Nature education for a new generation of environmental stewards
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EDUCATION is an integral part of our work and is the key to equipping people with vital information that can inform decision-making, action and change. We at the Protected Areas Commission recognise the importance of nature education in ensuring effective conservation in Guyana. As outlined in our Strategic Plan (2016-2021) and reflected through the objectives of our Awareness, Education and Outreach Department, we aim to:

– Increase knowledge of stakeholders about the National Protected Areas System (NPAS) of Guyana.
– To foster greater stewardship of the environment by Guyanese citizens.
– To increase national and international support for the NPAS.

IT ALL STARTED IN THE ZOO!
The PAC set out to develop grassroots environmental education strategies across the NPAS under its Strategic Plan. This goal had a strong foundation stemming from programmes set up in the Guyana Zoo, the genesis of which is the Zoo Volunteer Programme, which started more than 20 years ago. Over a 15-week period, young adults are trained with skills to share nature education using the zoo as their classroom. In return, volunteers are required to give back time spreading environmental awareness with patrons of the zoo for at least a year. This programme served as a training ground for many young conservationists who are now currently playing leading roles in the environmental sector in Guyana. As an outcome of the Volunteer Programme, a summer programme called “Zoo Camp” was birthed. This is a one week activity for children ages six to 14 years. It offers children the opportunity to learn about our local wildlife, conservation and nature preservation, by instilling environmental values and nature appreciation.

THE JOURNEY TO THE HINTERLAND PROTECTED AREAS
Building on these existing programmes, the PAC expanded nature education to the hinterland regions where protected areas are located. This took the form of overnight nature camps, day camps and education outreach visits to schools under the theme “It’s In Our Nature”. Our nature camps began in 2017 in the Kanuku Mountains Protected Area and has since been held in all the other protected areas. For overnight camps, learners are accompanied by teachers, parents and village leaders as they camp in the outdoors close to a creek running through the Protected Area. Day camps are usually held in schools or villages during school breaks. The camps are facilitated by rangers and technical staff of the PAC who diligently teach students concepts such as climate change, biodiversity conservation, waste disposal and management and animal care. Students are also exposed to training in research methodologies for the identification of animal and plant species.
Rangers take time to demonstrate the use of several pieces of equipment that are used in their everyday work, for example training on the use of binoculars, cameral traps, GPS and drones. An integral aspect of the camp is interacting with the students and allowing them to share their own knowledge of the environment and their traditional customs. Elders from the villages are also invited to share traditional stories and teach students about their culture. The theme song for our camps has been “Let Us Cooperate for Guyana” – We hope to build a sense of national pride and a resolve among the youth to work for the unity and development of Guyana.

BUILDING CAPACITY OF EDUCATORS AND STAFF TO DELIVER NATURE EDUCATION
During 2019, the commission embarked on a new mission, which is to improve the capacity of educators and staff to better deliver environmental concepts. As such, a three-day training workshop on environmental education was delivered to 25 participants comprising PAC staff, teachers and community representatives surrounding the Kanuku Mountains Protected Area. The purpose of the training was to equip participants with the skills necessary to make environmental education accessible through appropriate methodologies and teaching techniques. The course was delivered in a very participatory way with hands-on practice in an outdoor setting.
In collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency, the PAC provided training for 16 primary and secondary school teachers in the Moruca Sub-District, of Shell Beach Protected Area, Region One. The main objective of this training was to train teachers in the region to establish and maintain nature clubs in their respective schools. The training included the importance and history of Nature Clubs; activities that can be done at club meetings; keeping club records; starting the club and getting registered with the EPA.

ON THE HORIZON!
Beyond the stakeholders in and around protected areas, the PAC is seeking to build the consciousness of all Guyanese to better appreciate and care for nature. To this end, a plan is being mulled for the re-purposing of the Guyana Zoo. For a number of years the Guyana Zoo, as a policy, has avoided the acquisition of new wildlife for its exhibits. The zoo continues to be the main destination for injured, sick, orphaned, unwanted or confiscated wildlife. In a significant number of cases, the zoo releases these animals as soon as they are found to be healthy or capable of surviving in the wild. As such, the zoo has already been functioning as a de facto rehabilitation centre for some time. On the other hand, animals that are orphaned, severely injured or with a history of captivity are often kept at the zoo, and eventually become permanent residents.

With this in mind, it is proposed that the zoo be officially designated as Guyana’s Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Centre. The facility’s primary mission would be revised to focus on the rehabilitating and reintroduction of wildlife to natural spaces, while providing environmental education opportunities for the Guyanese public, particularly students and citizens who may not have an opportunity to see these precious animals in the wild. This plan would involve the construction of a new nature school outfitted with staff to teach students visiting from schools across the country.

With the coming of COVID-19 and its associated challenges, the commission is currently re-tooling to be better able to connect people with nature – through education.
This article was prepared by the Protected Areas Commission.

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