VIU student uses place-based learning to help Belizean youth understand resiliency issues

TIDE summer camp participants walk towards a sustainable farm visit in San Miguel, Toledo District, Belize.

My main role during my Education and Outreach Internship at TIDE has been the planning and implementation of TIDE’s annual environmental summer camp. This was also the aspect of the internship about which I was most excited.

2016 marks the tenth year of TIDE’s summer camp, a highly anticipated event that receives significant funding from UNICEF. Approximately 170 children participated in camp this year, across seven Toledo communities, with the help of 22 local volunteer camp leaders.

TIDE summer camp has a different theme each year. This year’s theme was “be the change”, and the aim of the camp was to help the children of Toledo develop an appreciation for their personal impact on the environment. Topics included climate change, sustainability, and freshwater resources.

To complement the lessons and re-enforce this year’s camp theme, I took each of the seven camp groups to a local sustainable farm. On these field trips, the children learned about how local farmers are sustainably growing food in a productive, profitable, and ecologically sound fashion.

The trips to the sustainable farms were a great chance for place-based learning, a chance to see local people practicing what I had been talking about during the camp. Children are often excited about environmental education and hands-on learning, and are a great vector to pass information through to the older generation. Creating an appreciation for the local environment is increasingly important as more and more people are becoming disconnected from the natural environment.

The value of place-based learning is also being realized all over the world, including in Nanaimo. Place-based learning differs from traditional learning or teaching in that the local community is used as the classroom. Instead of learning about sustainable farming in the classroom, the class is taken to a sustainable farm to learn about it first-hand.

There are a few eco-schools on Vancouver Island that promote hands-on, place-based learning. Hands-on learning is the best way to help people change behaviors (talking about the issue will only do so much, we need to take people and show them their impacts directly). Organizations such as TIDE also practice place-based learning, and take children and adults out into the field to learn about local issues.

I hope that during future camps the camp facilitators will work hard to find a field trip that provides a strong focus for the week’s lessons. This camp and its field trips have the potential to create big change in Belize.

By changing the theme each year to reflect local and global environmental issues, this camp has the power to build resilience in this coastal community. I am very happy with the outcome of this year’s camp, and feel that it reflects the Building resilience and coastal communities theme as well as the vision for the education and outreach programming at TIDE, which is “designed to empower local residents to be better environmental stewards. We raise awareness of the ways in which the ecosystems of the Maya Mountain Marine Corridor benefit people and the ways in which people can take better care of the ecosystems”.

Haley Robinson, Natural Resource Management Geography, VIU