Peace Corps Celebrates Earth Day Around the World
Learn how Sarah Dobsevage, a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Peace Corps volunteer in Moldova, is working to clean up her community's stream and well water, in addition to developing the first of its kind conference on environmental issues involving local and regional officials.
In a place where plastic bags float around freely like pollen in spring and attempts at inducing change are met with stubborn inflexibility, the task of implementing environmental education into Sarah's two years of service has been unexpectedly successful and rewarding. Sarah Dobsevage, a second-year TEFL volunteer working in Moldova, a small Eastern European country between Ukraine and Romania, has devoted much of her time, both inside and outside the classroom to raising ecological awareness among members of her community.
Though Sarah had never really considered herself an environmentalist before she joined the Peace Corps, she has certainly earned the reputation as an ecologically conscious volunteer. Sarah's desire to raise awareness was piqued in April 2002, after having walked along the bank of the polluted local stream, where she saw piles of garbage strewn along the path of the stream and within the stream itself. As she walked further she saw some men sitting outside their gates talking, indifferent toward the mountains of garbage on the not-so-distant horizon. She was disturbed knowing that the people sitting outside chatting were part of the problem. These two men symbolized generations and generations of people. Their indifference and their need to keep the inside of their houses and their own yards within their gates clean were the main causes of this mess. Just when she thought it couldn't get worse, it did.
A woman began turning the crank of a well, filling up her bucket to bring water home. "What she was going to do with that water?" Sarah thought to herself. "She might do any of the following: drink it, bathe in it, feed her animals, wash her clothes, or scrub the floor." The well was fully surrounded by garbage, and by extension, the well's water was completely contaminated. It was irrelevant what she was going to do with the water; in all these cases, she'd be using polluted water in a potentially hazardous or unsanitary way.
Seeing this disturbed Sarah to such a degree that she drew public attention to the ecological question, initiated a school-wide river clean up, and created a forum for discussing environmental problems. Although she was met with some criticism, Sarah was able to organize a river clean up in which grades 5 through 12 participated. In addition, every Thursday of the month, students discussed environmental topics. On Fridays, they implemented into practice the theories they had discussed the previous day. The work was shown on television with a clip of the students pleading for support from the local government, and an article was written praising the students for taking the initiative. In response to the article, an elderly man wrote an editorial, reprimanding the elder generations for their indifference and complacency and commending the students for teaching their elders. Not only did Sarah's efforts reach the student body of her Lyceum, but they also extended to the local population through the media.
This year, Sarah has increased her efforts in raising ecological awareness. The entire school cleaned the river, but this time Sarah was out there with them. She recollects, "We were all out there picking up bottles, plastic bags, empty cosmetics containers, bird feathers, excrement, a broken sink, syringes, sticks, building materials, and netting - to name a few." Convincing the staff and students to clean was not always an easy task.
At the end of this month, Sarah will be conducting an ecological seminar. She has invited three representatives from the capital, one from the ministry of ecology and two from environmentally conscious non-governmental organizations. The seminar will focus on raising the ecological awareness of the residents. The mayor, the state ecological inspector, the head doctor, local school directors, school nurses, and the teachers of biology, chemistry and geography from five schools have been invited with the intent that they will then pass the information onto their students. Sarah hopes her efforts during the past two years will develop further following the seminar.
Learn how Joey Bristol is stirring up community-wide interest and action in protecting the environment.
Joseph "Joey" Bristol is an environmental management and training volunteer posted in a small town in the northern foothills of the Central Balkan Mountains in Bulgaria. Joey has worked with the municipality for nearly two years on a variety of projects such as eco-tourism development, water testing education, and teaching English to the municipal administration. Together, Joey and the municipality have realized positive environmental change in the region.
In order to stimulate the local tourism market and to promote low-impact use of the mountains, Joey has also spent time working to gather, organize and professionally present local knowledge about hiking and biking trails in the region. Presently, the ecological department of the municipality is working to implement a separate waste collection and recycling program. An uncommon endeavor in Eastern Europe, starting a recycling program has not been without difficulty and roadblocks. However, the community is proud to celebrate and begin using new recycling bins on Earth Day this year.
Earth Day has traditionally been a day of work and celebration in this Bulgarian town. Last year the municipality sponsored a reservoir cleanup, during which citizens, municipal employees, students from the village, and even the town mayor picked up garbage and removed non-native shrubs. After cleaning for much of the day, they gathered for a banquet and eco-festival at which local high school students sang and led younger kids in a series of eco-challenge activities.
Most notably, a US Agency for International Development (USAID) sponsored project for outdoor leadership and environmental education courses won the town, and Bulgaria, recognition when it garnered a silver prize in the International Green Apple Awards presented at the House of Commons in London last year. This year, in addition to opening the recycling program, the community plans to organize a trash-bash to clean up river banks, plant trees and flowers around town, chalk the asphalt with eco-graffiti and go for a short hike to enjoy the local beauty.
Following Earth Day celebrations, Joey and his colleagues are looking forward to organizing a youth exchange with Macedonian students in order to promote ecological awareness, mountain rescue skills, and democracy between the two Balkan countries. They are also gearing up to host a group of environmental college students on a field studies course in Bulgaria this summer.
Jay Cable, an environmental volunteer in Macedonia, is working on a number of projects to help his surrounding communities learn how to put in place ways to keep their environment healthy. Here are just a few of the projects in which he is working.
Jay Cable has been working for 15 months in his assigned community. You could say that he knows how to diversify his skills and keep himself busy.
For example, Jay is working in conjunction with non-governmental organizations and a number of local communities on an educational and promotional campaign for increasing environmental awareness. He has been working to organize town hall meetings, and coordinate volunteer student workers in an effort to increase awareness of the harmful effects that excessive use of plastic has on the environment and to lay the groundwork for future recycling programs.
In addition, Jay is helping a high school student council to renovate and clean-up their courtyards to help improve the exterior ambiance of the high school. He's also working in conjunction with the Citizens Advisory Board and group of young Macedonian community volunteers, modeled after the Peace Corps, in a beautification plan to replace house and building numbers, as well as street signs in the local community.
Come June, Jay and the local group can also cross off their list the completion of a marketing plan for the usage of geo-thermal water. The group's main goal has been to increase citizen awareness of the benefits of using geo-thermal water for heating and electricity. The same group is also creating a technical manual for the water treatment plant outside the community. This manual will translate and explain to international organizations the technology, purpose, and capacity of the plant.
In Morocco, learn how Aimee Petras and Sarah Shaffer are making a difference in the women and children's lives in the communities in which they serve.
Aimee Petras, serving in the Anti Atlas Mountains -a site known for its unique Argane forests- is assisting her community in several environmental projects. First, Aimee's goal was to teach young students that keeping your environment healthy can be rewarding in several ways. At the local primary schools, Aimee focused on how something as small as planting a tree can have a positive impact on a community. By planting trees, they would not only help to beautify their community, but they would also prevent soil erosion and desertification, a major challenge in Morocco. Second, after teaching the benefits of tree planting, Aimee actually practiced what she taught. She helped plant 3,500 olive trees that not only provide a positive environment, the tree groves also help to improve income generation and job creation abilities in the community.
Sarah Shaffer, serving in the Middle Atlas- a site with ecological and biological importance- is helping her community through the promotion of eco-tourism. Sarah is working with her community to design, construct and organize a small bed and breakfast. The bed and breakfast will try to draw more people in to better understand and realize the important ecology of the area. This is a way to build a direct relationship to the people who provide food and housing, who share their knowledge of local flora and fauna, and who produce souvenirs and handicrafts. The revenue of the business would be distributed directly into the surrounding community.
In addition, Sarah is working to create a "neddi," or women's and girls' club. In her village, many of the women marry young or stay in their household. This coupled with the heavy, unpaid work burden placed on them; girls have little opportunity to develop marketable skills or to make significant choices for themselves. By developing a neddi, Sarah hopes to increase their handcraft skills. In the long term, she hopes to encourage the women to form their own business association. This would be one group helping to showcase the handcrafts, made from nature, and promoting eco-tourism in the area.
Peace Corps volunteer Nathaniel Duncan is an agroforestry volunteer posted in a village in Siguiri. His story shows how his project helped turn skeptics into doers.
As the first ever volunteer to serve in the village, the task of establishing Nathaniel's work identity was a particularly daunting one. The breadth of projects that could possibly be undertaken was equally as difficult as the task itself. After several initial meetings with the assistant director of a non-governmental organization, ADRA, Guinea's food security project, Nathaniel realized that although ADRA had more than 20 agents working throughout the region on various food security issues, none of them were involved in food preservation, especially fruits and vegetables.
Nathaniel decided to fill in the blanks, so to speak, and create a project that would specialize in food preservation. He would use his stateside teaching experience and expand the work capacity of another development organization by conducting a hands-on seminar that would provide ADRA field agents with the necessary skills to build and promote solar drying as a means to improve food security.
The day of the seminar began with an interactive discussion of the importance of food preservation and the need to add to the nutritional content of the local diet. These agents' doubts were quickly dispersed by the hands-on construction of a solar dryer, in which every agent had to participate. The two hours they spent building the solar dryer and explaining fruit/vegetable preparation saw the transformation of the skeptics into converts. By the end of the seminar, the ADRA agents had broken off into smaller discussions on how to apply the knowledge gained to their work.
To say Nathaniel's project produced results is an understatement. All participants in the seminar have duplicated the process on the village level, and there are plans to encourage the implementation of solar drying into the program of more than 500 groups that ADRA/Guinea works with in the region. And, all of this resulted from Nathaniel's question, "Where do I begin?"
Do clean water and healthy fish really come from trees? The people of this Madagascar community thought this riddle was a silly concept. But, Peace Corps volunteer Mark Fabian helped solve this equation and taught the residents that taking better care of their environment can mean a healthier family.
Before Mark Fabian's help, the people in his community had a hard time maintaining a good supply of clean, safe drinking water. Over the last year, Mark has been working with community members, local authorities, and others to supervise the design and construction of a gravity-fed water system.
But before they dealt with the water, Mark worked with the community to plant trees and vetiver grass, a special plant that helps conserve soil on the hillsides of the watershed. They chose fruit trees because people would be reluctant to cut them down in the future for firewood. And, not only do they produce healthy fruit, the trees also help reduce soil erosion, and clean the rain and runoff as the water reaches the spring.
After several days of planting trees, people began seeing a method to his madness - or riddle that is. This task has resulted in clean flowing water in the spring. In addition, the runoff from the new, clean water spigot now flows into a fishpond, which also irrigates some nearby rice paddies. Mark Fabian's project represents a model not only of collaboration among the community, local authorities and non-governmental organizations, but also a model of integrated watershed management and the provision of useable, safe drinking water.
Last updated Jan 22 2013