UNESCO Environment Outreach Project Report 2003/04
Community Outreach to Enhance Environmental Awareness and to
Promote Sustainable Development in the Pacific:
A major partnership outreach (Open Days) to promote environment and sustainable development issues was conducted in the Western, Northern and Central divisions of Fiji. The outreach was a collaborative project involving the school-based Chemistry Outreach To Schools (COTS) programme of the Chemical Society of the South Pacific, the local community-based Ocean Future Society (OFS) activities and the Small Island Voice (SIV) initiative. These Open Days involved High Schools, their neighbouring Village Communities and Youth Groups active in the area.
The main objective of the partnership was to promote environmental awareness and natural resource conservation activities among the communities of the Pacific Islands and to encourage their voices and choices.
Three Open Days were conducted, in Lautoka, Labasa and in Suva.
1.0 Lautoka Open Day (16 August 2003)
The Lautoka Open Day was the first of a series of three such events. Held on 16 August, 2003 at Natabua High School, one of the premier secondary institutions, the event was attended by about 75 people, including community groups, school teachers and children, mostly from Lautoka City and its suburbs, and also from as far as the rural areas of Nadi, the neighbouring town.
The invitations to this Open Day were given to every school in the Western Division. Youth groups were contacted by liasing with the Youth Ministry in Lautoka, which in turn nominated youth groups registered with them. Youth groups registered with other established bodies such as church groups were also invited.
Village communities were contacted in the traditional manner through their spokesperson and also with assistance from the Fisheries officers who worked in the areas.
The detailed Programme for the Lautoka event is attached as Appendix A.
The Chief Guest for the Lautoka Programme was the Director of Health Services, Rajendra Pratap, of the Lautoka City Council. In his address he highlighted the major environmental problems facing the nation and the global community at large. He called on the participants to pay particular heed to these problems and ensure that the environment is not compromised in the name of progress. The Chief Guest also urged the academics of the University in attendance to seek solutions for the general environmental problems such as improper waste disposal, and excessive pesticide usage in the Lautoka area. He thanked the organisers of the Open Day for the efforts they had put in to enhance awareness in the youth and communities in the area on environment and sustainable development issues.
Following the opening speech, presentations were made by the COTS Team on topics such as global warming and its impacts, the ozone issue and plastic pollution. This was followed by a video show and discussions on the activities of the OFS, and later by a presentation by the Small Islands Voice Team.
The Ecovan, an environmental awareness building mobile unit of the Department of Environment was also part of the Lautoka Open Day. They conducted presentations on their activities on environment awareness and distributed awareness enhancing materials to the participants.
After lunch, the participants were divided into four break-out groups This was by far the most successful and interesting part of the day’s programme, mostly because the youth and students were more relaxed during these sessions and expressed themselves and engaged in discussions more freely. As a result, there were very positive and fruitful contributions from the participants.
The recommendations from the four group discussions were collected and were used in the overall synthesis of recommendations from the three open days. The print media covered the event, and both gave detailed accounts of the event. The event was reported in the newspaper (Appendix B).
2.0 Labasa Open Day (30 August 2003)
The second of the Open Day Series was held in Labasa, Vanua Levu, at the All Saints Secondary School on 30 August 2003. The representatives of the different groups (SIV, OFS and COTS) from Suva participated in the Lautoka meeting, totalling nine.
The attendance at Labasa was much better (100) than that in Lautoka. Better advertising using more personal contacts and the media seem to have helped. Various government departments also cooperated with the organizers in publicising the event. School teachers were also actively involved in facilitating the Labasa Outreach. The Programme is included in Appendix C.
The Chief Guest was the mayor of Labasa Town – Hon. Charan Jeath Singh. The mayor spoke on the appropriateness and timing of the workshop, as it was held when the district of Labasa was facing severe pollution in one of its rivers adjacent to the township. The decision to hold such an initiative in the Northern part of the country was applauded.
The format of the workshop was similar to that in Lautoka. The break-out sessions were coordinated in a similar manner to that in Lautoka. Many important issues were brought up in this session within the groups. These included the specific problems faced by Labasa participants, such as:
Suggestions for future Outreach activities:
It was also discovered that the best way to reach out to community was through market area, local village visits using school students, or churches.
An NGO, Live and Learn Environmental Education, has been actively involved in the northern Division, educating the residents about the importance of maintaining clean rivers and lakes. This group initiative was included as part of the workshop, and further assistance from the staff members in terms of consultancy assistance to this group was assured.
3.0 Suva Open Day (6 September 2003)
The third and final Open Day was held at the University of the South Pacific on 6 September, 2003. Please see the Programme in Appendix D. As anticipated, this was the biggest (120) in terms of content and presentations. With the three organizations (SIV, COTS, and OFS), the RiverCare Group – which is a unit within the Live and Learn Environmental Education (Fiji) delivered a presentation on the sustainable use of water resources. This was very well received by the participants against the signs of an impending drought in Fiji at that time.
In the break-out sessions, participants raised issues of waste and suggested that waste must be minimised at all times and more sustainable waste management practices must be introduced. Issues relating to the use and disposal of plastics and using the youth in the community as ambassadors to raise awareness of these issues were also discussed.
Student participants were in general very concerned about environmental issues, and they requested that open days and Outreaches be made annual events.
As far as COTS is concerned, during the open days the group was able to further promote Science Clubs in schools and to discuss specific activities with those who had Science Clubs already in existence. These clubs were registered with the COTS team. Arrangements were formalised for the distribution of “Environmental Kits”, which will enable students to measure weather parameters such as temperature, pressure and rainfall as part of the "SCOOL" (School Cloud Observation Online) cloud observation network that was established in 2002.
The Department of Environment in Fiji had also capitalized on the school outreach opportunities, and is now an active partner with the COTS Initiative. This has fostered a harmonious working relationship between the two groups
Those who participated in the OFS presentations were informed coral reefs should be viewed as fragile ecosystems. The participants already had a level of understanding that helped them appreciate that coral reefs needed protection and to some extent – very special attention. These ideas were usually inculcated largely by word of mouth and advice by elders. The OFS presentations elaborated on this existing knowledge. Towards the end of the workshop, a new commitment by youths to protect the coral reefs was made.
4.3 SMALL ISLANDS VOICE
Youths were encouraged to implement the “Clean X” concept. This has already borne fruit with two villages outside Suva participating in the “Clean Village” program. These village youths have demonstrated that with relevant guidance and provision of basic tools, many of these intended concepts can be realized into action.
In the presentations, and discussion forums, youths were encouraged to actively pursue either at community or family unit (mataqali) level, their choices and opinions on environmental and development issues. It was realized that sustainable development concepts and care for the environment have been brought about with the advent of new knowledge about the physical environment and its tolerance limits. Much of this new knowledge has been discovered in the near past, and hence the youths of today are in a more pivotal position to make the right decisions in such matters.
The Open Day in Labasa was unique in that there were employees of the Prisons Service and Youth Ministry of Fiji in attendance. The Youth Ministry are the people usually in contact with youth, thus there were fruitful discussions in the forum as to how to encourage the youths to make right and informed decisions on environment and development issues.
5.0 Overall assessment
The three Open Day initiatives were a resounding success, due in large part to the successful partnership of the three presenting organizations (OFS, SIV and COTS). Information was delivered from these bodies on a wide range of issues, from sustainable fisheries and clean environment to global warming and what it meant for island countries in particular. These were issues that all participants, whether they were youth workers, school students or professionals could identify with. Overall, there was widespread interest for the Open Day initiative in each centre.
Participants were made aware of their role in natural resource conservation activities, particularly in light of diminishing natural resources.
The organizers were also pleasantly surprised at the level of awareness displayed by the participants themselves. This awareness needs to be carefully and constantly nurtured to convert them into creative action.
The involvement of the community in the Open Days was not as healthy as anticipated. This could be due to the scheduling of these events on Saturday, which is a busy day for most mature people.
6.0 Overall responses of the participants
The responses mentioned here are those that were obtained from all three Open Days. These responses were common in nature, hence their collective mention in this section. These included:
7.0 The future
There have already been follow-up activities to the Open Days. The Clean Village concept, which commenced in two villages in the Central Division of Fiji, would be extended to two more villages in the Western Division, and to at least one in the North. These villages will most likely be in Nadi and Sigatoka and Labasa.
For the COTS team, the distribution of Environmental Kits to science clubs in schools is expected to be completed by April 2004. In addition to this, a few active schools will be selected to continue with the School Cloud Observation Online (SCOOL) Project in 2004.
There is a possibility of the COTS team making a regional Outreach in the near future. This is an extension to the Regional COTS Country Team concept currently in use. The popularity of the concept, both at national and regional level needs to be maintained, and regional visits by COTS teams can be a means to achieving this.
Much of the recommendations for the future have arisen from the participants themselves. There are many ideas on how to make the future Open Days more interesting and participant-oriented. The distribution of awareness kits is an excellent suggestion, and the COT team is working this.
The extent of community participation was not what was expected. Therefore, instead of conducting Open Days and inviting the community at large, the outreach activities may be taken to the communities in future. The results of visits to the two communities as a follow-up have suggested that this may be a more appropriate direction to take.
Participants – mostly students and youth groups received the Open Day concept very well. The follow-up to the Open Days also is in implementation stage and will spread to other parts of Fiji in 2004. The financial support provided by UNESCO is thankfully acknowledged. The support from CSSP, the Chemistry Department, the schools, and others who remain anonymous are also gratefully acknowledged.
environment is everyone’s business
Environmental issues must be part of the school curriculum to enhance the awareness of having a safe and pollution free environment says Director of Health Services of the, of the Lautoka City Council Rajendra Pratap.
Opening the UNESCO Environmental Outreach Programme in Lautoka yesterday, Mr. Pratap said having a safe environment should be everyone’s business and schools must take a lead role in creating the awareness.
We need to take this type of outreach programme which will enable us to see what wrong we are doing to the environment and what needs to be done to correct the abuses.
And I am confident that one of the best ways to pass on the message is to educate our students and this is why I call on the Ministry of Education to focus their attention on teaching the importance of having a safe environment.
Mr. Pratap said one must be well versed with the effects of global warming, climate change and ozone depletion that are among the environmental issues of any country.
He said the municipal councils have enacted litter by laws to enhance the awareness within the society with major emphasis placed on educating the people on environmental safety.
The Daily Post, 18th August 2003