Creating Networks of Community Support: EECapacity Workshop 2013
Throughout North America and the entire year, we had the wonderful experience of more than a thousand communities opening their doors and welcoming us to work with them on their projects while developing awareness of birds, their environment, and their conservation. That’s how we got to more than 100,000 people of all ages and of truly diverse backgrounds — an incredible addition to the list of Celebrate Urban Birds achievements this year!
We believe it’s important to share our experience with other environmental educators around North America, as well as hear other perspectives and opinions regarding how to work with nontraditional communities and a wide array of people and cultures.
Thanks to the grants from EECapacity for travel and participation costs, CUBs was not only able to take two staff members to the annual EECapacity workshop in Baltimore (MD), but also was able to invite (and finance travel/participation costs for) three community leaders who have collaborated closely with CUBs this past year. The goal of inviting them was that they would share their vision, experience, achievements and challenges from their local projects with other workshop participants, or with educators who have not yet had the opportunity of working with culturally, ethnically, or economically diverse groups.
This year the annual EECapacity workshop was part of the yearly North American Association of Environmental Educators (NAAEE) conference, which made the trip even more interesting and enriching, with so much to learn from both worlds! It was a showcase of traditional and nontraditional environmental education for all types of communities, age groups, cultures, interest, and backgrounds; a fantastic melting pot for the dreams and willpower of people with the goal of making the world more sustainable and harmonious with nature for everyone.
It was marvelous to hear one of our Latina collaborators, a leader in her community, share an inspiring project that we worked on together that involved a group of Hispanic adolescents who spoke little English and immigrated to an economically challenged neighborhood in New York state.
For many workshop participants listening to our project partner, the thought of working with youth who faced so many challenges and creating educational materials with them sounded almost superhuman, but she demonstrated that it was quite possible. The evidence was right in front of them in the form of our collaborator’s presentation: the featured youth were full of energy and desire to succeed in their new homes, but they still had a lot to learn, from the language to getting used to US culture. They needed support, and incredibly, in only six weeks, they learned about plants that can help birds and performed bird observations. They enjoyed the new nature around them and, through training and practice with several computer programs, were able to create a beautiful bilingual educational brochure (here are pages 1 and 2). The youth proudly distribute copies of the brochure at a Latino festival in their neighborhood, which over 500 people of all ages attended. The project is such a great example of how to reach Hispanic communities with little access to environmental education in urban areas but who are eager to learn and apply new knowledge to their community’s well-being!
But not everything was a one-way conversation. Our CUBs team was also able to learn a lot from other presentations at the conference and workshop. We heard a very informative and complete introduction from the workshop organizers, one of whom was Gus Medina, one of the award-winners from the conference. He talked about EECapacity, how it has evolved and who the groups and people who form the organization are. This way our partners were able to appreciate the effort that is being made to reach nontraditional communities and share with others who also work with diverse groups around North America.
One of our partners, who traveled from Puerto Rico to participate in the workshop, was visiting the North American continent for the first time. She told us that she learned ideas from the presentations that helped her think about how to work more effectively with children in preschool or primary education and that way introduce messages of conservation and nature appreciation to families. That way the families could be integrated in activities celebrating bird and other wildlife conservation. She took a bunch of ideas that we hope will be the seeds of new pro-conservation activities and projects in Puerto Rico!
It was also interesting to hear the team that organized EECapacity present and open a discussion about the Guidelines for Excellence that is being developed to work with diverse communities where environmental educators of more traditional backgrounds tend to have difficulties communicating and integrating themselves. It was fascinating to explore all the points in the guidelines and be able to engage with it together; and, as was to be expected, the educators who typically worked with nontraditional communities had lots to share.
Comments and ideas were flying around the discussion tables, and things that were missing from the guidelines came up as well. Our impression was that the participants from diverse communities have to be a constant and active presence in EECapacity workshops to allow the development of guidelines that will have direct positive impacts on communities in the future. These nontraditional educators have an “insider’s view” that is fundamental to making headway in sharing environmental concepts with less privileged and more diverse urban communities. We hope to return to the workshop next year and help bring the voices of other community leaders back to the discussion for making the world a better place for everyone — birds and nature in general included. Besides, these leaders also benefit from participating and learning more about traditional environmental education methods, thereby diversifying their own set of skills for success in communities different from their own. If you want to learn more about EECapacity and their networks on our own website, click here; to visit their website, click here; to see more of their resources for environmental educators, click here; and to check out their Guidelines for Excellence that have already been published, click here.