Ramblings of a naturalist: learnings from conservation education
5 November 2011
Will the children green their hill slopes?
Wide-eyed, apprehensive, yet eager, the twenty young children stared back at us in the classroom. I was in the Thatyud district, near Mussoorie in Uttarakhand, in a school in the village of Kyarsi. Titli Trust was supporting a local NGO, to start a conservation education program in rural schools in the Thatyud district.
The programme we were conducting was the first in a series of workshops in rural Uttarakhand. As is usual, things did not go according to plan! The school principal, whom we had written and spoken to, was on leave, and had forgotten to inform the other teachers about the program! So here we were, getting funny looks from teachers and children alike - who are these strangers who have just landed up one fine Saturday afternoon!
As our local partners sorted things out, I stood around and looked at my surroundings. Nestled in the outer Himalayas, hills surrounded the village on all sides. Barring the summit of one hill slope, which was clothed with dense conifer forests (thereby telling the tale of what the forest on the rest of the hill slopes would have been like, years ago), desolate barren hill slopes glared back at me! The hill slopes had been cleared of their forests. This must be a good place to begin a CE program, I thought to myself!
Soon, matters were sorted out. The supportive teachers welcomed outside support on a CE program, and the kids, as always, were eager to learn. For the next few hours, the selected group of children went through our program. Activities such as ‘Web of Life’, poster making, and animated discussions on nature and the environment followed. The children, from 6 to 8 standards, were bright, knowledgeable and easily absorbed all that we told them. Overcoming the initial apprehension of being thrust in front of strangers, they loved the program, participating actively, providing their own insights about their area. Children from a rural background are so very eager to learn. And unlike children in an urban environment, they actually have an opportunity to apply some of their learnings into the forest habitat around their area.
One workshop does not necessarily make a huge difference - which is why we will be back for a series of engagements with the children. Could they take the onus of greening their hill slopes once again? Could they help in stopping their elders from hunting wild animals (and this does still happen!). Will the children grow up to be more sensitive to nature and the environment, as they grow up? We certainly hope so; time will tell whether decades from now, we will still see barren hill slopes, or hopefully, green tree-covered ones.
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