moved here

Reflections on environment, culture-based education, self-awareness

27 June 2013

Ms Ayumi Ota

The eight-day fieldwork in Bendum, Mindanao in the Philippines gave me an opportunity to think about my life experiences in both urban and rural areas, and to reflect on the perspective, values, feelings, and thoughts that I have cultivated over my 31 years. The people of Bendum and the staff of the Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC)  and the Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center (APC)), as well as the other Asia Leaders Programme (ALP) students gave me a lot of insights on natural resources and their management, environmental issues, and human, social, and economic development. The different perspectives shared by other ALP students also gave me opportunities to reflect on myself. Moreover, the beautiful nature and environment allowed me more space to reflect on everything I heard, thought, and felt. I really appreciated this special opportunity and would like to note what I reflected on through and after the fieldtrip.

Relationship with the environment

First of all, during the time I spent in Bendum and by visiting various field sites, I realized the close relation between people’s lives and the surrounding environment. Since my interests are mostly on the relationships between people and society, I have not often considered the relationship between nature and human beings. Although, I have often felt very close to nature because of my experiences in daily hiking, annual camping, and working in a rural community.

All the field sites we visited in Bendum—the hydropower plant, farms, forests, the river, and the neighboring community—help to build the life in the community. If these were ignored and destroyed by people, the life and culture in Bendum would slowly die too.

I was most impressed by the hydropower plant and water system, constructed and operated by borrowing the power of nature. People constructed these systems to turn natural power into resources—electricity and clean water—for their life in the community. These micro systems seemed not to have polluted or affected nature, in comparison with large-scale systems. The way people care for these really shows their appreciation of both nature and the systems they have put in place. Life in Bendum cannot exist without its relation to nature, and nature cannot be sustained without being cared for by the community.

Culture-based education

Secondly, shifting my view to the relation between people and society, I realized again that education is not only for teaching knowledge, skills and habits, but also for building community, enhancing the connection within the community, and strengthening their culture.

Formal education provides opportunities for students to learn knowledge, skills and habits, and this learning experience leads them to wider social participation and better economic opportunities. However, formal education, which is usually centralized or standardized at the national level, can also be harmful in certain contexts.

In general, public schools are built in both urban and rural areas without any differentiation because providing equal opportunity to formal education for all is one of government’s obligations. Even though the characteristic of each community may be very diverse, such as ethnicity, religion, and environment, the curriculum for formal education is usually standardized. This means that the content or subjects of the centralized curriculum might be contentious or divisive for certain communities, including indigenous communities. Even worse, formal education based on a centralized curriculum might lead some cultures to extinction. In order to avoid this tragedy, it is essential to take the characteristic of each community into consideration when developing the educational curriculum.

This is what Bendum has done in their culture-based education. Observing the practice of culture-based education in this indigenous community, I learned that education helps not only to enable social participation and provide economic opportunities, but also to strengthen their culture and to develop livelihood options. I think that raising awareness about the value of their traditional life is one of the most important elements that culture-based education addresses within community. Moreover, culture-based education gives people daily opportunities to be aware of their culture and empower them to value their traditional life.

Self-awareness

Finally, the most essential lesson learned from this field trip was how important it is to keep raising awareness about others and the importance of self-awareness, as a person who wants to work with people in community.

I studied social psychology and social work for my bachelor’s degree, and worked with people who faced challenges in society. These experiences led me to think about my values, beliefs, and perspectives, and to reflect about myself. Majoring in peace education at the University for Peace also brought me opportunities to be aware about different values, beliefs, and perspectives from other countries, and about self-awareness. Since my classmates came from diverse cultures and backgrounds, I realized again how different we all are. I believe these differences among individuals should not be judged or ignored by anyone, but be recognized, valued, and respected.

The experience in Bendum greatly broadened my perspective. Interacting with the community, including the youth, ESSC and APC staff, and with nature at same time was particularly valuable for me in order to reflect on myself. Moreover, the interactions in Bendum strengthened my conviction that self-awareness is essential in order to recognize, value and respect the perspectives, values, and beliefs of others.

This field trip also gave me a chance to reassess the effectiveness of experiential learning for the youth, with which I myself have been involved, from the participant’s point of view. I gained new ideas for planning, managing and providing more effective experiential learning by adjusting it for people who come from diverse background and interests. I appreciate all the people whom I met through this experience. Their sincere attitudes towards others, community and nature enhanced my learning more than anything.

Ms Ayumi Ota is a student under the Asia Peacebuilders Scholarship Program in the UN-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica. She is majoring in Peace Education. Previously she was the coordinator and lecturer for experiential learning in Kwansei Gakuin University. She is set to do her internship in Jordan, with an NGO that is working primarily with youth, children and refugees.

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