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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.

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

Photo Gallery:

EE in Mexico: Exploring the Sonoran Desert Bioregion on a Fieldtrip to CEDO in Puerto Penasco, Mexico 

At the 2018 North American Association for Environmental Education Conference in Spokane, WA, it was all about the power of networks and creating a force for the future. Over 30 countries were represented at the event, including Ghana, Botswana, Nepal, Ireland, New Zealand and Mexico. EE is a global movement, and when we are united with common goals, success is inevitable.

Since 1980, the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (CEDO) located in Puerto Penasco, Mexico has been working to protect the environment on many levels, including community, scientific research, and environmental education programs that focus on biodiversity, estuaries, deserts, coasts, oceans, tide pools and watersheds.

The Sonoran Desert Bioregion is a special place that has an area of over 100,000 square miles, including Arizona, the Colorado River, Sonora, Mexico, the Sea of Cortez, and parts of California. This provides the potential for great synergy in a space that has been shared for thousands of years.

In its 30-year history CEDO has established a variety of networks including:

  • Local Communities (check out Nature Arte)
  • Local Fisheries
  • City of Tucson which was recognized by UNESCO for its gastronomy
  • US Fish and Wildlife
  • Arizona State University
  • University of Arizona
  • Mesa Community College
  • Universities in California
  • Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation

CEDO has also established the most comprehensive education program for fisherman EVER in the Upper Gulf Reserve. It has been an enormous effort.

Fact: Did you know there are only 13 critically endangered vaquita porpoises left in the world?  The world’s most rare marine mammal, is on the edge of extinction. They are endemic to the northern part of the Gulf of California.

 

 

AAEE Board Member, Ellen Bashor, to Implement Innovative Educational Program in Arizona

ELLEN BASHOR AWARDED COMMUNITY ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION FELLOWSHIP FROM ‘ee360’, NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION TRAINING PROGRAM

Arizona, August 17, 2018—Thirty-two outstanding Fellows from around the world have been selected by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) in cooperation with U.S. EPA to help address community environmental and social issues around the world. Ellen Bashor, of Prescott, AZ, joins a diverse group of talented educators and conservationists who are using the power of education to help tackle tough issues in their communities and striving to create a more equitable and sustainable world.

The fellowship program is a part of the National Environmental Education Training Program established by the U.S. EPA’s Office of Environmental Education, a national professional development program that has been building the professional capacity of educators since 1992. NAAEE, in cooperation with U.S. EPA, leads a consortium of nonprofit, higher education, and federal partners in the latest phase of the program, called ee360. The consortium works together to provide professional development opportunities for educators and strengthen the field of environmental education. The program also focuses on building leadership skills and providing high-quality resources for the field.

This class of 32 Fellows represents 14 states, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and four countries: India, Nepal, New Zealand, and China. Support for the international Fellows was made possible through a generous grant from the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation. The goals of the fellowship are to bring talented and passionate community leaders together to hone their community leadership skills (including strategic communications, fundraising, evaluation, strategic planning, and more) and build a professional learning community that Fellows can tap into as they develop a local community action project. All Fellows are using education to address an environmental threat and improve community well-being.

“I’m blown away by this group of leaders. They are inspiring, passionate, skilled, and committed change makers! As the world continues to grapple with the right strategies to address environmental threats, we can’t forget that community education and action are some of the most effective tools in our toolbox,” said Judy Braus, Executive Director of the North American Association for Environmental Education. “The wonderful exchange of ideas, experiences, stories, and resources, as well as the lasting bonds that were built during their time together at the leadership workshop, have given these fellows an invaluable boost to their projects, scaling the impact of their work to a new level.” “It’s amazing to see that Ellen Bashor’s work in the Arizona Environmental Education community and beyond has made a positive impact and that those efforts are recognized by NAAEE and ee360,” said LoriAnne Barnett, Arizona Association for Environmental Education’s President. “We’re excited to leverage what Ellen Bashor, a member of our Board of Directors, gains through this fellowship to continue to cultivate an environmentally literate community in Arizona, empowering all sectors to improve the collective effectiveness of environmental education.”

Fellows were selected based on four key criteria: experience in environmental education, commitment to community development, engagement in community partnerships, and creation of innovative solutions. These Fellows are working on projects ranging from getting young people engaged in ecologically sound farming practices to building community resilience, promoting citizen science programs to tackling water quality, showcasing the links between sanitation, health, and the environment, and using virtual reality to promote caring about marine issues.  

As part of the eighteen-month program, Fellows benefit from:

  • An intensive five-day leadership and professional development workshop held in July 2018
  • Engaging webinars throughout the duration of the program
  • Access to mini-grant funds to support innovative community action projects
  • Mentoring and networking opportunities, including access to NAAEE’s eePRO professional development site
  • Scholarships to attend the 2018 NAAEE Annual International Conference, a gathering of more than 1,000 environmental education leaders from around the world

To learn more about Ellen Bashor and her planned community action project, visit http://www.naaee.org/ee360fellowship.

About Arizona Association for Environmental Education

As one of the 56 Affiliates within the Affiliate Network of the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), the Arizona Association for Environmental Education (AAEE) supports formal and informal educators providing programming and content to a wide variety of citizens of all ages. As an Affiliate of NAAEE, we host a variety of networking and professional learning opportunities in state, as well as collaborate with other NAAEE Affiliates to host events at the annual NAAEE conference as well as webinars, online discussions, and blogs. AAEE strives to provide professional development opportunities, such as the Environmental Education Certification Program, across the state of Arizona.

About ee360

An ambitious multi-year initiative, ee360 connects and promotes innovative leaders dedicated to advancing environmental literacy for everyone, everywhere. Led by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), ee360 is made possible through funding and support from US EPA and seven partner organizations representing universities and nonprofits across the country, and five federal agencies. Through this partnership, ee360 brings together more than four decades of expertise to grow, strengthen, and diversify the environmental education field. Visit ee360.org to learn more.

School Gardens? AAEE Digs Deeper

“Join the United States School Garden Army; Enlist Now!”  reads the World War I poster of a young girl pushing a plow and looking determined in her red, white, and blue attire. Although the school garden army didn’t last, the battle to get a garden in every school continues. Posters like this were spread across the nation in 1918 by our Bureau of Education during our nation’s first federal initiative to get schools gardening. At the time, the nation responded in full force.

Many believed school gardens were both a solution to the labor & food supply issues in the agriculture industry during the war and a way to teach the basic concepts of democracy and civic duty. Fannie Griscoms Parsons, a school garden advocate of the early 20th century, is quoted in a Smithsonian article as describing school gardens not, “simply to grow a few vegetables and flowers,”  but, “to teach [students] in their work some necessary civic virtues; private care of public property, economy, honesty, application concentration, self-government, civic pride, justice, the dignity of labor, and the love of nature.”

Although remarks like Fannie’s were revolutionary at the time, emerging school garden research from the past two decades indicates Fannie was just discovering the top of the carrot; there were a lot more applications and benfits to be dug up! As we now know, school gardens are not just for vegetables and flowers nor just for imparting civic virtues—school gardens can teach almost any subject, and perhaps, teach it more effectively than Fannie or United States Bureau of Education could’ve ever imagined. Here’s some statistics that rocked our world: In a recent interview between NPR and REAL School Gardens, an organization that not only helps schools get gardens going but trains teachers on using them, REAL School Gardens reported their partner schools see a, “12 to 15 percent increase in the number of students passing standardized tests,” and that’s not just students in the garden program–that’s school-wide! Even in an independent study of these schools, they found that “94 percent of teachers in the REAL School Garden programs reported seeing increased engagement from their students”.

Wow! Those statistics are hard to ignore. But what if you aren’t working with a professional development & training program–will your garden be as effective? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” And, there’s no need to pour through every article; the University of Georgia did an analysis of all the research connecting school gardens and academic performance between 1990 and 2010 and discovered, “overwhelmingly that garden-based learning had a positive impact on students’ grades, knowledge, attitudes, and behavior”.

Like the university’s analysis discovered, the benefits of gardens go far beyond improving grades. As parents, educators, administrators, or anyone who works with children, we know our students academic performance is a small indication of their overall well-being. A student’s physical and emotional development is deeply tied to their success both in school and throughout the rest of their lives.  Across the nation, children and adolescents are experiencing physical and mental health issues at all time highs. Here’s a few sobering statistics shared by the the Collective School Garden Network (CSGN): They found research that our children are the “first generation of Americans at risk of having a lower life expectancy than their parents,” closely tied to the fact that “less than 2% of US children eat the recommended 2.5 cups of vegetables each day.”

Fortunately, the CSGN and many others have found and proven a simple antidote: school gardens! Not only do children experience academic improvement when engaged in a school garden, their health and commitment to making healthy choices receives a boost as well. In a 2007 summary of a school garden study they that, “students involved in a garden-based nutrition education program increased their fruit and vegetable consumption by 2.5 servings per day, more than doubling their overall fruit and vegetable consumption”! These statistics and effective solutions are hard to ignore.

Digging deeper, we consistently found across all ages and abilities, and the spectrum of personal and cultural identities, school gardens help teachers teach, children learn, and communities thrive. Since the numerous approaches and benefits to green schoolyards and school gardens goes on, we’ve decided to share the latest and greatest in green school action and research with you throughout the rest of this year. Stay tuned for more on: School Gardening in Arizona (our climate brings unique challenges and opportunities!), The Dirt on Green Schoolyards (a growing national movement & why!), Planting Standards (state standards, NGSS, and the EE Guidelines are easy in the garden!) and more.

To really get your seeds started, check out our Environmental Education Certification Program, where you can start today, working online on your own time towards a nationally-recognized, career-building certification. In our certification program, you can integrate your interests in garden-based learning and other environmental education approaches so that your certification portfolio builds resources that best serve you, your students, and your community. Break the soil, check it out today!

…and happy gardening from all of us here at AAEE!

*photos from https://communityofgardens.si.edu, www.kidsgardening.org, and www.childrenandnature.org

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