a change is going to come
Going Paraguay seemed like just another step in my rapidly transitioning life. I had just bought a new house, endured heartbreak, and then hopped on a plane thousands of miles away leaving the dust the settle in my absence. I have always been enthralled with change and thrived on my ability to adapt and be resilient. I didn’t know going in just how what I would learn would impact me, both while I was there, and upon return.
The Expedition to Paraguay fit in with both my academic Master Plan, as well as with the direction my professional life has been taking. We met the staff at Para La Tierra (PLT) on our first day, and I was immediately captivated by their mission and motivations; they were the same as mine. They, however, had created something tangible, meanwhile, I am still parsing through the actions I want to come to fruition. The work that Karina, Paul, Joseph, Jorge, and Becca have been doing is absolutely inspiring. What I especially loved was the connection between conservation science and education. It was apparent that both of these fields had glaring needs that were not being met on a national or cultural level, and PLT has the drive to build that connection within their community.
The Voices of Nature program led by Jorge and Joseph especially struck a chord with me. Jorge, having experienced the Paraguayan education system first-hand recognized that few students had the opportunity, or the privilege, to learn about the natural environment around them. This is something that has come up a few times for me through the duration of this program. Essentially, education, and the ability to participate in conservation, is a privilege. It doesn’t have to be, but it takes determined actions to make changes to the way we view education if we want to see a shift.
Having direct experience with nature and connection to a sense of place are big determinants of conservation behaviors (Darner, 2009). The Voices of Nature program is intent on making this kind of education accessible to everyone. They focus their activities around the tenets of inquiry, placing the learner at the forefront so that they have the opportunity to create their own meaning and knowledge through experience (Freire, 1970). I felt so fortunate to participate in their outreach. From the in-class activities to the Biodiversity fair, I feel confident they are facilitating a generation of future stewards.
It wasn’t just our work with students that was illuminating, but everything that PLT has built, and involved us in, made this experience all the more transformative. I was especially grateful for the chance to dabble in-field methods with the PLT team. I love fieldwork, but rarely get to participate in it myself. From scouring for insects and benthic invertebrates to trying our hand at telometry I was engaged at every turn. Experiential learning is often documented as one of the best methods for acquiring knowledge (Haywood, Parrish & Dolliver, 2016), and I feel like I learned so much!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
~ Margaret Mead
The above quote resonated with me throughout our journey. The team at PLT is such an impressive group, their collective resume makes me feel like I’ve done nothing with my life. Though after working alongside them, having in-depth conversations and capturing a glimpse of what they do there, I hope I’ve gleaned a little from their successes. I may not have published any papers, started any educational programs, or given a talk anyone would listen to, but I would like to think that after returning I am better poised to do any, and all of the above. Life is still changing for me at a rapid pace, but I am enthralled by the journey and excited to see what’s next.
Darner, R. (2009). Self-determination theory as a guide to fostering environmental motivation. The Journal of Environmental Education, 40(2), 39-49.
Friere, P. (1970). Chapter 2. In Pedagogy of the oppressed (pp. 52.67). New York City, NY: Continuum.
Haywood, B. K., Parrish, J. K., & Dolliver, J. (2016). Place‐based and data‐rich citizen science as a precursor for conservation action. Conservation Biology, 30(3), 476-486.