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Community Engagement

Education in botanic gardens is not always restricted to the confines of the garden.As educators, and those responsible for education and information in botanic gardens, we know that our message should reach not only those who visit the garden but the whole of society.We need to take education and the appeal of botanic gardens out into the community to reach those who would not normally become involved.

Through outreach programmes and projects we can also raise awareness of local environmental issues and problems.Some of the articles below illustrate the various types of projects that can be developed by botanic gardens to fill this role.However, although all gardens arguably have the materials and personnel to develop such programmes they do not actually have sufficient personnel to carry them through.In the last few years the public demand for education and conservation programs in botanic gardens has increased.Many gardens now have to ask for help with financial subsidies form the state or local organisations to carry out community programmes.

If one compares the number of people that can benefit from an education programme inside the garden with the number of people that can benefit from activities outside the garden, within the surrounding community, it is clear that botanic gardens are undertaking an enormous amount of work for society.We clearly have a future role in saving biodiversity and the quality of life on earth.The development of many more effective community programmes in botanic gardens will enhance this role and enable people to realise that they are part of the solution to the environmental problems we face.

(Adapted from - Gonzalez, N. (1994), Roots 9, editorial, p 2-3)

Connecting with the Community: Spreading the Impact

Our Living Heritage was a community education project that has been recently completed at Kew. Historic Royal Palaces and Kew education managers worked with a number of local groups to develop and design a celebratory exhibition programme on the historic and environmental heritage within the Kew UK conservation area and Queen’s Cottage grounds. The products exhibited included a number of art / science linked artefacts such as 3D models, sculptures of native biodiversity, poetry and paintings. For anyone wishing to set up a similar project, a number of generic hints and suggestions of how to support programme development is given.

The Importance of Community Involvement in Conservation

Eru is one of the commonest vegetables eaten in Cameroon today. It provides an important source of protein and is used medicinally for a range of ailments, including sore throats, nausea and as an antidote to arrow poison. Yet eru is under severe threat from over exploitation. Vast amounts are exported each week to neighbouring Nigeria and from there to Europe and the USA. The Limbe Botanic Garden is interested in the conservation of this species and has been heavily involved in research and the involvement of local people in the cultivation of eru.

Towards a Community Environmental Ethic

From time immemorial, local communities in Kenya have had cultural practices and beliefs that enhanced biodiversity conservation. These values and practices are fast disappearing and losing their prestige especially with the younger generation. To reverse this trend, efforts are being made to establish community gardens in the affected local communities with an aim of conserving cultural practices and beliefs through education and awareness programmes. Once this new initiative takes root, community gardens in Kenya are set to play a significant role towards sustaining a community environmental ethic that arise from practising cultural values for sustainability. Such values include values of social responsibility, concern for all life forms, living in harmony with nature and commitment to work with others.

Girl Scouts: Conserving the Tropics!

Formal and informal assessment is integrated into the management of all Girl Scout programs and the collaborative project between Fairchild Tropical Garden and the Girl Scouts is no exception. Through the implementation of existing familiar assessment methods, and field testing all components, the partnership created plant identification and conservation activities suitable for girls of different ages and ability levels, and it provided opportunities for the girls to earn badges either at Fairchild, a natural area or the Girl Scout summer camps. This article describes the evaluation process.

School in the Forest - Educating the Young at Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary

The Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary (GBS) is a small remote botanic garden in the humid tropical forests of Kerala, India, that is devoted to conservation and education. Mostly working with native species, low technology methods and local people; the emphasis is on generating and sustaining a way of living that is sensitive to the natural world. GBS, with its colourful plant and animal inhabitants, is an excellent resource to educate children and adults alike about their region’s biodiversity and the urgent need for conservation. Through study, play and participation, as well as activities that involve the various senses, it is hoped that young people can develop a deeper interest and concern for the forest and its community of creatures.

Pot Luck Sessions at Dunedin Botanic Garden

Public and Adult education at the Dunedin Botanic Garden include a weekly plant question and answer session held in the Information Centre. These sessions, which are called 'Pot Luck' (because any plant topic can be discussed) are open to the public and are free of charge.

Nuestra Selva, Nuestra Cultura, Nuestra Vida - el Parque Omaere

El PARQUE OMAERE fue concebido como el primer Jardín Etnobotánico de América Latina, Centro de Investigación y Capacitación especialmente creado para la Amazonía; y después de estos cinco años de arduo trabajo, la infraestructura del Parque se ha consolidado y cuenta con 15 construcciones, entre las cuales encontramos un centro de documentación, aulas para actividades de capacitación y seminarios, un centro de información, un área infantil, casas shuar, huaorani, zápara, descanso del "cazador" y del "shamán".

Empowering the Community - Wealth for All

The role of botanic gardens in the popularisation of science and environmental education is well recognised. Botanic gardens can play a major role in educating people on the sustainable utilisation of the local biodiversity particularly in the areas of health care and income generation. During the past four years, the Tropical Botanic Gardens and Research Institute has developed two action programmes; ‘Herbs for All and Health for All’ and ‘Plants for All and Wealth for All’ as part of its outreach programme, designed to actively involve community members including the educated, unemployed youth and home makers.

Reflection, Participation and Change: LA21 in action

Local Agenda 21 focuses on the ability of local communities to:

'Foster a sense of personal environmental responsibility and greater motivation and commitment towards sustainable development' (Earth Summit p.224).

In order to do this well we need to construct an environment for learning that engenders not only the science of sustainability but the ethics, aesthetics and culture of sustainable development.We need to view both the science and culture of nature.In doing this within botanic gardens, we have to ask many questions of both our contemporary and historical working practices.

The Muthi Garden Project

The Muthi garden project is an attempt to make Natal National Botanical Garden garden more relevant to the majority of residents in this predominantly Zulu community, and to conserve those plants threatened by over harvesting for medicine in the province. The project is stimulating an ongoing development of relationships in the community. Both Garden and community benefit from the sharing of knowledge generated by education and interpretation.

Conservation Through Natural Propagation

Traditional medicine plays a vital role in Zulu culture. The trade in medicinal plants is widespread and all forms of plant material are used. Due to an increasing demand for traditional medicinal plants, which are often non-sustainably harvested, Silverglen Medicinal Plant Nursery has been training healers since 1988. The rationale is to teach basic horticultural skills, so that people are able to grow their own medicine. This approach will hopefully alleviate the pressure on remaining wild stocks.

Green up - Bronx Green-Up Programme

Abandoned apartment buildings, vandalized playgrounds, vast tracts of empty lots strewn with debris; these are the images that the world has come to associate with the Bronx, New York City, USA. In such an environment, learning about ecology and conservation is not usually a priority but the New York Botanical Garden is attempting to change things. Situated in the heart of the Bronx, the Garden runs an innovative outreach program, helping to turn some of the borough's 10,000 vacant lots into community gardens and parks.

Grey to Green - the Greening of South Africa's Townships

South Africa's black townships, the direct products of apartheid, are the epitome of urban desertification. Ill-planned, and the victims of unkind and unfeeling bureaucracy, these areas offer the ultimate challenge in urban greening, particularly with the current wave of violence.

Township Greening has been pioneered by Trees for Africa (TVA), a non-governmental organisation, which aims to plant trees and other plants throughout the whole country. TFA was initiated three years ago and now employs three field officers who respond to requests from local communities to green their environment. Simple application forms are used to identify the need, the requirements and the details of the local environment. TFA finds a sponsor/s for a particular programme and ensures that the plants arrive and are planted. Every three months TFA carries out an evaluation to ensure that the trees are maintained and replaced if necessary.