Environmental Education in the Bolivian Amazon
In 2009, local organizations of the town Rurrenabaque asked the Amazon Fund to help with a program to promote environmental awareness that contributes to the conservation of nature and culture in their region. This region in the Bolivian Amazon is a major destination for the (inter)national eco-tourist and has the highest biodiversity indexes of the entire Amazon region. The local economy is heavily dependent on the wealth of nature in the area. But in the urban population, which largely consists of immigrants, there are lack of knowledge and resources for the preservation of nature.
In most European countries a lot has happened in terms of awareness of nature and the environment. Schoolchildren plant trees and have school gardens and are aware of the separation of waste. The governments have invested heavily in our green environment! Our youth talk about the environment and the preservation of nature. This opportunity we want to share with the youth in the Amazon Region. Therefore we support the program primarily executed through San Miguel del Bala, an indigenous eco-ethno organization.
Environmental awareness in the Bolivian Amazon through education of school children
An effort of San Miguel del Bala, the schools of Rurrenabaque, the local government of Rurrenabaque, supported by the Amazon Fund
Constantino Nay, Gerente of San Miguel del Bala during his visit in the Netherlands in April 2011 where we presented the plans for the environmental awareness program in Rurrenabaque.
The Need for environmental awareness and education
In Bolivia, the small town of Rurrenabaque, located on the Rio Beni at the foot slopes of the Andean mountains, is Bolivia’s foremost eco-ethno tourist destination. This is due to its location close to the Madidi and Pilón Lajas National Parks, which host a wealth of plant species, wildlife, landscapes and ecosystems and which present one of the highest biodiversity indexes of the entire Amazon region. The Madidi park is home of 40% of all Neotropical mammal and amphibian species and more than 10% of all known bird species world-wide. Several nature organisations offer jungle and wildlife observation tours and the local economy is strongly dependent on the region’s nature. But the town population lacks knowledge and awareness to conserve the natural treasures. Their children do not realise the value of their environment and many believe that nature is “for the tourist only”.
Meanwhile, as a consequence of unsustainable tourism development, but also due to unplanned urban expansion, road construction, increased pollution, forest fires and deforestation, the environmental conditions in the township and the surrounding forest areas are deteriorating rapidly, affecting quality of life and, eventually, the economic base of the local economy.
As formal education does not include environmental training, and most town people are migrants from other parts of the country, there is a pressing need to introduce and develop environmental education and awareness programmes, jointly with actions promoting environmental and nature conservation.
Environmental education and raising environmental awareness play significant roles in influencing people’s behaviour and participation in the conservation of nature, the environment and sustainable development. Investing in young people, being the decision makers of tomorrow, is investing in a life-long process to promote greater awareness of environmental issues and is the best way to make a long-term lasting impact. The focus is on practical activities and first-hand experiences with nature in order to recognise the value of the environment and to develop conservation skills.
The long-term objective of the project is to raise environmental awareness and change the attitude and behaviour of school children, being the decision makers of tomorrow, in order they can contribute to the conservation of the Amazon environment and biodiversity. Initially, the project aims particularly at the schools in urban Rurrenabaque.
Project description / Activities and expected results
Primary School Programme:
Focus is on informal education through the development of school gardens and planting of fruit trees; composting and recycling of organic waste; crop, soil and water management and environmental health. The tending of school gardens will teach children to grow fresh fruits and vegetables in an Amazon environment to improve diets, health and self sufficiency.
Secondary School Programme:
Focus is on the conservation of the Amazon rainforests. The strategy is to mobilise the knowledge and experiences of the indigenous Tacana community at their eco-ethno education facility at San Miguel del Bala, located just outside the Madidi National Park. This indigenous eco-centre offers excellent opportunities for fieldwork to learn about the values and conservation of the forests, sustainable forestry and agro-forestry practices, as well as the traditional way of living of the Tacana people. The programme includes class-room work during the rainy season and field work in the forest during the dry season.
Programme to promote greater awareness of the adult population:
The component aims at the adult urban population of Rurrenabaque. Focus is on raising people’s awareness to recognize the value of Amazon nature, understand the interrelationship among man and his biophysical environment and promote a change of attitude in the conservation of nature. The component includes discussions on the economic aspects of the value of nature for the local economy as the country’s major eco-destination in particular. The activities will contain film and video presentations, field excursions and workshops.
Planning of activities
The project will start as soon as sufficient funds have been raised to start with a pilot project of two school years and in which four primary and secondary schools in Rurrenabaque participate. Through the pilot, the project aims to reach 200 primary school children, 100 secondary school students and 25 teaching staff.
Project organisation, roles and responsibilities
Amazon Fund (the Netherlands) is the facilitating agency of the project.
The primary school programme will be implemented by NME-Mundial (the Netherlands), supported by Huertos Educativos (Cochabamba, Bolivia). Both organisations have considerable experience in environmental education of small children in Bolivia.
The secondary school programme will be implemented by the San Miguel del Bala indigenous Tacana community (Rurrenabaque, Bolivia) and fieldwork will take place at the San Miguel del Bala eco-ethno field education centre and eco-lodge at the entrance of the Madidi National Park, about 30 minutes from Rurrenabaque over the Beni river.
The awareness programme will be implemented jointly by staff of Amazon Fund visiting Rurrenabaque and national and international nature conservation organisations in the Rurrenabaque region.
All educational activities will be coordinated with the Municipal Education Department. A local project coordinator will be coached and trained by Amazon Fund, as to develop and maintain an adequate project management system. Amazon Fund will establish a project coordination committee consisting of representatives of the partners. An external advisory committee will provide advice on specific environmental education subjects.
Monitoring and Evaluation
The basis for the Monitoring and Evaluation of the project is a detailed project plan, which has been developed in close cooperation between the Amazon Fund, NME Mundial and with representatives from the local Tacana indigenous community at San Miguel del Bala. All activities are part of the co-operative agreements made with the partners. The project plan, planning and budget will be evaluated quarterly and adjusted if necessary.
To reach the long-term objective of the project requires a continuous process of many years and even generations. As experiences elsewhere in the region are limited, the activity will start with a pilot project first, to test the approach and to evaluate the results in terms of impact and sustainability, before the activity will be extended and expanded to other target groups and in other urban centres in the Bolivian Amazon.
The participation of the San Miguel del Bala indigenous organisation puts the project in the right socio-cultural context, safe-guard the project from undesirable foreign ideas and approaches and is an asset in fostering the sustainability of the project. As environmental conservation and sustainable development in the Rurrenabaque region are directly related to the local economy, this will place the project in the centre of the daily life of the population, limiting the risks to become a less important or even an irrelevant initiative.
The partners aim at introducing environmental education in the official primary and secondary school education curriculum as a permanent and crucial aspect of education at all levels. For this, a minimum period of three to four years will be required, particularly to develop and evaluate environmental field work activities and to elaborate proper teaching and educational materials. During the project period, the partners, jointly with the Ministry for Education, will develop a proper exit strategy.
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