reflections after studying the book, delving into Follow Your Heart research and conversing with the authors. The Follow Your Heart and ECO_CARE teams are very grateful for her contribution.


This post can be cited as: Sareen Ali, Reflections on the Journey Behind Follow Your Heart Book, June 7, 2023.

Sareen and her son Emir