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The Netherlands - Reviving Links : successful experiences of Environmental Education projects organized by Non Governmental Organizations

1998, by Michiel Van Yperten, Mieke Van Hemert, Wiert Wiertsema

NGOs’ unique experiences and capacities in the field of environmental education and peoples’ participation in environmental policies are presented by the publication Reviving Links. Its editors are Mieke van Hemert, Wiert Wiertsema, and Michiel van Yperten. It was produced by « Both Ends », « SME Milieu Advisers » and financed by the Dutch Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment (VROM) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in June 1995.

In the first section of Reviving Links, some examples of concrete EE activities of NGOs, in different parts of the world, are selected to show the benefits of EE for NGOs, governments, community groups and environmental or educational institutions. These benefits for people involved in an EE activity can be: improved natural environment and health, supplementary income and employment, stronger social networks and acknowledgment of personal dignity.

The following ten EE activities are presented :
· Poachers becoming bird wardens, action organized by the « Quebec-Labrador Foundation » in Canada;
· Local society against environmental degradation, organized by « Penca de Sabila » in Colombia;
· Involvement of residents and waste pickers in local waste management, organized by « Instituto de Ecología Política » in Chile;
· Sustainable development of the Solomon natural resources, organized by « Solomon Islands Development Trust » in the Pacific islands;
· A self-sustaining system of waste collection, composting and recycling, organized by « Southern Regional Cell of the Center for Environmental Education » in India;
· Thematic environmental education in schools, organized by « Darpana Academy of Performing Arts » in India;
· Strengthening indigenous woodland management by referring to religious notions, organized by the « Zimbabwean Institute of Religious Research and Ecological Conservation » in Zimbabwe;
· Development of attitudes and practices needed for local management of natural resources, organized by NGOs in the Sahel region;
· Collecting and disseminating information on air pollution through environmental education, organized by the environmental NGO « Tereza » in the Czech Republic;
· Six communities improving their environment, organized by the « Institute for Environmental Communication » in the Netherlands.

EE is presented here as a process in which individuals gain awareness of their environment and acquire and exchange the knowledge, values, skills, experiences that will enable them to act - individually or collectively - to solve present and future environmental problems. Each case study highlights widely differing ways and circumstances in which people live and work. The presentation also gives information about the environmental and social impact, the popular participation, the methodical approach, the objectives, and the evaluation of the projects.

In the next chapter, « Lessons learned », an appraisal is made of the elements that contribute to the success or failure of the efforts of NGOs for EE.
Good design, preparation, and popular participation in all stages of EE programs appear to be crucial. This requires prior research, communication, and reflection upon issues such as concrete objectives, target groups, possible interests of target groups, the meaning and role of EE vis-à-vis these interests, etc.
Success in EE is measurable from its "multiplier effects." The authors consider that an EE program must comprise four phases: research, planning, implementation and evaluation. Each phase provides feedback into the phase that follows. Also the evaluation phase can correspond with the identification phase of a new program, thus confirming a cyclical process of dialogue, action, and reflection. These phases in planning EE activities have been distinguished and analyzed by the authors: identification, design (objectives and plan of action are to be adjusted to each other), implementation, evaluation of the EE program. For each of those phases, lessons have been drawn from concrete experiences, thus providing a lot of concrete tips and suggestions for NGOs as well as other agents in the field. These lessons will naturally need adaptation to local circumstances. Some clues to help prevent mistakes, pitfalls, and lost opportunities are also included.

As EE is not only the responsibility of NGOs, but of other social actors as well, this publication also addresses the importance of collaboration in developing EE activities. In the third Section, the needs and capacities of various sectors are indicated in a strategic-planning matrix. Opportunities for synergy between NGOs, government, educational institutes, and community groups are explored, and some examples of such support and collaboration are given.

A checklist is a useful tool to guide the EE planner for planning and monitoring each of the four phases of the EE programs and for identifying the best partners. Useful pointers are included in this checklist, such as: have the involved parties determined their own questions, knowledge, and priorities? which are the expected (economic and social) benefits? are the objectives clear, precise and well-defined? education and communication are they integrated into a wider approach? local knowledge, culture and skills are they integrated? Finally, additional information is given, with the list of the NGOs actively involved in the EE process that have contributed to this publication. The list presents a selection of resource centers in the field of EE in different parts of the world and a list of major documents for further reading on the issue.

Comments

This is an easily accessible publication that shows the importance of international cooperation between NGOs in changing people’s environmental behavior, valuable for everyone involved in planning and executing EE programs. The success of environmental projects is closely linked to the degree to which people are willing and able to take responsibility for their environment, to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable. The projects described in the case studies were proved successful because they were well designed and the popular participation in all stages of EE projects ensured their correct implementation. The innovation of this publication is that communication is presented as a two-way process. Dialogue and learning is an essential precondition for success. As no one has all the answers, involved people of all ages become learners and equal partners. Determinants for success are identified and elaborated into guidelines for EE activities. This publication aims to be a source of inspiration and insight concerning the various experiences gained by NGOs in various parts of the world.

KEY WORDS: Environmental Education; Non Governmental Organizations; Great public; Communication.
LOCALIZATION: Africa, America, Asia, Europe
AUTHOR: Hara Brahou, c/o Yolanda Ziaka, Polis Network, P.O. Box 4, 84100 Ermoupolis, Syros, Greece, Fax: 30 / 281 / 87804, e-mail: polis@otenet.gr
FILE DATE: 1998