In March of 2011, Boulder environmental educators and local celebrities, Paige Doughty & Jeff Kagan, travelled to Laguna San Ignacio to provide locally-based environmental lessons to the children of the Primary and Secondary schools. In between their lessons on such things as the water cycle, waste management and recycling, local flora and fauna, energy, and decomposition they engaged in an assessment to propose an on-going, community-led Environmental Education program. Jeff and Paige were widely welcome throughout the community, due in great part to the power of music to create community and enjoyment for all. As Paige says below, in an excerpt of their overall impressions of their time spent in Laguna San Ignacio, “Music, art, and creativity eclipse borders and languages”.\
This dry town filled with motors and wind. Grand stillness and slow action where people walk with nowhere to go quickly. When the wind blows the air cools the sides of plywood houses painted bright green, azul, pink. Escuelita, Cardon, Lagunita, La Base, Pachicos, Kuyima, Friedera. The moon rises over the Sonoran desert just past the driest salt-flats. Four ecosystems in thirty-six miles: Oasis becomes desert, becomes salt flats, becomes lagoon, becomes ocean.
During our trip to Laguna San Ignacio we felt completely immersed in and accepted by the community of La Escuelita. Jordan, Philanthropiece Field Coordinator, introduced us to all the teachers, many families and community members, and oriented us to most of the Eco-camps in the area. We were able to visit all three of the secondary school classes with him while he collected letters for the pen pal exchange, we met Araseli – La Dignataria del Cardon, Deborah-local Eco-Artist, Steven Schwartz and his team, and we attended part of a Community Bank meeting. When Jordan returned to the U.S. Jeff and I felt entirely prepared to begin our environmental education programs.
The whales come every year and no scientist can quite explain why they push their calves up to the surface, towards a floating egg-shaped shadow with hands reaching over the edges, like legs on a spider’s body. They’re mammals if they have mammary glands, breath with lungs and have hair. The whales’ hair is just a few pieces at the tip of their noses.
Within the first 48 hours of being in LSI we met with many environmental experts in the community. I was struck early in our trip with the vast yet tiny separation between the knowledge that so many in the community hold and the 1 mile separation of the school from that knowledge—those working in the Eco-camps and those not working there—children, many women, and other male workers. It was during our whale watching trip with Baja Expeditions that I struck up a conversation with Ronulfo Mayoral, Leader of Grupo Tortuguero and whale guide. He spoke passionately of his desire to start a bird watching tour and of starting a bird club with children from the community. It was through this early conversation that we started to envision an environmental education program lead by local community experts and taking place after school.
Kids go to school from 8-12:30 then home for a meal with their families. Most walk to homes a few hundred yards from the school yard, others commute from El Cardon, sometimes on foot. At night the sky is stars. Helmetless children drive motorbikes and three-wheelers across open desert shrub lands, cruising like teenagers without the desperation of adolescence.
School ends early in La Escuelita and many of the children and adolescents are left to play on their own or to help care for younger siblings. It has been previously established (in particular through the success of Jordan’s baseball program) that there is a strong community demand for “extra-curricular” activities. We think that an after school environmental program, or club, taught by the many different eco-experts in the community could be a great success with the appropriate amount of support to help get it started.
Each morning brings barking dogs and growling motors, each evening the howl of coyotes and the hum of diesel generators, each house a windmill or a solar panel, sometimes both. Energy Independence. Drinking water comes in blue barrels carried by dusty trucks from the oasis, fed by underground springs thirty-six miles away. Los Ojos de Agua. It’s been over a year here since a hard rain, yet the light dusting of lluvia and this week’s dewy mornings brought the ocotillos to bloom.
We worked with every grade in LSI including the kindergarten classes in both La Escuelita and El Cardon. The kids here, not unlike the ones in the USA, are hungry for fun and exploration during their school days. Every lesson that we taught incorporated an outdoor exploration, game, and eco-art project. Our time with every class was bookended with the performance of environmental education songs. The excitement, demand, and love for our lessons were spectacular. Music, art, and creativity eclipse borders and languages and further reinforced for us the idea that an environmental education program would be well received.
Part of the reason both of us love to work in EE is because it opens the doors to all sorts of fun, creativity, and unconventional teaching. The environmental knowledge already exists in the community and all that is needed are the tools and invitation to share the knowledge in fun and engaging ways.
Every single 9th grade student we spoke with expressed “Trash” as their biggest environmental concern, yet none of them knew of Jesus and Sabrina’s Earth Ship nor of their plans and desires to create a true landfill for the community. Making connections between the knowledge that is already held in this small community and the people who live here is an essential task towards creating a more environmentally conscious citizenry. As in the United States, the young people are often the easier and more effective place to begin as they bring home their fire and passion to their parents.
Impromptu games of soccer, pro-ball, las guerras de pulgares, volleyball, singing, tag, clapping games happen every time we leave our door. Children we met in classes run to us across the sandy streets. Dogs walk their owners across the dusty town and wait outside closed doors for meetings to end. It’s beautiful here. Dust fills the plywood floorboards of our one room shelter every time we step inside.
Our time in Laguna San Ignacio was one of the best experiences of our lives. We were moved and amazed by the community there and by the work that Philanthropiece has done to create a more sustainable existence. Thank you endlessly for this opportunity!