On 12th August 2018 we celebrated International Youth Day, a United Nations endorsed global celebration of young people and their contribution towards the Sustainable Development Goals, with the launch of our latest newsletter. Working with youth groups, providing training in schools, or partnering directly with universities and their students are often key aspects of Darwin projects, and engaging with local youth is a cornerstone of the Darwin Initiative.
In this series of blogs, we will be exploring projects which exemplify these values as we look at how Darwin projects educate, collaborate with, and engage young people in conservation around the world. In this, the first blog of the series, we look at education and knowledge sharing. We begin by visiting a school in Burma which has found creative ways to educate children about the importance of elephants, before attending “Marine Awareness Week” in St Helena to learn about plankton and plastics.
August 12th is a special day for Elephant Family. Not only is it International Youth Day, it is also, coincidently, World Elephant Day. Teaching youngsters about elephants and the role they play in their ecosystem, as well as how to live safely alongside them, is one of the strategies employed by a dynamic partnership of NGOs supported by the Darwin Initiative, ensuring a future for Asia’s elephants.
Elephant Family’s Darwin project is forging an alliance between two local partners – Burmese-led Grow Back for Posterity (GBP) and WCS-Myanmar – who work with rural communities in Burma (Myanmar). In the course of this project, the human-elephant conflict (HEC) education teams will reach over 12,000 families in key areas for elephants and biodiversity, giving them the knowledge and skills they need to conserve their natural resources and avoid conflict with elephants. Our common aim is for elephants to be seen as an ecological asset rather than an economic risk. This seems to be paying off. In recent months villagers who have engaged with GBP are those that have shopped elephant poachers to the authorities.
So far, the GBP teams have held Human Elephant Conflict awareness workshops in 61 schools and community centres with over 10,000 students. These are hugely interactive events involving educational films, Q&A sessions, memory games and other learning tools that grip these novelty-hungry audiences ranging in age from 8 to 80. Tightly packed in cross-legged groups, children eagerly participate while their parents and grandparents stand around watching, highly amused and equally engaged. One game requires players to pair elephant-related pictures on individual boards. The first to fill a board wins, and the contest is lively! The students are intensely focused, their parents actively encouraging. The WCS team has also developed a beautifully illustrated board game similar to Snakes and Ladders which explains the challenges faced by a young elephant as it grows up. This game has been piloted in six villages in the Tanintharyi region of southeast Burma (Myanmar) and is a hit! GBP looks forward to adding this to its suite of educational tools.
Darwin is helping young people on the island of St Helena to understand how their marine ecosystem works and how all the marine organisms link together in the food web. The aim is to help the island’s youth to make more informed management decisions about the marine environment.
When work started on this project the word ‘plankton’ was used a lot. Local people, who identify as ‘Saints’, weren’t sure what plankton was or why it’s so important. Through our Darwin project work we started spreading the information. The message was simple: plankton are the base of the food web, everything eats plankton, and everything needs plankton to survive.
But everywhere we found plankton we were also finding plastic. When we dragged nets through the water to scoop out plankton we also scooped out plastic. When we looked in our fish stomachs we found plankton but we also found plastic. When we went to our sea bird nesting sites little pieces of plastic were being used to mark their territories. We wanted to tell Saints about plankton, but we couldn’t do that without also talking about plastic.
Each year on St Helena the Marine Conservation Section of St Helena Government run ‘Marine Awareness Week’. A topic is chosen and a week of outreach activities are organised to educate and inspire school children about their marine ecosystem. This year the theme was ‘Our Invisible Ocean: from plankton to plastics’.
Every class from every school on the island was invited to attend. The younger children learned through games: circling what doesn’t belong on the beach, or trying to fish in the paddling pool and answering ‘What did you catch and should it be there?’ The older children had a more challenging day learning how long different plastic items stay in the ocean for. They then created St Helena’s food web with plankton as the base, working out what happens if you take away plankton and replace it with plastic.
Small actions by lots of individuals can add up to big changes. The children were given simple things to try to swap some of their single use plastic items with more ocean safe options. This included things like encouraging re-usable shopping bags and water bottles, taking metal cutlery on picnics instead of plastic and saying no to the straw when they buy a drink. St Helena relies heavily on imported food goods that bring in a lot of plastic packaging. Many locals feel that this is beyond their control but by adding their voice to those around the world saying ‘no’ to plastic, they can have a powerful effect.
For more information on Elephant Family’s project 24-024 click here and for more information on the Saint Helena Government’s project DPLUS070 please click here, or read the full articles in our August 2018 Newsletter.