camp eco-action

I spent the last two weeks alternating between training for an environmental eco-action for girl students in Togo and then leaving to Lome to present on peer support network with the new stage. During the week with the girls I got to watch slowly shrug of the reticence grown by years of slow subtle repression in their cultures, and begin to shout, sing, and dance with a spontaneity that only comes from a joy of self-expression newly rediscovered. It was beautiful, but also sad. The transformation wasn’t really visible until the last afternoon. Right when they blossomed, we had to say goodbye. At least they have the memories. I felt the girl’s camp, unlike the boy’s serves two needs. It builds self-confidence in the members and simultaneously builds capacity. We taught the girls how to plant gardens, create compost, create organic pesticide, purify grey water, the importance of recycling, nutrition and a variety of environmental topics.
The very first day I had the ‘history of the environment’ L’histoire de l’environnement, to present to the entire camp. Our topic included climate change. Sadly my Togolese partner was a late minute replacement for someone else, so I had to the entire presentation on my own. So, after quickly going through the advent of humanity, to explain how initially humanity’s very small population drastically exploded into the nearly 7 billion we have today and how our demands on the environment changed as well. I explained the industrial revolution as simply as possible and then went in to climate change only to find that the educational gap for girls in the American equivalents of 7-10 grade reached the very sky. They had no real idea what the atmosphere was, or did. Even when I and other Togolese camp trainers explained it, there was still a massive gap of understanding, even when I did an activity to demonstrate the simple mechanism of CO2 retaining heat, incomprehension was on 80% of faces.
The Togolese school system is anachronistic. It’s a relic of colonial times and focuses on memorization, rather than thorough understanding of concepts. So, logically the ability of Togolese school children to memorize bits of information and regurgitate on command is often impressive. Yet, when I was teaching, I taught climate change in terms of its relationship to us and the world. I tried to help the girls comprehend its effects so that they would be able to apply them to other sessions (why build improved cook stoves? Because they slow deforestation and use less wood which is good for the environment and helps slow climate change), but this teaching style is not commonly used and additionally it became clear to me that I tried too much theory. I should have done my entire presentation on solely the atmosphere and then in the next addressed climate change.
Yet, my presentation was in that sense a turning moment. All the trainers realized that our presentations needed to eschew theory and focus on practice, simply and basically. It’s not a matter of intelligence, but rather acquiescence to differing teaching and the differing quality of education that arrives at camp. Overall, it was a wonderful time and like usual, I got to practice my Togolese dancing skills.

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About wwmaier

Me, my guitar, and a funky little place called Togo.
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