Hiking from Dana to Petra: Exploring Environmental Education in Jordan

The Kingdom of Jordan is an Arab nation on the east bank of the Jordan River. To the north is Syria, to the east Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and to the west across the Dead Sea is Israel. In its narrow canyons stand tombs, temples, and monuments masterfully carved into pink sandstone. The object of my desire on this hiking adventure was to reach the ancient Nabatean City of Petra, also called the “Rose City”. And as I do with all of my travel, I inquired about environmental education efforts in the region.

Shawn McCrohan-Dropping Down into Petra Along The Jordan Trail

From our guides I learned that Jordan is now the second-most water poor nation in the world, which is exacerbated by the refugee influx from Palestine, Iraq and Syria. Our guides came right out to express their belief in man-made climate change, and over the course of 10 days I would learn how this and other environmental issues affect the region, as well as the programs and efforts to address them. Or as Jawad, our lead guide, hysterically said, “We need to kick people’s asses more!” His point being that, as is the case in many places around the world, enforcement of environmental policies is still a major barrier to success.

I’m a firm believer that some of the most influential environmental educators come in the form of non-formal or non-traditional outdoor leaders such as travel guides, who lead people on a journey of self-discovery and appreciation for new lands. Guiding people along the path of being tangentially aware of a place, to loving it, becoming part of it, and wanting to protect it fiercely. Our guides were exceptional, and made it a priority to explain to us visitors from around the world (Australia, Scotland, UK, Italy, Germany, and USA) how the nation of Jordan and its communities are experiencing environmental issues.

Hiking Up Sand Dunes in Wadi Rum

Here in Arizona, we are well acquainted with the desert environment and the importance of water conservation. The average rainfall in Jordan is between four and nine inches per year. In the Sonoran Desert we get about seven inches of rain per year. I was continually struck by the parallels between Arizona and Jordan, especially the landscape. However, one reminder that I was no longer in Arizona was the daily Islamic call to prayer coming from surrounding mosques. Hearing this to me was an exotic and exciting reminder that I was in a foreign land, and I loved it!

We began our hike in the Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan’s largest nature reserve, which includes four different bio-region zones (Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian, Saharo, Arabian and Sudanian). We hiked along part of the two-year-old Jordan Trail which extends through local villages and consists of eight sections. I hiked the 72.6km section from Dana to Petra.  The trail aims to get people out into nature, and support local populations.

“Friend” The Donkey and Fellow Hiker

Over the next 7 days we would hike with our two guides, three local Bedouins, and two donkeys named Felha and Friend. They were the highlight of the trip! Sometimes a little bossy on the trail, and would walk really close behind me wanting to pass. Yes, Felha, you can go ahead of me.

I was impressed by how strong our guides and the local Bedouins were. In fact, on the second day of the hike, which was a particularly steep ascent, one of the Bedouins got a call that his son had disobeyed his orders to stay home and tried to follow our hiking group from the valley up to the mountains. The Bedouin, who was only wearing sandals, ran miles back down out of the mountains to the valley floor to retrieve his son and make sure he was safe. They joined the rest of the group in camp later that night. Second only to the carving of those amazing temples and monuments in the rock, I was in awe of human ability and physical prowess.

Our Guide, Jawad, Doing Crane Pose in Wadi Rum #Badass

Jordan has over 2,000 plant species including pine, oak, and juniper (like Arizona), and fauna such as the jackal, Arabian wolf, lesser kestrel, Nubian ibex, and fox. Some of the main threats to biodiversity include woodcutting, overgrazing, hunting, and pollution. Over 15 million trees were cut down to help build the railway through Jordan to Damascas. The effects of this can still be seen throughout the region, though we did learn that tree-planting initiatives were underway.

Petra Treasury by Night

There are also issues with land-use planning and infrastructure development that have increased destructive flash flooding in the region. According to a recent article in Al Jazeera, ”The frequency of heavy downpours that quickly cause destructive flash floods has increased in recent decades, according to Jordanian water and climate experts.” In fact, the week before my trip there was a flash flooding that caused Petra to close to the public for a few days.

Plastic pollution was also a visible issue as we drove along the highways. A representative from Experience Jordan, the company I hiked with, said “It’s sad indeed that we still see garbage in the streets here, it mainly comes from a lack of awareness that eventually became a habit, but there are programs on raising awareness about this issue and organizations focusing more on environmental education. Hopefully we see change in the near future!”

Some organizations working on elevating environmental education in Jordan include the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). FEE has environmental education programs that are being implemented by the Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan (JREDS), this includes Eco Schools. JREDS is devoted to conservation of Jordan’s natural resources. EcoMENA is another initiative doing EE in the region, and one of the most popular sustainability advocates in the Middle East, with wide following and high degree of credibility across the Arab world.

And a 2017 article in the Jordan Times reported that plans are underway by the Ministry of Environment to introduce EE in national curriculum.

Hiking Group

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Feedback Sought on Global EE Priorities

The Global Environmental Education Partnership (GEEP) is seeking feedback on a proposed plan for advancing environmental education (EE) over the next decade and beyond.

A draft global “call for action” has been crafted by environmental leaders from around the world, but it needs input from EE professionals around the world to help shape our collective agenda. GEEP has identified 10 possible actions for the future, but they want to know what you think the priorities should be, and what actions we need to take in the next decade and beyond to move our work forward.

Take a few minutes to visit ActNowforEE.org and read the draft Call for Action. Then fill out a brief survey and encourage educators in your networks to participate, too.

GEEP is a partnership between the Environmental Protection Administration of Taiwan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and NAAEE.

Feedback is being accepted through Earth Day, April 22, 2018.

Learn more about Act Now for EE. 

Take the survey and help shape priorities for the field of Environmental Education.

 

 

 

Environmental Education in Tanzania

At this very moment, environmental education is taking place all around the world. And that’s very exciting! It is subject to the parameters and historical context unique to each region, and is often very different than environmental education here in the United States. But regardless of the shape and size of the effort, environmental education is extremely critical no matter where it’s taught.

This August I traveled around Tanzania considering what environmental education might look like outside of Arizona, and even beyond the North American continent. While trekking up Kilimanjaro I became acquainted with efforts by the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) system to address the issue of waste management and soil erosion on the mountain. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, Kilimanjaro National Park attracts 52,000 visitors per year, and the resulting trash and human waste on the mountain is substantial. Realizing that education is the best way to implement new strategies and change the culture on the mountain, TANAPA is exploring new policies and educational tactics.

Climb up Mt Kilimanjaro

Kili Treks is one of the premiere local companies that operates tours on the mountain. The company’s owner, Wilfred Moshi, explained that efforts by TANAPA to implement new procedures to minimize trash on the mountain would be most effective if they were adopted in stages — first with the visiting climbers, and then with the local porters. For their part, Kili Treks practices Leave No Trace principles and takes time to educate their clients about the importance of environmental stewardship while visiting Mt. Kilimanjaro. Hikers also get a first-hand account of the rapidly melting glaciers on the mountain due to the effects of climate change.

Mr. Moshi is also involved with a non-profit called Twende Pamoja, whose purpose is to promote the development of a global vision in the context of relationships between communities, schools and places of learning in both Tanzania and the United Kingdom. There are 40 primary and secondary schools and six communities involved in this partnership, which began 30 years ago.

This year they have created an environmental general plan, which is now in its initial stages. Twende Pamoja’s 2017 targets include educating people on environmental issues, initiating practical actions to conserve the environment, encouraging young people to be active and responsible, and finding the links to environmental issues within the primary and secondary school curriculum.

A central focus of their education work for the past five years has been the ‘Hand in Hand’ Global Vision Project, which asks 16,000 young people in primary and secondary schools and communities in Scotland and Tanzania to reflect on two questions:

What do we want to hold onto from our past and our culture?
How do we want our world to be different in the future?

Young people are invited to make a pledge to build a better future — together.

To put environmental education in Tanzania into context I reached out to Dr. Bruce K. Downie of the Kesho Trust in Tanzania. Kesho Trust works to build community-based understanding and action that strengthens the interrelationships between people and the natural environment.

Below Dr. Downie gives an overview of the state of environmental education in Tanzania, and touches on the work that his organization champions.

Environmental Education in Tanzania: Exploring the Work of the Kesho Trust

By Dr. Bruce K. Downie, Founding Director of Kesho Trust

Environmental education in Tanzania is very much a reflection of a range of influencing factors which differentiate it from the North American or European context.  The rate of population growth in Tanzania is one of the highest in the world.  Pressure on natural resources is therefore intense especially given the rapid economic growth that has also characterized the country in this century.  The pressure of changing natural resource availability is especially felt in the rural areas where the local population generally remains poor and priorities are immediate as opposed to long term – food on the table today.  The formal education system is under stress from population growth and the expectations of the burgeoning middle class.  Priorities are on academic achievement to allow for advancement in a growing and changing society.  Especially in urban centres, reading, writing and arithmetic are priorities in the minds of system implementers and environment takes a back seat.  In the rural areas where the environment is a daily presence, the formal education system suffers from a lack of staffing and resources and so environmental concepts and interests are relegated to school based clubs which are also few since most school don’t have enough teachers and those working in rural schools are already overworked with regular class responsibilities.

At the post secondary level, interest in environment is greater and the expansion of the university system is allowing for a variety of interests to be served, although the quality of education is affected by the availability of quality instructors competent at a university level.  It is from this system, however, that our organization, the Kesho Trust, gets considerable interest from students because of our connections to a number of research institutions.  Many graduates who are looking for experience and work opportunities approach us to volunteer and we try to encourage that participation as much as our resources will allow.  The students we get inquiries from are mostly wildlife management graduates..

A major environmental education effort we are undertaking in partnership with another NGO, Saving Africa’s Nature (SANA), is the development of an environmental learning centre called Kihembe which is on a 100 acre parcel of land located in the village of Mkange adjacent to Saadani National Park.  We have been working with local villages to reduce the conflict over the establishment of a small and potentially vulnerable national park.  Kihembe is a significant effort that we hope will lead to better understanding of conservation values and greater livelihood sustainability within the villages.  The centre is intended to be a residential educational facility that can provide school programming for local students as well as others from around Tanzania along with a base for sustainable livelihood and conservation research.  It will also serve as an orientation and education centre for the park serving visitors to Saadani.  Facilities such as this are rare in Tanzania.  Some dormitory facilities exist in some national parks and a few interpretation facilities in national parks are available for visitors. However, coordinated and high quality efforts to address these kinds of needs do not exist at present.

Kihembe is in the development stage.  We have some basic facilities for staff and volunteers at the site.  We are finalizing our design concept and architectural drawings and construction budget for presentation to donors to assemble the necessary funds for construction.  We are seeking supports in all aspects of the centre’s development and hope that those with the interest, resources or skills to participate will contact us.  We are also very open to partnerships with similar institutions internationally.

For further information on Kesho Trust: