Hands on Earth Overview

In the end we will conserve only what we love.
We will love what we understand.
We will understand only what we are taught.

               ~ Baba Dioum, Senegalese activist


The Young Person’s Guide to Saving the Planet addresses its target audience as “the only people who can get us out of this mess.” The youth of today may indeed be the leaders of tomorrow, but only if—as Baba Dioum suggests—they are equipped with the knowledge and passion required to address the biggest crises facing our world. In the face of climate change, biodiversity loss and ecological degradation, environmental education is receiving increasing attention in many countries. There is no unified definition of what the concept of environmental education encompasses, and thus, the new initiatives are often highly diverse and place-specific. Some interpret the subject from the perspective of science education: ecology and biology classes incorporated into the general curriculum. Others aim to increase sustainable attitudes through outdoor experiences like hiking and camping. Yet another approach emphasizes that the humanistic aspect of the field—that environmental education is tightly interwoven with moral, political and social issues, all of which influence quality of life. What nearly all of the most successful programs have in common is their experiential quality; they engage students of all ages directly with the natural world.

I will spend my year in a project I’m calling “Hands-on Earth”—I will travel to various countries and explore hands-on approaches to environmental education. I will volunteer in a forest kindergarten in Germany in the fall, and intern at an environmentally-oriented bilingual school in the Cloud Forest of Costa Rica in the spring. I’ll be taking a break from teaching to farm/build for a month at a crunchy eco-center in Guatemala, and then I’m finishing my year by volunteering at an Environmental Education center in Namibia for three months.

I believe that direct engagement is the most effective way for a child to form an enduring and enlightened relationship with the land, while developing into a globally minded and ecologically aware citizen. I’m eager to learn how different countries address the same general goal of educating their youth, and I’m curious as to the effects of the various tactics. What factors influence the way a country designs its programs? What do the specific initiatives reveal about a country’s priorities and values? countries and their approaches to experiential environmental education. In each nation—Germany, Costa Rica and Namibia—I’m volunteering directly with local organizations, providing me with an opportunity to work closely with educators and students, to simultaneously learn and give back to the community.