Making parks part of daily life
Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s right in front of us. How often do Parisians visit the Louvre? New Yorkers tour the Statue of Liberty? The same can be said for many residents of communities in or near parks and other protected areas. What draws tourists and scientists may be little visited by locals.
This was the case for residents in the region around the Montanhas do Tumucumaque National Park, in northern Brazil on the border with French Guyana. People were missing out on part of their national heritage, but the problem was bigger than that. A lot bigger: at 4 million hectares, this vast national park is too much for the three administration officers assigned to protect it. They need to enlist the support of the people.
“We decided to begin at the beginning,” says Paulo Russo, one of the park’s environmental officers. This means working with teachers and students to build understanding and appreciation of the wealth of biodiversity right on their doorstep.
A course, offered with the support of Ecosia and WWF-Brazil, was designed to inform teachers about the landscape and species the Montanhas do Tumucumaque National Park. After the course, the teachers are prepared to develop their own environmental education projects.
“The teacher training course opens the door to the community, because nobody in any of the small towns and settlements is ever going to be against a course given for their teachers,” says Russo.
Reaching teachers, inspiring students
Teachers in three municipalities have taken the course, and the initial reaction is positive. Fifteen-year-old Daniel Negrão of Oiapoque says, “I was glad to hear that there is a national park and that there are so many beautiful places nearby that I never knew about. We are now learning to protect everything around us.”
The Deputy Head of the Park, Marcela de Marins, says the courses have made a noticeable improvement in relations with the city residents. “Now they know who we are and they know a bit more about our work; this was not the case before.”
Russo says the project has succeeded in building stronger bonds between the communities and the park, including paving the way for in-depth discussions about conservation and sustainable lifestyles. “The idea was not just to carry out yet another informative session – we wanted much more. We want the people to feel real pride and affection for their park. That’s the only way they’ll protect it for the future,” says Russo.
Josenira dos Santos, a teacher in Serra do Navio, says the course’s strength is its hands-on approach. “Small practical actions carried out in the classroom showed us how we can help our students to understand and incorporate environmental education into their lives. There was not too much theory in the course, but a lot of practice,” she says. “Now we have better knowledge of the park and it has become closer to us; they have brought the park into our daily lives.”