Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Listening and Learning

Hello all! Aekta reporting from the 4th International Conference on Environmental Education.

Flashback with me for a moment.

Date: November 24, 2007
Location: "Youth Trendsetters" working session room, Center for Environmental Education, Ahmedabad, India

At the end of a long, challenging, and inspiring day, we, the youth voices at the conference, were tasked with integrating ourselves into the greater conference. The conference planners had done a fantastic job of creating opportunities for youth voices to enter the conversation, from leading working sessions, to facilitating the creation of Recommendations for the larger conference Declaration (that will later be widely spread to UN offices, governments, policymakers, etc.), to speaking at plenaries. Now the youth voices had to step up and fill those roles.

As Christy has already reported, Jie Chen, I-YEL alumni and beloved Urban Trailblazers Instructor, volunteered to lead a working session. And I, spurred by a playful "Aekta, Aekta, Aekta" chant from fellow CFC delegates, volunteered to speak at the "Setting the Tone" plenary on the opening day of the conference.

Below you'll get a chance to read the transcript of the speech, but before jumping to that I must give some context.

Planning for the speech the conference organizers helped me gather a group of excited, fiery, young people, my "speech-writing committee" Ernesto and I now jest. What came out of the meeting was a strong, and emotional, sentiment that youth and the education for sustainable development movement were just not being listened to. And, the culprits were not just the usual suspects like corporations, but leaders in the environmental community itself.

Ernesto, Jie, and I took these thoughts late into the night, and composed a manifesto of sorts, which I presented the next day. I am proud to say that the message has truly resonated with the 1,500 international delegates here in Ahmedabad, and I hope it will with you as well.

(Note: Once we have better access to media, we will upload the video of the speech, but for now, enjoy the words)


So many times, when “youth” are brought up to stage to speak, it is for the wrong reasons:

It is because they have been loud and pestering and you want them to shut up

It is because they are just sooooo cute and make for great photo opps

It is because by doing so you can check “youth voice” off of the list as “represented” or “heard”

But, there are also right reasons to have a youth speaker:

It is because you want to hear a diversity in the voices that are speaking

It is because you want to ensure that all voices are given a stage

And, most importantly:

It is because you want to listen.

We do not listen anymore. There is a lot of noise: TVs blasting, Radios singing, Cars exhausting, Politicians politicking, Rickshaws, just being rickshaws.

Listening is a simple idea, but as with all things that are simple, it is actually quite complex. Listening is made up of many dynamic elements.

Listening is trust, trust that what is being spoken is true, for the speaker, and in the speaker’s heart and trust that you will have your turn to speak too.

Listening is respect, not necessarily respect for the words that are being spoken, or even the ideas being spoken, but respect for the person that is speaking the words.

Listening is Power; listening is the vehicle through which the tools of action are disseminated and gathered.

Listening is Leadership; you cannot lead if you do not know what those you are leading need. The world needs strong leadership, the world needs listeners.

It is time to let the listeners lead.

In traditional education, adults (teachers) speak and the youth (students) listen. We all know this framework. But, how can the teacher teach effectively if s/he is not listening to the student? Let us change this paradigm. Trust, Respect, Power, Leadership, let us introduce these dynamic elements into the teacher-student relationship, and, why stop there? Let it flow into all of our relationships. Youth are your disciples, but they are also your colleagues, they are your mentees and they are also your mentors. Let us all become listeners and so, let us all lead.

So we’re talking about listening versus hearing, but, how does one listen? I’ll tell you, you see, no good teacher speaks without providing the tools to act.

Listening happens with all of your senses.

You listen with your eyes…during this conference look around at who is at the table, whose voices at the table are speaking, who is not at the table at all. How can those missing voices be represented. How can you help represent those voices.

Listen with your ears. What words are being spoken, what words are being repeated, what words are not heard, what words are getting lost, what words are not being spoken.

Listen with your heart. Forget the words for a moment, listen for the meaning behind what is being put forward. What are the thoughts being represented, what are the truths in the passions being shared. What are the needs that are being revealed, what can you do to meet those needs. Be a colleague, be a disciple, become a mentor, become a mentee.

We need so badly to listen.

We need to Listen to the earth. Future development, sustainable development, should promote a healthy human-earth relationship, a holistic, systemic framework for all of our processes. Of this I will not speak more because I think, I just have this feeling, that there are many more voices at this conference that will speak to these needs.

We need to Listen to the voiceless. Those who were not able to make it to this conference, those that are “marginalized” and “underrepresented”, those who do not have a vote, those whose voices have been taken away from them again and again, those who do not have the privilege to have a stage to stand up on to declare their thoughts. At this conference, when we are framing our recommendations and our solutions, keep in mind those who have not had the opportunity to give their voice to this debate, for if we do not include their needs, if we do not hear their voices, we have not truly solved anything.

We need to Listen to each other. So often at conferences the topics at hand get lost. Agendas are pushed, attendees, and speakers, repeat what has already been said, over and over and over again. This is a waste of time and energy. Now this is truly ironic to me at an Environmental Education conference. It is a waste of ENERGY. ENERGY being WASTED, at this conference. Listening can be our new energy-saving measure!

The voices of today’s youth are repeating what was said by youth at the original Tblisi conference. Of the UNESCO conference 10 years ago, 5 years ago, 1 year ago. Voices are not being listened to. Words are written down, heads nod, photos are taken, papers are exchanged and declarations are made; but the voices are not listened to.

Here at this conference we will draft statements and recommendations, bold and visionary; shouting out to the world. We want the world to take these recommendations. We want the world to listen to us? And the world should listen to us… But how can we ask that if we haven’t even listened to each other yet?

I’m going to tell you a story. A few days ago I was sitting with my cousins and my aunt; we were making plans about going somewhere around Ahmedabad. And I turned to my aunt and I said “Yes yes, we should go, the kids should come to, we should bring the kids”, and my 13 year old cousin looked at me and said, “hey, what do you mean “kids”, are you not a “kid” too?” And it struck me, she was right. Are we not all youth? Do we not all have a spark, a curiosity, a freshness? And, do not all “youth” have advice, solutions, and wisdom?

We need to listen to all the voices inside of us.

At this conference let us bring all voices to the table, let us make a commitment to each other to really listen. Remember, with listening comes respect, trust, power, leadership, and, I left one out. Responsibility. With listening comes the responsibility to act. Let us take on this responsibility together youth, adult, teacher, disciple, mentor, mentee, Leader. We will listen to the earth and we will listen to the voiceless. We will listen to ourselves, and we will listen to each other, and then, the world will have to listen to us.

It is time to let the listeners lead.

Thank you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

ICEE: A Feast of Wisdom

Unless you change the direction you are going, you may end up where you were going in the first place. –Chinese Proverb

Yesterday was the fourth day at the ICEE conference and we have heard from several eloquent speakers and leaders urging everyone to take action and change our direction. Below are some selected observations from the sessions I have attended so far:

Learning Systems for Sustainable Development by Prof. Gunter Pauli

Gunter is the founder and director of the Zero Emissions Research Initiative (ZERI) of the United Nations and his working session started with learning how to first heal our own body before venturing out to heal the planet. He talked about the work ZERI does with education systems across the globe where he works with children and educators in looking at the way we live differently. His organization uses fables to educate children on radical ideas of sustainability through four areas: science, art, eco-literacy and building an emotional connection. He stressed how we need to offer the youth the right tools and knowledge today so they can be empowered to make and create things better tomorrow. He shared actual models of sustainable architecture that ZERI has helped implement in developing countries as he believes we can learn from nature (bio-mimicry: termite hills and zebras) and turn those lessons into action.

The ZERI fables passes on the knowledge from nature and biology to children through story-telling as he believes it’s been one of the most successful ways of passing on knowledge through the ages.

Gunter Pauli will be visiting San Francisco in the second week of December and was very keen to drop by the Crissy Field Center and spend some time with the kids sharing his ZERI fables.

Addressing Climate Change Concerns by Sunita Narain

Director of the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi, Sunita delivered an impassioned speech about climate injustice in the world. She termed all the rhetoric on climate change as the “dialogue of the deaf” and urged everyone to make the effort to reinvent this world so we can all survive. She reiterated that climate change will only be possible if there is a joint effort by all the countries in the world as we all have only one planet and everything is linked now. Her main message was how world citizens and leaders need to share the ecological and economic space in the world. She also brought up the point that she doesn’t believe technology will solve all the environment problems entirely—“efficiency is not the answer, sufficiency is.” Her words complemented the thoughts of Jaime Cloud, president of The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education in New York, who talked about how we need to avoid falling into the "confidence trap" where everyone believes that someone else or technology will solve the problems and we don’t need to get involved.

I spoke to Sunita very briefly after her talk and mentioned that our team will be traveling to New Delhi in a week and we would love to visit her organization and she encouraged us to drop by if we can match our schedules.

Cheryl Charles, president of Children & Nature Network has worked with Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods) and presented her model of The Ecology of Hope, which consists of four parts:
1. Reconnect or connect to nature
2. Care for communities
3. Design for life
4. Nourish a planetary perspective

She is visiting San Francisco in January and was very keen to drop by the Conservancy and Crissy Field Center.

Natarajan Ishwaran, Director of the Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences, UNESCO talked about his work with biosphere reserves and world heritage sites. He urged everyone to think of restructuring our traditional spaces to become future learning areas and take the ancient knowledge from our cultures to the modern world. He said some of the things the UN looks for in their designated biosphere reserve sites are efforts to prevent the loss of biodiversity, connect people to the land and be a green laboratory.

After his presentation, I spoke to him at length about the Institute at the Golden Gate and he was very excited about our efforts and asked us to contact him with more information.

Overall thoughts:
• We need to focus on the four Es:
i. Ecology
ii. Economy
iii. Energy and
iv. Ethics.
• We have run out of time to talk about things and we all need to make drastic changes to be able to save the planet.
• Regional Centers of Expertise: We need to create a network of institutes that will promote global learning.
• The intersection of economic, social and environmental justice all have to work together now.
• “If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. If you teach him how to fish…he will over fish.” We need to teach in harmony with nature now.
• Let us educate ourselves through practice.
• “Learn to put the last first.”—Mahatma Gandhi
• We are all a part of the problem so we all need to work to demonstrate that we are all part of the solution.
• It is NOT enough just to protect the environment any more; we have to regenerate as well.
• How the developed and developing world shares resources is at the heart of how world economics will develop in the future.
• We are at a critical point in our efforts to stall the effects of climate change and have a window of five to seven years to make meaningful change.—R.K. Pachauri, director-general, The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2007 with Al Gore.
• To bring about the change everyone is talking about we have to start educating children and communities at the local level and keep expanding our efforts till we reach the international level.
• Don’t tell people what to do as people react negatively to dictated ideas. Learn from one of the greatest teachers in history, Socrates, and answer questions with questions.
• To use Gandhi’s model of generating strong brand ambassadors in every community in India that helped take India’s freedom struggle against the British to critical mass, we too need to create venues and opportunities that will allow people to network and join hands before fanning out in their communities to spread the word.
• Organize learning and cross-sector dialogue around a common vision instead of focusing on all the problems the Earth faces today. Let’s focus on the optimistic instead of the pessimistic.
• We need to look at traditional environmental knowledge sources present in different cultures across the world to start framing our sustainable development plans for the future. For centuries, humans had lived in harmony with nature without destabilizing the ecological balance of the planet. Let us combine the traditional with the modern, the artistic with the scientific.
• Almost 95 percent of our learning happens outside formal education systems and we need to ask organizations and companies to open up their resources and become learning zones so both children and adults can learn from the school of life.
• We need to be the change we want to be by living our sustainable lifestyle visions.

I would like to end with a quote Gunter Pauli made after his working session, “If at the end of this conference you have no dreams, you must have been asleep.”

Monday, November 26, 2007

Day 3 -- ICEE

Blog Entry from Christy Rocca, Director, Crissy Field Center, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Monday, November 26, 2007
Ahmedabad, India

Our team has just completed Day Three of the International Conference on Environmental Education, located at the fully self-contained, sustainable campus of the world acclaimed Centre for Environment Education (CEE.) Just 20 years ago this site was a barren sand dune on the outskirts of this mini-metropolis of 5 million people- India’s 7th largest city. Today CEE boasts a lush, mature forest of over 4,000 trees native to this arid climate. Although it’s been 90 degrees, the tree canopy keeps the site comfortable. CEE is made up of an assortment of buildings complete with water catchments systems that provide fresh, pure water for the campus and help to recharge the water table therefore transforming the site into a lush urban habitat where many species of birds including the famed, native peacocks, squirrels, chipmunks, monitor lizards and to our delight, the golden languor make their home. It’s a stunning place where programs focusing on education for sustainable development serve the local, national and international audiences- it is a lesson in sustainability of epic proportions.

I spent my first two days listening to compelling presentations by youth from around the world that demonstrated how these young people are leading the way, with few resources, but armed with passion for their environments, the love of their communities and a clear vision for a more hopeful and sustainable future. We heard how youth in Nepal are working to clean up the mess at the Mt. Everest base camps left by those wealthy enough to make the climb, how Chinese students are working along farmers to understand their agricultural traditions and to assist them in developing sustainable practices while boosting the income of rural poor, how young people in Dehli, India are putting their creative skills to use to raise awareness among their peers about actions they can take to improve access to clean water through dance, poetry, art and performance. It was among this group of peers that Ernesto, Aekta and Jie presented our own “Inspiring Young Emerging Leaders” model where they created strong connections, formed new alliances and made lasting friends. I won’t say much more about this right now because it will be much more powerful for you to hear directly from them about their experience here at ICEE.

Today is a different day. Today I woke up with the Times of India at my hotel door, only to find on page 4 an article entitled “Forever Young, Forever Green: Peter Nazareth catches up with the Gen-X green brigade from around the globe.” And there above the column was a full color picture of the youth delegates from the ICEE conference and right in the middle, Ernesto and Aekta, jubilant, arms waving with huge smiles on their faces. In the article, Ernesto is quoted “This has been an opportunity for me to learn from cultures across the globe. I realize the impact of the wasteful, excessive consumerism in the US, where people line up for hours at stores, yet there are communities there who have access to a packet of chips but not fresh fruit and vegetables.” Pretty thought provoking considering we’re entering the holiday season……..

Like all conferences, much of what is being presented is at the conceptual level. Many academics and scientists are eager to list their credentials and present their latest research. I find myself getting frustrated with all of this rhetoric and want to hear more about implementation, success stories and the tangible outcomes of people united, working together to make positive environmental change. But today was different. Today was one of the most moving days of my career. I witnessed one of my young staff, Aekta Shah, only 24 years old, address the conference audience of 1,500 in a plenary session called “Setting the Tone” (of Education for Sustainable Development.) She was invited to be the youth representative on an international panel comprised of senior UN officials, world-renowned educators, scientists and economists- all of them at least 50 years old and older. After nine presentations, many of them predictable, Aekta took to the podium and respectfully challenged the panel and the audience to listen……to listen to the sounds of nature, to listen to children playing, to listen to each other and to listen to youth and to once again connect to the youth inside all of us to dream up a hopeful vision of a sustainable future.

I’ll leave you with those thoughts. More to come…..Christy

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Four Days, Multiple Timezones, Seoul and India

It’s our second day in India and we have horrible Internet connectivity. Am trying to get a brief report on our travels so far in Seoul and India.

Seoul, South Korea
We spent one day in Seoul and loved it! After we cleared temporary immigration in South Korea, we were transported from the airport in Incheon to downtown Seoul to our hotel. It took us an hour. But our transit hotel was well worth it! The rooms were beautiful, impeccably clean and—best of all—right in the middle of downtown Seoul. The next day we used the subway to meet Chooney with Aekta as our expert navigator through the intricate web of train lines. I have to say that the Seoul “Bart” system easily trumps our Bart system! The seats were heated. Need I say more?

Choony took us through the back alleys in Seoul where we bought fresh persimmons, apples and avoided a boar’s head. We met with the employees of the The Korea Environmental Education Center, which is the education arm of KFEM. One of the most interesting things we learnt from the Education group was how they create curriculum in the form of text books that they distribute through the school system. They start with focus groups with parents and teachers and create text books for paid distribution through the school groups. Similar to our programs they also organize eco camps and eco tours for groups of kids to transport them to rural China or South Korea to teach them about environment in a rural setting. The idea was to introduce kids from the city to the outdoors—their version of Camping at the Presidio. One of their big upcoming projects is an environmental education conference for teachers from Asian countries: Malaysia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, China, Japan. For more information, visit

This is our second day in India and it’s already been quite an adventure. India is overwhelming. We landed in Ahmedabad yesterday after a short stop in New Delhi. Seoul was interesting too. Here are our experiences in India so far:

Delhi Airport

My mother and grandma had come to the airport to try and catch me in transit. My Father had sent one car to try and shuttle the six Conservancy folks to the domestic terminal somehow. We had a large car but we had six people, my mother, my grandmother and the driver so by the time we all climbed into the car with all our luggage, my mom and grandmother had no place to sit. So then started a strategic planning session of piling humans and luggage into the car. The first plan was that we forfeit the car plan and try to find the airport shuttle to try and go to the domestic terminal as you would think the airport folks had thought of this scenario. Every time we asked the folks at the airport about where the shuttle service was they pointed to a “No Smoking” sign. So we quickly gave that plan up and went back to planning the human and baggage placement plan in the car. It ended up with the Conservancy folks sitting on top of each other and my grandmother and mother following us in an auto rickshaw at three in the morning. The driver tried to tell us after we’d all packed in like sardines that his rear view was totally blocked and we stared him down and he said he could stick his neck out of the window and look back as he was driving if required. Phew! Close one.

Forty Rupees and a Rickshaw

Aekta’s family picked us up from the airport and we came to our hotel, which is very nice. After a quick shower, Christy, Ernesto, Charity, Jie, and I decided to take a walk at noon to see Ahmedabad—which was NOT a good idea. We’d lost Aekta to her family. Our walk was not entirely without purpose. We really wanted to convert our dollars and traveler’s checks to rupees.

At one point we had to cross the street and I realized how rustic my street smarts in India are as I stood with the rest of my American gang and waited for the light to change. Of course when the light did change, all the cars started rushing towards us and we had everyone yell and scatter in four different directions. We managed to regroup and they appointed me leader and they all promised to follow me into the mad throng of people, cars, cows, cycles, push carts, autos, even if the act ultimately cost them their lives.

Ahmedabad Day 2: Tour Bus Trip
This morning we rushed out of the hotel after breakfast as Aekta’s aunt had asked us to meet her and her kids at “Lal Darwazaa,” which literally translates to “Red Door.” As the only Indian in the group, I was in charge of getting everyone to the Red Door. The Red Door turned out to be an entire marketplace with NO red doors. The auto driver finally agreed to call Aekta’s aunt from his cell phone and we managed to find Aekta and her family.

The tour itself was really nice. We went to Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram, which was very inspiring. Christy wrote down a quote from Gandhi that we all liked: “May we know the land and love it more.” We also visited a Jain temple with gorgeous etching and sculptures.

The tour guide offered both useful and useless information with the same level of interest. We made a stop near Sardar Vallabbhai Patel’s (freedom fighter and part of Gandhi’s inner circle) house and she talked about Rabindranath Tagore (he won the Nobel Prize in literature) stayed at the place for a while during the critical months of the freedom struggle, and that was very interesting. At other times she would suddenly scream into her mike that we were “passing the Mr. Shah’s house to the right.” We would all stare at her to see if she would tell us who the Mr. Shah was and why we should care but her response to the staring was “that is the all.” Very well, then.

There was also this one woman on the bus who had bought two peacock feather dusters that she carried with her everywhere. She was a tiny, tiny woman in a sari and was the first to jump out of the bus at every stop and march into the buildings with her peacock feather duster. I made Jie take a picture of her.

Everyone else went on to the capital City in Gujarat, Gandhinagar and visited the Akshardham Temple. They said it’s a stunning temple—built right next to a nuclear power plant. The temple was built by a 1,000 artisans and is an elaborately carved building constructed out of pink sandstone and surrounded by manicured lawns and perfect trees.

Friday, November 16, 2007

I work for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy in the communications department and am traveling with the Crissy Field Center staff (Christy, Charity, Ernesto, Aekta and Jie) to the Fourth International Conference on Environmental Education in Ahmedabad, India. The conference is organized by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in partnership with UNEP (United Nations Environment Program, the Government of India's Ministry of Human Resource Development and Ministry of Environment and Forests. The focus of the conference is on the strategic role of education behind sustainable development.

Participants at the conference will have the opportunity to share best practices, ideas, and new initiatives. We will be presenting Crissy Field Center’s I-YEL (Inspiring Young Emerging Leaders) environment and leadership model as part of the UN's "Youth Trendsetters in Education for Sustainable Development" working group. We hope to explore new models of sustainability, share other case studies from the Golden Gate National Parks, and establish partnerships with international organizations.

We also are excited to experience India, visit national parks, and report back on the conference, speakers and the pulse of life in one of the most vibrant emerging economies in the world! The purpose of this blog is to chronicle our travels and experiences in India at the conference and beyond.

Today is our last day in the office before we fly out of San Francisco on November 18th to travel for four days (with a long layover in Seoul, Korea) to New Delhi. We will be visiting the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM) in Seoul, as Christy’s friend, Choony Kim at the new Eco Center, has graciously offered to introduce us to her colleagues at KFEM working in environmental education.

My role is to introduce people joining us virtually on this adventure to environmental leaders from across the world and learn about the way they investigate and understand our planet. Please join us in our journey!