In preparation for the upcoming 10th World Wilderness Congress in October, the Starfish has collaborated with CoalitionWild to announce finalists for its 'Wilder World Challenge'. Here, we present the stories of a passionate and innovative movement of people under 30, seeking to create a wilder world.
As a youth living in a small coastal village in Peru, Daniela Benavides found it quite striking to go to the beach and not see a single child. This image would be what motivated the evolutionary biologist and a group of her family and friends to found ConCiencia, an initiative focusing on environmental education for children in coastal communities. Their initiative has been recognized as a finalist submission for CoalitionWild's 'Wilder World' Challenge.
Q: Thanks for sitting down with us Daniela. Could you tell us a little bit more about your initiative and what you hope to accomplish?
Daniela: In Peru, the lack of environmental education creates a threat to the environment because there is no bottom-up regulation. Peru is a big country and up until a few years ago, there was little government-sanctioned environmental control. What we are trying to do is to work directly with coastal communities, people who have the closest link to the ocean but often know the least about it. Conciencia in spanish translates roughly to 'science with conscience'. I think this summarizes our vision ideally.
We teach science through experimentation, experience, observation and discovery. We are a travelling organization, focusing on a specific region for a defined period of time and then moving to other coastal areas. We like to look at scientific concepts from different angles. The problem we are tackling is that unfortunately, many of these people have no framework for biology and system dynamics. As a result, they are unable to adequately interpret the environment and how to interact with it sustainably, leading to overfishing and neglect, among other things.
Our mission is to provide nature-based learning to coastal communities through play, curiosity, creativity and the senses. We believe in education through experience and not through books and classrooms. The current education system in Peru dates back to the industrial revolution. It places so much emphasis on pure academic performance. As part of our initiative, we try to cater our programs not necessarily to those who regularly excel in the classroom, but to the children who are often distracted or unengaged in the classroom. We find that these kids are often the most creative and successful individuals in our program. In the conventional public school system, these students do not receive enough positive reinforcement; they might be brilliant, but their positive intellect cannot be nurtured in the classroom. If we lose this creativity by enforcing the conventional system upon them, we lose the potential benefit to our entire society. Creativity is also important because we cannot predict what the world will look like in 10 years, so the best we can do is stimulate creativity in order to help us come up with innovative solutions to our big problems. In Peru, most kids are still taught as if the challenges of the industrial revolution remained, which mainly involved increasing the scale of industrialization. However, our biggest challenge today is to de-industrialize without losing quality of life. Therefore, we believe we need novel ways of educating our youth through nature-based experiential learning.
Q: How do you think your project is creating a 'Wilder World'?
Daniela: Most of us working in the program are very in touch with our childhood. Our premise for developing lessons is this: if it triggers a sense of ‘wilderness’ for us, it must be fun for the children. We believe that our initiative is making the world a wilder place because children are having the opportunity to exercise all of their senses. We try to be in nature, get dirty and use our senses. For example, we love to do blind walks and meditation, which stimulate the senses. Being with nature is also therapeutic. By helping develop self-esteem and leadership skills in youth, we uncover hidden talents and allow children to build a genuine lifelong appreciation for nature.
Q: Ideally, where do you see your initiative in 10 years?
Daniela: Recently, the Peruvian Government began the Ministry of the Environment. At the beginning, it was one man and one phone. Since then, the government has passed a law that every school in Peru needs to implement environmental education. However, despite the passing of the law, there continue to be no guidelines or framework for implementing these programs on a national scale. This creates an exciting opportunity to extend our reach to a much more impactful scale.
In 10 years, I see this project being community-driven. Right now, this is an organization, but we would like this to be a social movement. Firstly, we would like to see public school systems in Peru adopt some of our methodology. We are currently in talks with the ministry of the environment and with educators, in order to set up new pilot programs. Right now we are working with two public schools, in 2 separate pilot programs. We are trying to get some impact indicators, and use these to approach the ministry of education for further consideration. I am sure we will continue to see exceptional results for our work. Eventually, our vision is to make this movement international, especially in neighboring regions of South America where the absence of environmental education is just as pronounced.
Q: Pretend it is the Oscars, who would you like to thank for
helping you along the way?
Daniela: I would like to thank our amazing core team of about 8 people, who despite the fact that they are volunteers, display unimaginably high energy levels and enthusiasm day in and day out. Sometimes when I feel down and discouraged, this group of people keep me motivated and with a steady vision. On top of this, the parents of children, who are seeing concrete results and changes in their children through this program, are strong motivators and are incredibly encouraging.
Be sure to check out Program conCiencia's on the web!
We congratulate all finalists on their achievements and encourage them on their passionate pursuit of environmental objectives.