ROME, 4 June 2002 -- Labia, the
elder pastoralist, Mubzi the talking goat, Doctor Nature and the
termite guide are all united by a common goal: saving the East
African savannah grasslands and preserving the cycle of nature.
But Labia is in trouble... His cattle are going hungry because
the plants they graze on are dying. Three schoolchildren and
their teacher decide to help him, but first they need to learn
about their environment.
and the challenges they face form the plot of Savannah
lifestyles, a comic book designed to teach East
African schoolchildren, ages 10-15, about their environment. The
booklet contains exercises on environmental issues that need to
be addressed in the savannah regions. Students are asked to
reflect on their environment and on the way their community
manages natural resources.
started as a collaboration between FAO and the United Nations
Environment Programme. We wanted to do something to help young
people learn, while having fun, about how to manage and protect
their environment," says Caterina Batello, coordinator
of the project for FAO.
activities proposed, children learn how to work within their
communities. By drawing or explaining in writing what they
observe in their environment, they analyse problems they find
and look for solutions.
They are then
invited to talk to their parents about traditional agricultural
methods and to explain why there may be conflicts over land use
or problems in protecting the environment. But the message is
always positive -- and personal: "The concept is,
'what can you do to become active in maintaining and
preserving the environment you live in?'" says Ms
lifestyles was launched recently in Kenya and is being
widely distributed to Kenyan schools by the Ministry of
Education and the Ministry of Environment. The booklet,
published in English, is the second in a series of comic books
on environmental issues. The first, produced in Arabic, was
distributed to schoolchildren in Syria and focuses on the
benefits to communities of preserving wildlife reserves.
Serious concepts presented in a
How do you explain
concepts like photosynthesis to children? "It is very
difficult to write technical messages and present them together
with drawings," explains Ms Batello. "Teachers
were involved at every step in the process to ensure that the
images accurately reflect the region and that the lessons are
appropriate for the target age group."
A teachers' guide is also available, giving
background information on environmental issues, advice on the
use of the teaching materials and sample exercises.
A lot of care has been put into getting the details
right. "If you do an inaccurate drawing, a child will
never recognize himself in that reality and will say, 'this
does not apply to me'. If the story contains a drawing of a
gazelle, it must be the right gazelle. It can't be one from
a different area," says Ms Batello.
"Similarly, every phrase, every detail has to be
socially acceptable. We spent hours discussing things such as:
Is it culturally correct to portray a goat speaking to a man and
making decisions on its own? Or would it be pushing it too far,
since animals are supposed to do what they're told? One
wrong word and you stop being credible."
Difficult words and concepts are illustrated and put
into context to make them easy to understand. The booklet also
contains a glossary that explains all the difficult terms in
language accessible to children.
An approach that works
The idea for the booklets arose from the UN
conventions on biodiversity and desertification and Agenda 21, a
blueprint for sustainable development that grew out of the 1992
Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. All stressed the need for
environmental education, but there had been little formal
teaching material on the subject specifically aimed at young
Environmental education is
essential because many people know very little about their own
environment and even less about how to protect it. In Syria, the
booklet on wildlife reserves was launched as part of a wide
educational campaign orchestrated to inform communities of the
potential benefits of reserves -- both economic and
The achievements of this
environmental education initiative were beyond anyone's
expectations. When the first Syrian reserve was established, in
Palmyra six years ago, the local population was against it,
considering it a waste to use land for wild animals. In
addition, establishing reserves restricted access to a very
lucrative business: hunting. But in only five years the
population grew to accept the reserves as vital to their
economic well-being rather than as a threat to their grazing
Tourism was a major incentive. Ms
Batello recalls: "The managers of the reserve had a
problem because they didn't know the species of most birds
they were encountering when they took tourists around. So they
asked three hunters to serve as guides. The hunters discovered
that they could make money with the reserve, and they suddenly
turned from hunters into wildlife guides!"
More to come
Two other booklets are in the works. One targets
secondary school children in the Himalayan region, and the other
focuses on the conflict between pastoralists and farmers in the
Sahel. All have the same objective: raising the children's
awareness of environmental issues.