Feb 01 2009
As a result of my involvement, (beginning with the summer of 2005), with Plymouth State University’ Pakistani Educational Leadership Institute (PELI), each year my interest in understanding this region of the world grows. My interactions with the Pakistani Educational Leaders shape and enrich my work as an educator. As I embark on educational initiatives from my home institution in Plymouth, NH, I think of the Pakistani educators whom I have met, and particularly of the group from this past summer of 2008 who developed environmental stewardship and cultural heritage preservation action plans.
For the first time this past summer, a small group of NH educators joined PELI for a week, and what an addition. The New Hampshire teachers developed their own environmental stewardship and cultural heritage preservation action plans appropriate for schools in their communities. From their written reflective essays and spoken comments, it was clear the NH teachers were moved and motivated by the educational issues addressed in the Pakistani’s action plans. As a result of our enriching cultural exchange, I now look at my own environmental education work through a new lens, asking myself- am I accomplishing enough, how can I have the biggest impact, what is the most productive use of my time to affect change, what difference will my activities make in the lives of students, and am I modeling being the best environmental steward? My commitment to place-based environmental education will forever more have me urging students to consider the global significance and implications of their environmental activities. I was so inspired by the collective energy of the involved teachers and I wonder how all are doing in their endeavors? I hear news reports of problems in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and I think of our PELI colleague from this region. When schools, allowing girls an education, are being threatened or closed, I imagine civic awareness about environmental issues must not be moving forward.
Yesterday, I started out my morning at the local K-8 school, attending a meeting with my 12 year old daughter. Around 25 students, teachers, and the school principal, (mostly all females) met before school started to plan green, sustainable initiatives, including exploring building a green house or growing dome on the school property. The president of the student council, a 14 year old girl, gave a report on the Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative (PAREI). PAREI, formed in 2004, has a mission to encourage energy conservation, energy efficiency practices, and promote the use of renewable energy at the residential level through education, community building and an increased accessibility to renewable energy: http://www.plymouthenergy.org/. The young woman making the presentation thought PAREI might want to collaborate with the school. She brought forward an environmental idea to impact her school, hoping to enrich the curriculum, reduce the school’s carbon footprint, and help enhance the school’s grounds for wildlife. I tell this story to emphasize how schools provide leadership opportunities for youth.
Thinking about schools being closed in the FATA, became more poignant when last night I watched the movie Daughters of Afghanistan, 2004, directed by Robin Benger, featuring Canadian journalist Sally Armstrong interviewing and following four Afghanistani females. The film is about women who pursue liberation, who hope to harness a future for their daughters and includes a story of a school principal who is determined to provide an education for girls. The movie is in part a plea to the international community to help improve conditions -provide access to clean water, medical care, an education, and employment opportunities for women- vital components for rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. The message seemed to be transferable to the FATA.
I wonder how our PELI 2008 colleague from the FATA region is faring especially with her action plan, amidst the turmoil in her region. I remember vividly the day this past summer when she informally shared about her life in the region when asked by the scientists from the United State Geologic Survey, who were guest presenters leading us on a field trip. I’ve since read, the US has pledged $750 million for FATA largely for development.1 What difference will these tax dollars have for educators like my PELI colleague from the FATA? What difference will my tax dollars have for improving the lives of girls and women in the FATA? While we-Pakistani and New Hampshire educators- discovered our commonalities as teachers this summer- I’m also struck by the differences in the educational issues we face in our communities.
My real purpose in writing to my PELI colleagues at this point in time is to ask for your input. I have been invited to be part of an international NATO workshop focused on environmental security and sustainability. So, for the last month, I’ve been tuned into when, where, and how conflict and environmental issues intersect. A recent New York Times Article, Iraqi Elections Face Crucial Test in Violent Mosul, January 30, 2009, points out the fear that some have that the ensuing elections in Iraq are just another means for Arabs and Kurds to continue their struggle over limited natural resources like land, oil, and control of water supplies. As I plan my contributions for the NATO event, I find myself wanting to know how my PELI colleagues view the topic of environmental security and sustainability. What messages and or insights do you have from your region of the world? How do the conflicts in Pakistan, especially in the FATA region, threaten the environment? How have recent political events in Pakistan influenced environmental stewardship and cultural heritage initiatives? What kinds of communication/resources can best help support and sustain your educational initiatives and action plans developed during PELI? I appreciate our PELI blog site, because otherwise, as Americans, all we have to go on is our news reports of instability in your country. I want you to keep informing my practice and life as an environmental educator. I value what I learn from you. I look forward to continuing my global education through PELI and I hope to take some of your views to my NATO workshop.
1 Haider, Ziad, “Mainstreaming Pakistan’s Tribal Belt” A human rights and security imperative.” Belfer Center Student Paper Series #09-01, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, Cambridge, MA, January 2009.