This post shares a piece that finds space in the newsletter of the Nilgiri Natural History Society (NNHS) ~ http://nnhs.in/
A succinct introduction to Keystone Foundation (KF), Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR) and the Nilgiri Natural History Society (NNHS) marked the beginning of the 3rd retreat of the Conservation Education group. This group, an informal network of people, organizes annual retreats for members to deliberate on their experiences with conservation education. Attempts are made to conduct these retreats at locations where participants can also put in time and learn from actions of the host organization. KF was the host for the October 2010 retreat
NBR, at the current juncture, is bereft of a legal status and as a corollary is managed by multiple agencies. This does not help towards its conservation. However with the Western Ghats Expert Panel appointed by the government the anomaly stands a good chance of being addressed. KF has a significant presence in the NBR by virtue of their presence that exceeds a decade and programs which include capacity-building, documentation, action-research, advocacy, awareness and networking. Discussions on KFs efforts were well received by the participants; these focused on their programs on bee-keeping and conservation-education. The later in particular is a novel concept that has elders share their knowledge on medicinal plants and other wildlife as also myths and legends with younger folk in and around their villages. Oral knowledge is thus transferred to the next generation that follows a lifestyle very different from that of their grand-parents.
As a first the group members had invited an expert to share views on education, Dr. Vasavi from National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), who gave an interesting talk on ‘Elements towards Ecologies of Knowledge’. She shared of issues confronting rural India that ranged from education to challenges faced by youth and also pointed out to the dichotomy between the rush for primary education and disillusion with higher education. The talk outlined 3 pronged crises one encounters today; ecological, economic and social as also brought out the overlaps and interlinks in issues confronting conservation, education and rural India.
Members faced challenges when interacting with different segments of the society and a session had been planned on ‘Communication strategies for different audiences’. As participants shared their experiences from diverse situations across the country their co-participants chipped in with questions and comments. These deliberations touched issues that include:
1.Communications; dire need to pay more attention to, which could also lead to separate strategy for each section of the audience.
2.Investing in time; for nurturing relationships and trust as also to understand the nuances associated with location and stakeholders.
3.Marketing; need to sell the concept of conservation education and potential role media could play therein.
Blogs are an interesting tool for communication and the participants planned for a session on blogs in lieu of one that could not be held due to unavoidable circumstances. Existing blog of a member was discussed threadbare during the session at the end of which a fresh blog was created for another member while most of those present seemed to agree that blog could play a pivot in process documentation of their efforts. Questions on creation and maintenance of a blog were discussed; these included:
1.Upload; Can all files be uploaded on a blog; be they image files, music files or video files?
2.Comments; Could comments could be made by anybody? Was it possible to control them? Are they are seen by all visitors to blog?
3.Presentation; Can template of the blog be changed? How many posts can be seen on the home page? What kind of external products can be put on the blog?
The retreat did not restrict itself to KF campus. Participants went for an early-morning walk to Longwood Shola, a Reserve Forest (RF) in Kotagiri (located within tea-estates, plantations, villages) and besides other species also visited by gaurs and leopards. Another enthusing walk was to Sullivan’s cottage; a monument that boasts of an interesting collection of artifacts depicting the history of Nilgiris and the movement to conserve the landscape. Visit to Bee Museum - Green Shop at Ooty was also organized where besides film-screening and the impressive posters and interactive material participants put in time to make purchases from the Green Shop.
The penultimate session sought feedback on the 2010 retreat and suggestions on 2011 retreat.
Some feedback on 2010 retreat:
1.Host agency staff gets to interact with Conservation Education network personnel attending the meeting; this is one off-shoot of having meetings at separate locations.
2.KF’s work and sessions with elders were innovative and well organized.
3.The retreat inspired and enabled to interact with like-minded people and gain access to resources which otherwise would be difficult
Some suggestions for 2011 retreat:
1.Further deliberations on ‘Communication strategies’ and ‘Ecologies of Knowledge’.
2.Field visits to Conservation Education projects in action.
3.Action based learning depending on the venue.
Thanking all group members and Keystone Foundation.
Conservation Education Network is an assemblage of people working on conservation education to interact and share experiences, concerns, assess strengths – weaknesses and explore avenues for collaborations. An open network, it believes in learning for life using hands, heart and mind. Members are teachers, non government organization personnel, trainers and consultants who interact frequently by way of email as also meet each year for annual-retreats to deliberate on their experiences and perceptions. These retreats are organized at separate locations each year to enable the participants to get an exposure and as a corollary present an opportunity to learn from
A.Programs undertaken by the host organization.
B.Natural values offered by the landscape.
1st retreat was organized at Navdarshanam (Tamil Nadu, India) and gave the members space to introduce themselves and their actions. I have fond memories of the campus that followed a rule by which electricity could be consumed only to the extent generated on the campus and as a result participants were not allowed to put the projector to use. A pertinent lesson of the need to conserve resources in day-to-day lives and practice what one preached. One presentation that I found of great interest also shared the concept and benefits of allotting time for participants to reflect and ruminate in course of conservation education programs. This was pertinent for them to not only absorb the program actions but also think ahead on the lines.
2nd retreat was organized at Auroville (Tamil Nadu, India). The location provided enough fodder for thought as participants were exposed to invigorating actions that included restoration ecology program which had transformed a landscape bereft of shade and water to a forest thriving with porcupines and civets. Also eye-opening was visit to a school where solar energy, waste-segregation and recycling had been take up with students involved at each stage; hands-on learning.
Hosts and landscape.
Introduction to the host organization Keystone Foundation set up the stage for the 3rd retreat during October 2010. Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and the Nilgiri Natural History Society were an integral part of this introduction. Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is a fascinating ecosystem of the hill ranges ofNilgirisand its surrounding environments covering a tract of over 5,000 square kilometers. It spans the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala and includes protected areas. Formed by members of Keystone Foundation the Nilgiri Natural History Society endeavors to redefine life, nature and humanity through an ecologically sound and socially responsible value system.
Keystone Foundation’s programs include livelihoods, conservation, culture and people, environmental governance and organic market development. Their projects in and around the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve include Shola restoration, honey collection–marketing and conservation education. There was a talk on bees and honey collection. Of particular interest to me were the sloth bears (Melursus ursinus) that came to Keystone Campus at Kotagiri (Tamil Nadu, India) for honey. One of them was seen running away with 2 bee and honey bearing slides, one in each arm. Bee-boxes, which house these slides, have since been shifted but bears still visit the campus! Session on their conservation education program that focused on ‘barefoot educators’ was intriguing as well. An appealing concept, it had elders share their knowledge on medicinal plants and other wildlife as also myths - legends with younger folk in and around their villages. Oral knowledge is thus transferred to the young generation that is not as connected to the natural values of the landscape as their grand-parents. The session came to an end with elders (who had come all the way to Kotagiri) inviting the participants to their villages!
Participants went for an enthusing walk to Longwood Shola; a Reserve Forest and an Important Bird Area (Birdlife International 2010) in Kotagiri. This patch of 100 – 150 acres, located amidst tea-estates, plantations and villages, besides other species is also visited by the mega-fauna like gaur (Bos gaurus) and leopard (Panthera pardus). Organizations in Kotagiri put in time and effort towards this forest that also acts as a prime and perennial water-source for 15 villages downstream. While most Sholas currently do not boast of trees as tall; this small patch gives an idea of what the Nilgiris once were!
Visit to Bee Museum - Green Shop at Ootacamund was also organized. Participants initially saw a film by Keystone Foundation on the practice of honey collection in the landscape and its being rooted in the cultural practices titled ‘Honey hunters of the Blue mountains’. This was complimented by a talk on varied aspects of the practice of honey-collection in the landscape. The museum also hosts an impressive display of posters and interactive material on wildlife species that occur in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Participants then moved on to make purchases from the Green Shop that stores forest-honey, embroidered products by women from Toda community, products from bees-wax and other items.
Deliberations on Conservation education.
In the paragraphs below I share discussions participants had on select topics. The idea was to share experiences, agree–disagree, learn from each other and widen horizons and not to necessarily reach a definite conclusion.
Dr Vasavi was invited as an expert on education and her interesting talk was titled ‘Elements towards ecologies of Knowledge’. It outlined the 3 pronged crises one encounters today; ecological, economic and social as also brought out the overlaps and interlinks in issues confronting conservation, education and culture. Her talk had me put across a question that has been on my radar for a while now. Why conservation education is accorded low priority even within conservation circles; this also by people who otherwise talk of it being pertinent for conservation. Her take on this was different from what little I had discussed on this. According to her most conservation practitioners today hail from a segment of the society that espouses a very urban mindset and for whom forests are still distant. Wildlife as a consequence espouses values of glamour and exotica. As a result of this higher weightage is accorded to being with and around wildlife as opposed to indulging in education and awareness action with other segments of the society.
An issue deliberated more than once was the fashion in which conservation education should be a part of the academic curriculum. Either it could be a separate subject in itself or by way of ‘greening’ of existing curriculum. Making conservation education a separate subject confers upon it desired space and design while the argument against making it a separate subject is the often quoted line that students (and their teachers) are already bogged down with a subject too many and the fresh subject (for them) is akin to an additional task forced upon them. The parallel fear being that of it being reduced to marks - grades by virtue of being a part of the system. Greening of all subjects, in other words inculcating issues environment related issues across the board, overcomes some of these issues but the argument against this approach is perhaps more severe. Larger politics of education have tuned it towards development read as dams, markets, shares, job-worthiness etc. This development by its very character has no space for nature for its own sake and conservation as a corollary will be such as suits the development paradigm of the day. Gruenewald (2004) goes a step ahead to challenge that environmental education will be ineffective in advancing its own goal of creating an environmentally or ecologically literate (Orr, 1992) citizenry as long as it continues to discipline itself within the norms of general education.
As an off-shoot of the deliberations above a discussion took shape on conservation education books for children. I harbour a feeling that the impact authors and publishers of these books claim is highly over-rated. Resource material including books are a crucial component of conservation education programs but to state that text-books for conservation education necessarily bring in desired impact appears somewhat far-fetched. I wonder if publishing the book is an end in itself or focus and energies on feedback from teachers, interactions with teachers and students who would work with these books form integral constituents of the process that brings out these books. As I write I recall a function we had at Baghmara (Meghalaya, India) where one of the actions was to distribute books in Garo language. These books lay in the store-room of our partner agency for a couple of years. This may be an aberration but these books in no way replace the role that interactions play.
Members faced challenges when interacting with different segments of the society and a session had been planned on ‘Communication strategies for different audiences’. Segments discussed included youth-associations, students, teachers, forest-department staff, personnel from non-government organizations, members of self-help groups, religious-bodies and volunteers. As participants shared their experiences from diverse situations across the country their co-participants chipped in with questions and comments. These deliberations touched issues that include:
A.Communications; dire need to pay more attention to, which could also lead to separate strategy for each section of the audience.
B.Investing in time; for nurturing relationships and trust as also to understand the nuances associated with location and stakeholders.
C.Marketing; need to sell the concept of conservation education.
D.Explore fresh avenues; possibilities of roles media could play to strengthen the cause or impact one to one interactions would have.
Blogs are an interesting tool for communication and the participants planned for a session on blogs in lieu of one that could not be held due to unavoidable circumstances. Blog of a member was discussed threadbare during the session at the end of which a fresh blog was created for another member. Most of those present seemed to agree that blog could play a pivot in process-documentation of their efforts. Questions on creation and maintenance of a blog were discussed; these include:
A.Upload; can all files be uploaded on a blog; be they image files, music files or video files?
B.Access; can access to blog be restricted? Do search engines pick up blog posts?
C.Comments; could comments could be made by anybody? Was it possible to control them? Are they are seen by all visitors to blog?
D.Presentation; can template of the blog be changed? How many posts can be seen on the home page?
E.External products; what kind of external products are put on a blog? What is their utility? Are they free?
Another question I had was on Keystone Foundation’s program that concerns bee-keeping and honey-marketing. Genesis of this lay in my discussion with colleagues earlier during the year where we discussed conserving nature for nature’s sake, with the belief that all living beings had an equal right to life, and Saneesh’s (Keystone Foundation personnel and group-member) talk during the 2nd retreat. He had shared of the dilemma he faced when elders asked him why he tells them not to hunt other wildlife species when he helps them in extracting and selling honey from bees; wild bees. I wondered if these are double-standards espoused by us conservation practitioners. Are we going to help the elders if their cultural practices consist of extracting tiger (Panthera tigris) skin for example? Are we deciding (for ourselves and others) what we will conserve and what we will consume?
Feedback on 2010 and suggestions for 2011 retreat.
The penultimate day had a session where participants put in their views on their experiences at the 3rd and their expectations from the 4th retreat.
A.Talk by the invited expert was considered inspiring and discussion on communication strategies very relevant; it was suggested that the topics take a step ahead in the forthcoming retreat.
B.Keystone Foundation’s programs were deemed innovative and well organized and it was also observed that as an off-shoot of organizing retreat the host agency personnel got to interact with network members.
C.The retreat was also regarded as an eye-opener that enabled one to interact with like-minded people and gain access to resources that otherwise would be difficult.
D.Suggestions came forth to include field visits to conservation education projects in action as also activity based learning program depending on the venue of the next retreat.
This post shares a 'thanking - note' written for Maraland dot net. They have been very encouraging (specially over the blog) and have shared a translated version of this note and more on their very interesting website here. Thanks once again; very touched specially your email (sharing part of it here) "We hope that we will realize the importance of preserving the flora and fauna of our land before it gets destroyed by our own actions.Maythe flameof preserving them started by your team keep burning in our land! "
At the onset I would like to thank you for your kind words.
Three years at Saiha that began during September 2007 have been an experience very close to me and yet very difficult to put in words (despite the blog!). My colleagues had been here earlier to conduct a baseline survey of the mammals and birds occuring in the region. This exercise they undertook with the Environment and Forest department of the Mara Autonomous District Council. The survey brought out hunting / people’s perception as the major threat to the amazing biodiversity this region harbours. I came in and we initiated a program that primarily focussed on conservation education / awareness.
We undertook actions with school going children, their teachers, MTP members, Village Council members and forest department personnel in the initial stages at Saiha, Tuipang and Phura. Film screenings on laptop computers, power point presentations on wildlife in Mizoram, discussions on beliefs concerning wildlife in South Mizoram, Hoolock Gibbons in Maraland and other actions were undertaken. As the partnerships flowered we began contributing to newletter bought out by KTP – Epatha and attended and shared our experiences at events organized by MTP and MSO. Also on the plate were undertaking surveys with forest department and participating in trainings for forest department personnel. We undertook documentation of these invigorating experiences and shared it online.
Towards the second half of our stay the actions spread to Chakhang and we also worked with the Lawngtlai Forest Division. The later enabled me to visit Ngengpui Wildlife Sanctuary and Blue Mountain National Park, something that I waiting long for. Some species we came across (Sarivaithun or the Yellow bellied weasel being one) we wrote of in journals and also shared our experiences in magazines.
Personally it has been a very satisfying experience but I still wish that people in Maraland shower the kindness they bestowed on me to the wildlife here. Hunting / trapping wildlife and keeping them as pets need to be done away with if people from Maraland want to retain the amazing forests their lands harbour. They are the chosen ones in that such forests do not occur in other parts of the state (or even beyond) and now they can choose if they want to retain them for their children and grand-children.
I ponder a little as I write this and realize that I will never be able to sufficiently thank people in Maraland for the sharing their time, knowledge, meals, rooms and warmth and the experiences here I shall cherish for long; sitting at Palak Dil in alluring silence, walking the forests of south of Lomasu – absolutely stunned, walking the stairs down from our home to the New Saiha market, watching football action on the helipad .......
Also, please feel free to use text / images from the blog; Maraland.Net doing so will only help the cause of the blog.