Special Event

5. Activity Examples

Some activities that we do, and can do with all target groups are things like biodiversity contests, story telling, market surveys, documentation of indigenous knowledge systems, PRA (participatory rule appraisal), RRA(rapid rural appraisal), we involve a lot of sustainable livelihood activities, we are sort of blended with a lot of the recent appreciative inquiry approach. We have a number of teacher training workshops on the conceptual and methodological level. We do have workshops and trainings that we try to separate from teacher training. Publications.

  • Biodiversity Projects
  • Storytelling
  • Market Surveys
  • The documentation of indigenous knowledge systems
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • Biodiversity Projects
    In terms of the biodiversity projects, they are very simple and easy. When you try to take a message about how important biodiversity is or to reach parents, you call for a meeting of parents and nobody shows up. Because parents are very busy people. They go to the office, they have so many other things to do. They have to cook, clean, shop, and so many things. Often the best way to reach adults is through children. And we've used children pretty successfully in biodiversity contests.

    A very simple example is, we come to a community, we have a meeting with the children in the school or whereever and we say, "We are coming back in two weeks and we would like you to do something in that two weeks. When we come back, we are going to have a competition with a great prize for everybody. The rules are simple. Find anything from your local environment that is of use as a medicine, food, or construction material." So they are asked to bring a small sample and also to come with what they think they know of its use. The children can ask anybody in the village, father, brother, uncle, aunt, grandfather, neighbor, etc. You are free to ask anybody. The objective is to ask questions, find a get the species and come back with the information.

    Two weeks later when the children return with the knowledge, we invite everyone in the village. The community as a whole is invited. We tell them, "Come and see what your children have to tell you. And if you can add something to or rectify some of their information, please do so." So the children will come and say, "This is a leaf and this leaf is from this plant. If we have constipation, we can eat this leaf." We don't ask about the scientific validity and so on. We document everything. Someone will come and say, "This is a plant that we boil and when we drink the water, is good for digestion," or someone else will say, "It is good for headaches." There are so many other things. Children come back with so much information they never would have got from any textbooks.

    You have two neighbors who have been living next to each other for 20 years saying, "Oh you use that also?" because his son or daughter is giving them information that the neighbor never knew about. Adults are getting more and more segregated and are too busy to even talk nowadays. Information sharing is still getting lesser and lesser. As technology is coming into our lives, as we are progressing in life, our communication ability is getting more and more cut. One thing I miss in Japan is talking to people. I want to go and buy a drink, and I just have to go to a machine, press a button and there comes my drink. But in my place, when I buy a drink, I cannot avoid talking to somebody or maybe even shout at him because he is talking to somebody else. And then I buy this and he tells me something and we have communication.

    There is education at three levels; formal, non-formal and informal. We try to give heavy emphasis on informal learning. For example a very basic thing we ask parents when we try to talk of environment is, "How often to you and your children eat together?" If you ask the parents, they will say, "In our times, every evening we used to eat together with my parents." Today the parents will say, "Sometimes". Especially as the children grow, they have their own timings. Family get together time is getting lost. People are watching TV, doing this, and doing that. An opportunity to communicate about sustainability, life and the environment is lost. And that is the first base for learning; the home, the family. Unless you learn it in the family, then the values are not instilled in you. And if the values are not instilled in you, it's just like reading from a book or computer.

    The biodiversity competition basically helps children and community members connect. Sharing information of different generational gaps. Communicating that information because whatever the children bring, we document. That documentation can be given to the local school where they can make a better source. If it is not, never mind, we still have a source on paper. The important thing is that the information is shared. The community starts thinking about the knowledge they have.

    The cultures of most of the regions we work in are very oral cultures. Their storytelling is a very important history class. It's history, geography, moral science, it's everything because we get people to come and talk, to just tell stories like you tell to your friends to your relatives and grandchildren. People just gather around and listen. And that in itself, brings up wonderful opportunities of sharing information.

    For example, we can call a hunter. Because often when we call a university teacher for example, he is a biologist. He is working on fish. So he will talk to you for hours about the typical fish that he is working on. That is his specialty after all. But you call a hunter who has no degree and he can tell you the stories behaviors, activities (whether an animal is nocturnal or not) , hunting activities, what they eat, what they don't eat, etc. A hunter will give you a fantastic story about the local species of animals that he has to hunt, or used to hunt. Because for a hunter to hunt something, he has to really understand it.

    Market Surveys
    When we go into markets, often children go into supermarkets or shops and they just buy. They don't realize where things come from. Going into a vegetable market, you find local vegetables and fruits and we try to survey where different things come from. Then they realize, "We have so much of this in our region," or "Many of this fruit and vegetables we are bringing in from other regions. Why don't our farmers grow it?" So, little questions like, "How secure are we in terms of food security?" start coming up.

    The documentation of indigenous knowledge systems
    We are losing this. What we don't realize is that the knowledge system of our elders (what our elders know) is a very important resource. We are also losing this and we are not realizing it. Every time an elderly person dies it is like burning down a library. Unfortunately, that is the only library in the world that has all the resources. Once that person dies, it is gone, unless we make efforts to speak to these people and get information from them.

    There was a contest where one of our officers in the state park government asked his officers, "How many trees can you name in your local language?" All of his officers and science students could not answer. They knew the names of them in English but not in their local dialect. There was also a boy from a village. He gave, can you believe it, 109 names. And he was just a boy from a village. But that is again an example of the knowledge people have. For example, Eskimos have dozens of way of describing snow. That is itself, the richness of the language. And there is already a study done that shows close links between the loss of biodiversity and the loss of language, because as we go along stop using nature, the usage of words gets reduced and also the richness of your language gets reduced.

    How we document indigenous knowledge is one thing. But how to make people realize the importance of the knowledge of our elders is another. We need to keep opening up their minds and getting that into our systems and down to our children.

    Appreciative Inquiry
    Appreciative inquiry is a very useful method that you can apply in your own lives. Most projects start with problems. When consultants go to villages or communities, they will ask, what are your problems. So the exercise starts with problems. Then they try to say, "OK we'll solve your problems". But in appreciative inquiry, we ignore the problems. We say, "What are our strengths? What do we have that we like about us? What can we do as a community?" And then we say, "OK. What are the changes that we want to make?" When we talk of changes, the problems come up. And then we try to think, "With the strength that we have, which are the problems we can't handle." Often the community can handle most of the problems.
    For example, one of our NGO partners approached the government for grants for so many years to build a concrete school building. Nothing was happening. So finally they had a meeting with the community. The church said, OK we shall supply the cement. The students said with the parents, we shall bring stones and chips and spent weeks together chipping stones. The community said, OK we'll supply the timber. Within 2 weeks they had a school.

    Teacher training, workshops, documentation, publications are things I can talk about late if you'd like. I think that brings us to the formal end of my talk.

    Domoarigatou Gozaiamasu

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