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Indonesia

The Future Leaders of Sulawesi

If your child came home from school talking about “wild pandanus,” you might be concerned that your kid had fallen in with the wrong crowd.

But no need to worry: wild pandanus is actually a tropical tree whose leaves are widely used throughout the villages of Sulawesi, Indonesia for weaving mats and making other handicrafts.

This is just one of the new nuggets of natural knowledge that kids near Lore Lindu National Park are learning — and bringing home to their parents — thanks to an environmental education program that The Nature Conservancy helped establish.

Through the program, a new generation of young people are discovering just how much they rely on the benefits provided by the plants and animals of the park for their health and livelihoods — and just how important protecting those resources will be for the future of their families.

Achmad Rizal, Sulawesi program manager for the Conservancy, believes that educating students about the environment could augment the sustainability of the Conservancy’s overall efforts on the island.

“Children have a strong ability to absorb information,” he says. “We hope that the children’s understanding of conservation will shape the community’s perception through interaction between the children and their parents.”

The Heart of Sulawesi

At the mountainous heart of Sulawesi, Lore Lindu National Park has some of the largest remaining stretches of forests in Indonesia, where two million hectares of forest disappear every year. The park is home to 277 different kinds of birds and several unique native animals, like the deer pig and the dwarf buffalo.

But — as Sulawesi students are learning — Lore Lindu contributes to life on the island in other ways. The park’s forests provide critical water resources to hundreds of thousands of people and absorb groundwater, shielding villages from flooding.

The Conservancy has been working to protect Lore Lindu since 1992, but the forest continues to face problems like deforestation and erosion that are caused by new roads, illegal logging and unsustainable harvesting of rattan and other important forest plants. A long tradition of poaching and encroachment in the park had left the community resistant to conservation efforts.

To help create a sense of pride and responsibility, the Conservancy helped local educators to develop a conservation-oriented curriculum that would inspire children to influence their parents’ choices about protecting their natural resources. Then future generations would be better able to manage the area in a responsible and sustainable way.

“The ecosystem destruction had raised my concern,” says Ahina Boka, who helped start the program and is head of the Technical Services Unit for Education, Youth and Sports in North Lore Sub District. “I wanted to encourage kids, as a young generation, and train them to save our nature as early as possible.”

Investing in the Future

The environmental education program — a joint effort between The Nature Conservancy, the local teachers association, Lore Lindu National Park Authority and Lohena, a local non-governmental organization — was created to fill that need.

Our forest is recognized internationally for its beauty and richness, and it gives us so many priceless benefits,” says Boka. “The children here should understand that.”

The environmental curriculum is geared toward fourth to sixth graders. In 2008, 18 schools implemented the curriculum. That number more than doubled the following year.

The Conservancy helped develop a conservation textbook and flipchart to illustrate the importance of biodiversity in the park, the threats to the forest and possible solutions. Teachers enhance learning through other tools such as maps and songs, quizzes, drawing and speech competitions, and outdoor activities like tree plantings and a conservation camp.

Passing the Test

The program is already showing results. The test scores prove it, but the kids in Sulawesi speak for themselves.

(Interested in testing yourself? Take this sample exam from the Lore Lindu curriculum!)

Amin Yunus Roro, 10, hopes to be a teacher one day. “Now I know about the environment I live in and the animals and plants that live only in Sulawesi Island,” he says. “I also know about some medicinal plants from the Park. I want to put into practice what we’ve learned. I don't want to cut the trees inconsiderately, and I don’t want to take too much from the forest. That way, we can keep enjoying a good life on the island.”

The curriculum allows students to involve their parents as well.  Some homework assignments have students talking directly with their parents to find out how the island has changed over time. For example, they might be instructed to ask what kind of trees their parents saw as children, whether they find more or less of those same trees today, and why?

Armed with a solid educational foundation and a sense of responsibility for protecting Sulawesi, these kids are definitely on the right track. It's encouraging for the Conservancy staff who have worked around Lore Lindu for years.

“The children living in the villages today will be the future leaders on the island," says Conservancy project coordinator Suyanto. "Their investment in protecting the park is fundamental.”

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