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Instilling pride in the local ecology

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Eco kids at play. Teacher Ali Imron wears the green shirt.

The parents don’t care, but when they realise their kids are learning they’re supportive

It is a Wednesday morning, and 39 kids from the villages surrounding the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity are tied together, the strings wrapped around their waists joined at a central knot, below which hangs a nail. Ali Imron, ACCB’s environmental program coordinator, is leading a team-building exercise, and the students are competing to see which team can lower its nail into a glass bottle, set upright on the grass, first. There is much giggling involved; every kid is grinning. General manager Isadora Angarita watches from the porch of ACCB’s school house. “These are the kids we hope are going to teach the other students,” she says.

This is the inaugural session of ACCB’s new Eco Club. These are the kids, all between eight and 16-years-old, that Angarita, Imron, and Environmental Education Teacher Phok Samphos have earmarked as the future stewards of Siem Reap Province’s biodiversity.

Education has been at the forefront of ACCB’s mission since 2006. Located at the base of Kbal Spean, the centre works to protect Cambodia’s endangered wildlife and habitats. Educating local villages about the importance of biodiversity is integral to those efforts, and outreach ranges from ACCB lessons taught to a few dozen students to community shows that have attracted as many as 600 people and combine prizes and popular films with environmental lectures. At first, ACCB tried to train area teachers, but few stayed longer than a single year because salaries are so low.

So ACCB decided to provide special education to the most promising young people they work with. Imron and Phok selected from each school the 30 students who showed the most interest in environmental issues. They then taught a lesson on conservation, administered tests, and winnowed the students down to the Eco Club. ACCB consulted with the parents of each child and agreements were signed that commit the students to participating.

Ultimately, ACCB wants to instil in Eco Club students the understanding that their activities have larger implications, in terms of local wildlife, economics, and health. The club will meet weekly during the school year and combine activity learning with practical conservation education. This year’s club will design and build bird decoys used to lure endangered waterfowl into nets, where they can be tagged for tracking then released.

Students will also learn why certain local birds are important to Cambodia’s eco system, plus ways they can promote eco-tourism, and thus local economies.

“The students are very excited to be here,” Angarita says when the exercises are over. “The parents will say ‘Yeah’ and not really care, but when they realise the kids are actually learning, they are very supportive.”

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