Every language community represented within the LEAD community of practice is experiencing pressing environmental and ecological problems, ranging from erosion and degradation of land, rampant and (usually) illegal deforestation, loss of provisioning from previously freely-available ecosystem services, to climate change and its current and future impacts. A great many of these problems impact directly upon our ability to effectively engage in language and education programmes and other development activities. At the same time, our focus on language and education presents a great many unique opportunities to positively influence the environment and sustainability.
Most people in the developing world are disproportionately affected by environmental problems. Unfortunately, these are also the very people who are least equipped to mitigate the causes and impacts or to adapt appropriately. Our model of working, focusing on supporting and equipping local communities to make decisions for themselves, can help ensure communities are well prepared to be stewards of their own environments.
In this community of practice event we aimed to address many of the environmental issues faced by communities throughout Asia. We encouraged participants to be thinking about particular issues within their contexts and to come prepared to share about them—their struggles, approaches towards solving them, what they had found successful and what hadn't worked. We expected participants to learn about some environmental technologies and approaches that can help in our work with communities, as well exploring how we can incorporate rights-based approaches into our existing programmes. We also had a day-long field trip, to help demonstrate some of the solutions we were discussing together.
Anticipated learning from the event
- The ability to identify major environmental issues that are prominent or emerging in communities where participants were working and to know where to start looking for possible solutions.
- An increased ability to identify and relate well with partner organizations who are involved in environmental work (especially those we will come to rely on for environmental components of our programs).
- Links to other organisations already doing environmental work in Asia (and beyond).
- Knowledge of educational resources and tools on the environment and how to access them—both formal and non-formal, resources for environmental literature production, for integration into MLE programs, etc.
DAY 1 (Monday 17th) - What are the issues? Understanding the global context.
09:30-12:30: Getting to know your context
14:00-15:30: Understanding rights
16:00-17:30: Understanding the field
DAY 2 (Tuesday 18th) - Connecting local and global. Understanding available and appropriate technology.
09:00-10:30: Exploring relevant technologies/strategies: Intro
11:00-13:00: Exploring relevant technologies/strategies: Part 1
14:30-16:30: Exploring relevant technologies/strategies: Part 2
16:30-17:30: Field trip briefing
DAY 3 (Wednesday 19th) - Seeing it in practice.
All day: Field trip.
DAY 4 (Thursday 20th) - Connecting to language and education. Understanding next steps.
09:00-10:30: Debrief from field trip
11:00-12:30: Empowering the community
14:00-15:30: Making plans
16:00-17:30: Review and reflect
Day 1: Getting to know our contexts
Kicking off Day 1 of 4 with 50 development practitioners from across Asia at the Holiday Garden Hotel in Chiang Mai
- Matt Wisbey, CoP Coordinator: Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or passion. We are all practitioners connected with minority language communities - and we all have something to offer because of that.
- David Price, LEAD Asia Senior Environmental Consultant: Environmental issues are the most pressing and far-reaching problems faced by the developing nations. Every single language community represented here is experiencing pressing and urgent environmental and ecological problems. Many directly impact our ability to engage in MLE (multilingual education) development.
- Forest Man (2013) is a documentary short about a man in India who singlehandedly planted a forest larger than Central Park on his home island of Majuli, an island experiencing rapid erosion.
- Quote from the film: If one man can do this plantation, why not others? If this kind of project can be implemented…I hope that through reforestation, we can solve the problem of flooding and erosion to a great extent.
- LEARNING ABOUT EACH OTHER'S CONTEXT
- Filipino singer Gary Granada lamented the plight of the urban poor through his song "Bahay (House)". Following suit, 50 participants from Nepal, the Philippines, Cambodia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh expressed their communities' environment "stories" through drawings, songs, and interactive dramas.
- From the Philippines: While we were focusing on education, there were some concerns about livelihood. We had an envisioning session with the community, planning with them, not for them. In response to the clamor for livelihood, we're going to work on ecotourism with them. We're going to transform that community into a paradise.
- From Bangladesh: I want to share the true story of a boy, a boy who was going to school. He realized he needed to stand under a tree for shade but there were no trees. So from that day, he planted palm trees by the side of the road. Now in that village, there are lots of palm trees and other trees as well. The children can go to school on that same road with lots of trees and shade on hot sunny days. Now the media calls this village “Palm Village”.
- From Cambodia: This is a typical scenario in our communities: an indigenous father and son are approached by representatives of a rubber company that wants to buy their land. The father refuses, but the son secretly meets with the company and sells the family's land. The company cuts down the trees on the land, and the father protests, to no avail. Flush with cash, the son buys a new motorbike and smartphone and goes to karaoke. When he runs out of money, both the father and son must work for the company.
- REACTIONS TO THE VIDEO ON RIGHTS
- "This video is the perfect story, the dream we’re working towards. The end goal is really ownership and action coming from the community, but that requires...access to media, leadership, networking, access to information, anti-corruption, legal resources, and accountability of local, regional, and national governments."
- "There are a couple of bottom lines across communities: When indigenous communities are working with an economic threat, they lose out. If not the first time, they lose out the second or third time. And if it’s in the concern of a national interest, the community loses out. Communities are often worn down by a return process. Watch copper prices, gold prices, rubber prices, and you can see when the next wave is going to come."
- EVENING FILM SCREENING: NO WORD FOR WORRY
- Hook is a Moken fisherman who lives off the coast of Thailand. Watch his amazing talent and the toll that modernization has taken on his way of life, his people, and their future.
- Special thanks to Project Moken. Check out themokentree.org and visit their Facebook page.
Day 2: Relevant environmental technologies for minority language communities
Day 2 of 4 of the LEAD Asia Community of Practice event on the environment in Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Michael Cochran, Wycliffe (Papua New Guinea): Does your community deal with landslides, soil erosion, floods, or wastewater issues? Consider the vetiver system. The vetiver system has been used for more than a century in many Asian, African, and Caribbean countries. The vetiver plant is non-invasive, doesn't host undesirable pests, and can live in extreme conditions, both wet and dry. It forms a living hedge capable of holding back floods. Across Asia, vetiver has been used to stabilize roads, control erosion, and treat toxic sites (bioremediation). Vetiver grass can reduce organic waste to a level that is safe for the environment.
- For more information on vetiver resources and to find suppliers in your country, visit vetiver.org/.
- Rebecca Garofano, ECHO Asia: ECHO Asia shows local farmers ways to improve soil and different seeds that grow well in the soil. ECHO researches and promotes sustainable farming solutions around the world, managing natural resources in agriculture for the purpose of land restoration.
- Watch an inspiring example of ECHO Asia's land restoration work at http://jointhelights.org/work/a-new-seed/ ….
- Cornelius Tudu, SIL Bangladesh: SIL Bangladesh was the first SIL entity to adopt an organizational environmental policy.
- In the afternoon, we said goodbye to LEAD's Communications Coordinator of three years. Best of luck, Malynda. You will be missed!
- REFLECTIONS ON THE DAY'S SESSIONS
- From Indonesia: When the facilitator was explaining vetiver systems, I kept thinking about how to start doing that in my context - it's very applicable.
- From the Philippines: I appreciate the openness and sharing of the other participants. Not just the facilitators who shared the information, but the other participants were also willing to share information, even the resources that they have.
- From Malaysia: I’m in the right place with the right people at the right time, with the right tools. We are integrating culture into the children’s curriculum. This gave me better insight into what I should include in the curriculum.
- GEARING UP FOR THE NEXT DAY'S FIELD VISITS
- 1. Forest Restoration Research Unit (FORRU): We'll learn from experts on community-based tropical forest restoration at Ban Mae Sa Mai. FORRU is doing some cutting-edge work, like using drones to spread seeds over inaccessible parts of the forest. We'll see a time-series of three restoration sites, and possibly a native seedlings nursery. Website: forru.org/en/
- 2. Royal Development Projects Board: Then we'll visit this vetiver systems demonstration site. This builds on some of the techniques we've heard about today. We'll have the opportunity to hear from an expert who some would consider the benevolent 'godfather' of vetiver in Thailand.
- 3. Partners farm, ECHO Asia: We'll end by visiting this site demonstrating sustainable technologies. We'll see bullfrog, catfish, and pig farming, and a biofuel project that uses manure as fuel for cooking.
- EVENING FILM SCREENING: HOPE IN A CHANGING CLIMATE
- The day closed with this inspiring documentary on the restoration of the Loess Plateau in China. Local and national efforts have successfully countered the agricultural degradation of the plateau and injected economic and ecological life into the region. The video shares similar stories from Africa, with incredible before-and-after footage.
- Quote from the film: If people were the problem, they could also be the solution. Over a quarter of the world's land mass has been degraded, and much could be rehabilitated.
Day 3: Putting the 'practice' in Community of Practice
The group visited three innovative projects around Chiang Mai on native forest restoration, vetiver systems, and small-scale farming techniques.
- A truly international group
- CoP participants bring experience from across Asia and the globe, allowing for rich discussion. The participants in one car represented nine countries: the Philippines, Finland, Thailand, Pakistan, New Zealand, the UK, the US, Korea, and Nepal. Talk about diverse!
- SITE 1: FOREST RESEARCH AND RESTORATION UNIT
- FORRU is a team of ecologists from Chiang Mai University conducting research on effective, low-cost ways to restore tropical forests. For more information, see forru.org/en/. We visited two of FORRU's field sites, including a 16-year-old restored forest, as well as a native seedlings nursery. They are all maintained by a local Hmong village community. By propagating and planting a limited number of key framework species, the end result is a rich forest that resembles the original natural biodiversity, even containing up to 650 tree species on one mountain alone (versus ~70 in the whole of the UK!).
- The staff shared how they approach major problems (fires, weeds, mining damage, and poaching) and their groundbreaking use of radio-controlled drones to drop pellets containing restorative Ficus tree seeds onto land extremely degraded by mining.
- Quote from the visit: Lots of organizations want to plant trees. But forest restoration is not just about planting trees. We have to do many other things to protect the forest.
- SITE 2: VETIVER DEMONSTRATION CENTER
- In the afternoon, we made our way over to the Development and Promotion of the Utilization of Vetiver in Forestry Demonstration Center run by the Royal Development Projects Board.
- We heard from Dr. Narong Chomchalow, the man who first introduced vetiver to Thailand 40 years ago. Through the king's efforts, the government now actively promotes the use of vetiver grass throughout the country, and Thailand has made great strides in researching new applications and training other countries in the use of vetiver. Thailand was also the first country to make use of the vetiver leaves in handicrafts.
- Quote from the visit: Vetiver stabilizes the soil, preventing erosion and conserving moisture. It is one of the most drought-resistant plants and can even grow in rock and sand. Conversely, it thrives in aquatic environments and so can be used for wastewater treatment and purification of polluted waters. Vetiver takes the pollutants, such as toxic heavy metals, out of the soil and stores them in the roots. Farmers used to say they didn't get anything from growing vetiver - it protects the soil but generates no income. However, using the leaves in handicrafts can help, though this is certainly a secondary purpose.
- Among other initiatives, the center has developed shade-tolerant vetiver ecotypes and researched appropriate spacing methods for vetiver planting. We toured the center with experts and handled vetiver samples.
- We were privileged to have the full experience, knowledge, enthusiasm, and attention of Thailand's top vetiver scientists and practitioners. We are very grateful to them.
- SITE 3: PARTNERS' FARM
- The day ended with a visit to the six-acre Partners' Farm affiliated with ECHO Asia. The Partners' Farm is a small farm research center testing and demonstrating sustainable innovations in planting and animal rearing.
- We toured the farm and learned about pig feed (a fermented mix of cut banana stalk, sugar, and salt), rice planting using the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) method, a catfish/frog/chicken rearing system, and using pig waste as biofuel to provide cooking gas for a single family.
- Special thanks again to all three sites for being willing to share their years of knowledge and experience with us.
- For information on any of these visits or the techniques described, please contact David Price, LEAD Asia's Senior Environmental Consultant (seen in the top right picture below) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Day 4: Understanding next steps
Final day of the LEAD Community of Practice event on the environment - reflection and planning
- Participants reflected on what they saw, what surprised and excited them, and what they learned during the previous day's field trip.
- Some were surprised by the stark difference between the restored plot and control plot at FORRU's field site. The restored plot, unlike the control plot, has fewer invasive weeds and has moist soil (seen above).
- Others were surprised by how long the roots of the vetiver grass seen at the Demonstration Center were. The roots grow vertically to a depth of up to 5.2 meters. Also surprising was the use of the vetiver leaves in handicrafts.
- Participants from Cambodia were especially surprised by how affordable the biogas system at the Partners' Farm is compared with similar systems in Cambodia that can cost locals up to 1,000 USD!
- Finally, it was noted that all three projects employ scientific research as a powerful tool for development.
- RESOURCE PEOPLE YOUR PROJECT CAN USE
- Rebecca Garofano, ECHO Asia: ECHO supports other organizations with information about agriculture. If you have technical questions, you can write us with your questions. We can do research for you and try to provide you with answers or referrals. Our website is echocommunity.org, and you can sign up for a free membership to receive our technical notes every three months and sample packets of seeds. We translate our technical notes into six regional languages. At every workshop, we have a seed exchange and we save local important seeds in our seed bank. We also do consulting for regional organizations.
- Rebecca is the Office Manager of ECHO Asia in Chiang Mai. Contact her at email@example.com.
- David Price, LEAD Asia's Senior Environmental Consultant, can also connect you with resources on environmental issues, referring you to the right people and helping you work towards solutions. He understands the technical and social challenges involved in addressing environmental issues, having worked as a translator in Papua New Guinea for many years and having an academic background in conservation biology and zoology. His areas of specialty include Ecological Restoration (mangrove and coral reef ecosystems, biodiversity conservation), Natural Solutions (sustainable wastewater management, erosion control, vetiver system, GIS), and Village-Based Appropriate Technologies.
- Contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- DECIDING TO ACT
- Elaine Vitikainen, SIL Organizational Development Consultant, led the participants in a closing reflection on the past four days. We thought critically about what we'd seen, felt, and learned, and shared what we'll do back in our own organizations.
- From Indonesia: We have problems with landslides during the rainy season, because where people live is quite steep. We are thinking about starting a small project with vetiver, to show the community people how it works.
- From Cambodia: We would like to share the films we watched with the communities we work with. Our context is very different from Thailand's, but we have learned a lot about vetiver, reforestation, and from ECHO Asia, and we will go from community to community to share these things.
- From Malaysia: I never knew that each person has to plant 90 trees in their life to offset the damage they do to the environment. We can integrate this message into our MTB-MLE curriculum. I will also develop my mother's land - it's a half-acre plot near the riverbank. I will plant the vetiver grass there. Hopefully I can share that in one or two year's time when the vetiver has grown. The land will be used as a recreational area, starting with my family.
- MANY THANKS...
- ...to all who attended and helped facilitate the CoP. Your openness and willingness to share made the event a valuable forum for learning!
- To request pictures from the event or share resources, contact email@example.com.
- Continue learning and sign up to be part of the online Community of Practice at leadcommunity.ning.com.