Wednesday, June 29, 2011

ROTA: Dispatch from this year's Eco Day Camp

When a child is positively changed by his experience in nature you can see it and feel it.

It's palpable and it changes the adults around him, too. For the past three years I've been traveling to the beautiful island of Rota to help organize a summer day camp program for the island's children. For one week students join scientists and field experts at sites around the island to learn about the connections between land and sea. The team that has kept this camp going for the past six years is made of dedicated volunteers, leaders, community members, cultural practitioners, scientists and field experts.

Getting the camp together every year is always a mad scramble - the scramble to get letters out to directors of offices to get permission for things, the scramble to get funding released to use for the camp, the scramble of recruiting campers and getting their registration forms. The week-long program requires at least two months of preparation. It's functioning can appear deceptively simple but the scramble can leave you crazy. In fact, at the beginning of camp I have a brief moment of wondering why I signed up to do it again - what with all the no-shows, surprises and snafus through the first day.

But once the camp gets rolling I forget about the headaches. The children of Rota amaze me every year with their enthusiasm for the natural world. I realize shortly after camp starts that I am privileged to share these life-changing experiences with these children.

Today, one of our youngest campers, Efrain, became comfortable swimming in the ocean. He finally let go of the side of the boat and began floating out to discovery. Another camper called his parents from the top of Wedding Cake Mountain to tell them that he "really" made it to the top. We know that some of these children will be our future conservationists and scientists. Each day we witness the shifts in how they value and relate to our planet. Their appreciation and understanding is growing.

Sometimes, when planning and undertaking educational programs, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. Sometimes I hear resource managers question the time spent on educating children, maybe they think its overkill or that a disproportionate amount of resources is spent on it or that it doesn’t directly address more pressing management problems. But I know that what we can do to shape the environmental ethics of our children is a long term but critical endeavor and it is as important as collecting data or issuing permits.

We know that the root of our environmental problems is the human population and its destructive behavior. Educating, inspiring and influencing children are all ways to prevent or counter the development of environmentally harmful practices for the future. We all know how hard it is to change human behaviors after they’ve taken root ….

PHOTOS: Top: Propogating bahia grass seedlings at the DLNR nursery for the Talakahya Revegetation Project in the Sabana Conservation Area. Center: Hands on learning at Bill Hocog's farm in Rota. Mr. Hocog uses soil conservation practices to balance environmental benefits and farm productivity. Bottom: Rota Eco Camp students explore Coral Gardens, a popular snorkeling and dive site, in the Sasanhaya Bay Marine Protected Area.

Posted by
Lisa Huynh Heller
12:13 am
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Location: Rota, CNMI

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