Promoting Connections in a Place Where Nature is Wild

June 8, 2016

By Ashleigh D. Klingman de Sarigu,  Education policy and citizen engagement analyst for the Galapagos Governing Council (CREG).

In the United States, love and appreciation for nature emerged with the early conservation movement and the establishment of the first national parks, well over 100 years ago. The public call for protection of natural places marked a turning point in the national mindset from that of earlier generations, who were taught to tame wilderness. During the industrial revolution, nature was synonymous with production inputs. Wilderness was unknown, disorderly and, for many, a source of hardship. Today, nature has been largely tamed and even reincorporated into many urban settings, as economic progress has allowed more and more people to appreciate it. This has been the experience in the US and other “developed” countries. Somehow, though, we are surprised when the situation in other places is different.

Teachers on a field trip in Galapagos

The Galapagos Archipelago — still largely pristine — is a case in point. Those who admire Galapagos from afar logically assume that local community members easily connect with their natural surroundings in the World Heritage Site in which they work and live. After all, who wouldn´t appreciate the tremendous opportunity of living in Charles Darwin´s natural laboratory for the Theory of Evolution?

When we look at the backgrounds and daily lives of teachers and community leaders in Galapagos — those who have a particularly strong impact on human development in the Islands — we can better understand the lack of connection among many Galapagueños with the natural environment.

Most Galapagos teachers live in modest concrete homes that were built to economize financial resources. Since architects are expensive, many drew their own simple plans, and in the absence of understanding of local climatic conditions or local resource options, the general result is an unattractive, hot and unhealthy living space. School infrastructure isn’t any different.

Teachers on a field trip in Galapagos

Additionally, many Galapagos teachers are sons or daughters of local fishermen or merchants from the mainland, who were encouraged by their parents and teachers to control and monetize nature to meet immediate human needs. The majority are women who have a double workday, as they are expected to complete household tasks in addition to their professional duties. Time is short under this scenario, and little time remains at the end of the day to develop a deeper, more meaningful relationship with nature.

Despite the efforts of the Ecuadorian government and various non-profit organizations, Galapagos education has improved little over the years. However, all this is changing with the Education for Sustainability in Galapagos (ESG) Program led by the Ministry of Education, Galapagos Conservancy and the Scalesia Foundation, with support from the Galapagos Governing Council. Over five years this program seeks to strengthen teachers’ subject knowledge and pedagogical skills, and to strengthen the connection of teachers with their precious natural surroundings — especially in terms of how they nurture this relationship among their students.

Teachers on a field trip in GalapagosInitial change was visible in a “see-feel-change way,” as described by John Kotter, a Harvard PhD in organizational change, during the first week-long Teacher Institute in San Cristóbal Island in April 2016. During the Institute, approximately 100 local teachers participated in a field trip to a local ranch and community development project called “Hacienda Tranquila,” or Peaceful Ranch. The experience was designed to get teachers out of their comfort zone and to have then answer questions like, “How can I bring Galapagos into my classroom? How can I use Galapagos issues and themes to focus student learning in practical, hands-on ways?”

An important factor influencing our relationship with nature is the depth and breadth of our knowledge and understanding of our surroundings. The afternoon at the Peaceful Ranch was guided by five certified Galapagos National Park guides who shared a wide array of information about the biodiversity and ecosystem teachers observed. Many veteran teachers complemented this technical information with their local knowledge of the history and culture of the Islands, highlighting the important connections between social and scientific knowledge.

The relationships between members of a community can also influence their relationship with the natural world around them. The week-long training provided by the ESG Program promoted a deeper and more trustful relationship among teachers and between teachers and trainers that was clearly evident during the field trip. Although many teachers drove their own cars to the outing, or received rides from friends or family in order to “escape” if the activity was boring, all of the teachers participated actively in the event and remained until the very end.

Teachers on a field trip in Galapagos

Ashleigh D. Klingman de Sarigu is the education policy and citizen engagement analyst for the Galapagos Governing Council (CREG). Ashleigh currently coordinates two strategic community education initiatives: a community education campaign to reduce the use of plastics in Galapagos, and DINAMIZA – a program that will create networks and coordinated actions to help Galapagos youth become more competitive for the workplace. Ashleigh earned a dual Master’s degree in Public Affairs (concentration in sustainable development) and Arts (concentration in education for sustainability) from Indiana University in 2010. She has worked in environmental education for many years and has experience teaching at the high school level in Galapagos where she has lived since fulfilling a Fulbright grant in 2005. Ashleigh is a dual citizen of the United States and Ecuador and considers herself a Galapagueña “de corazón”. In addition to sharing information about CREG priorities, Ashleigh will also be working on the 100 hour course for all Galapagos teacher that will focus on social and environmental topics.

Read part 5 in this series: Education for Sustainability: How Did I Get Here?

All photos © Adrian Vasquez.

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