To the Communique of the International Conference ” Church and NGOs for environmental education in national parks”, held by the Institute of Ecological and Religious Studies (IERS) on November 3-5, 2021, in the Synevyr National Nature Park in collaboration with the German Nature Conservation Union (NABU) and with the support of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs (AA)
The conference helped to focus on the key features of environmental education for children living in small communities in Transcarpathian rural areas near or in national parks. The important aspect in the field of nature protection is the need of drawing the attention and involvement of local educational institutions such as preschools, secondary schools, children’s clubs, or interest groups to areal issues that local children understand better. They are ready to hear about the Carpathian forest and its diversity, about its significance for the environment, about local rivers, about the “inhabitants” of trees and attics, and their interaction with people. Thanks to their energy and perseverance, the children convey that to adults, acting as some sort of environmental agitators, who spread teachers’ work and scientists. https://www.iers.org.ua/en/international-conference/
Another important aspect is the Church authority, local priests, and parish councils, which are often the main focus of public activity in the village, where empathic and responsible people cooperate. Religious ethics contains not only the values of solicitude for the soul and one’s own body (which was important during the Coronavirus epidemic and discussed as a separate topic), but also about one’s neighbor, the community as a whole, and ultimately God’s Creation that is nature, which God gave to a man. This was said by the priests and theologians who took part in the Conference, as well as by activists of religious communities, who under the influence of this project and our other project ” VGP Youth School ” united in a kind of network that began its active work in Transcarpathia in the direction of the environmental upbringing of the child, helping the Church and scientists to realize universal values related to nature conservation.
The project participants are convinced that children are the most active and valuable mediators of environmental efforts for the Ukrainian villages, as well they concluded that local parishes in the village hard-to-reach places are the most organized thanks to local activists’ environmental education competencies. Thus, the common efforts of Sunday and regular schools, kindergartens, and clubs can be reduced in the end to a kind of competition of territorial and religious communities, which will carry out in everyday life methods for nature conservation, organizing the cleaning or planting of trees, establishing energy efficiency, responsible attitude to waste or careful attitude to environment in general: to plants, animals, rivers, etc. Such competitions of “green parishes”, with the support of the Church, can be an example of increasing the environmental competencies of local communities.
The project “Women of the Church for Nature Protection of the Carpathians” and a kind of competition plan “Green Parish” have already been actively discussed at conferences and in the working groups of the project (Church and NGOs for environmental education in national parks). School principals, methodologists of preschools, and national parks actively agree on the possibility of the project implementation as the coloring books, the results of the competition, developed guidelines – in the curriculum of lessons, and offered to present them at the regional and national levels. Constructed with the help of project donors – the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NABU – green classrooms will become the main focus through which children will be invited to ecological tours and applicative lessons in national parks, where teachers will be assisted by park experts, and classes will be complemented by interesting tours, ecological camps, and rafting. All these plans are now being discussed by the participants and formalized in projects. We relied here on the experience of NABU concerns youth – Naturschutzjugend, and on the experience of Michael Vogel (Honorary President of ALPARC, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the International Department of the German Nature Conservation Union (NABU International)). Ecological Commission of the Catholic Church and Mucachevo Greek Catholic Eparchy (MGCE) will actively support and spread this experience. They have already proposed launching an environmental education project in Christian camps next summer. They want to use both their capabilities as well as the experience of Caritas Ukraine here.
Representatives of Caritas, priests from various parishes who attended the Conference, and IERS experts who participated in the previous project “Youth School for Sustainable Development of the Carpathians, with the support of VGP”, spoke about a large number of invitations of tutors and school teachers who organized educational events for children, to hold the same activities in other villages and towns, even in those that are not part of national parks, but also they need environmental knowledge and attention to their children.
Educators and representatives of local parishes who became teachers of this project spoke about the existence of a large number of hard-to-reach communities, far away from large cities, which are almost unaffected by modern environmental education, and children living in the cities, have almost no access to environmental and public activity. Some priests emphasized the need to work with members of vulnerable social groups – pensioners and people with disabilities, and national minorities – Roma, Hungarians, Romanians, who could be involved in educational activities with children.
The Conference provided the opportunity to bring together a large number of people on one communication platform who by profession or calling can implement environmental education and are interested in it, and also provided an opportunity to prepare working materials and project proposals for further cooperation and project development.
Rebecca Harms (Deputy Chairman of Commission of Environmental Protection, Deputy of the European Parliament (2004-2019), Senior Adviser of the “Eastern Partnership Plus” project at the Center of Liberal Modernism, Green Party) and Wilhelm Kulke (former Special Representative of the Federal Environmental Fund of Germany in Eastern Europe) spoke about the importance of promoting environmental efforts through community activism, about the ability of communities to come together to defend their environmental rights and needs.
Success in lobbying for the expansion of Smarahdova Valley territory and in supporting the Save Borzhava and Free Svidovetc movements, which have been supported by the Catholic Church and the MGCE in recent years, must be reinforced by civic activism. The parties agreed that similar results should be enshrined in new educational and environmental projects.
Boris Tikhomirov (director of Eastern European and Asian NABU Programs) and Ivan Timofeiev (project manager, NABU program manager) noted that environmental education has the greatest effect when it’s combined with practical activities of children, starting with the territory cleaning and lessons conduction, ending with practical initiatives of children to conserve the forests, sort garbage, clean ponds, plant trees, and more.
Speaking about this, the participants of the conferences planned several practical events, which were joined by the Vynohradiv State Forestry, and the bishops from MGKE and RCC who expressed the possibility of spreading the initiative of planting trees to the annual practice of their Churches. Roman Tkachuk, Vice-Chairman of the Islamic University of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine (DUMU), was very interested in this, as well as in the idea of ”green parishes” and the expansion of ecological activities of religious communities.
The idea of cooperation between religious educational institutions and public organizations and interreligious cooperation in this direction can be extended to other countries of the Eastern Partnership, where there are similar social and environmental circumstances. There, the Church’s authority on NGO activity can be combined with the initiatives of ecologists and complemented by the activities of local communities. The proceeds of our grant can be multiplied in Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia through the cooperation of IERS and IRCEF and through the influence of churches that have supranational international relations. Representatives of the Interreligious and Public Forum of Eastern Europe, who are partners of our project, spoke about this. They have already proposed for projects multiplication, which on the one hand the church is ready to support:
- Interreligious Council for the Protection of Carpathians Nature;
- Debunking myths about COVID-19 as an actualization of the theme of protection of man and nature;
- Responsibility for Creation and the women of the Carpathians;
- Green Parish: adaptation and testing of European norms and principles;
- The Church and NGOs for ecological education of national and hard-to-reach minorities;
- Responsibility for Creation and waste in the Upper Tisza Basin. Cooperation between the Church and NGOs to influence local communities;
- SDG Dialogue between the East and West in Ukraine;
- Innovative methods of environmental education and upbringing for children in rural areas of Transcarpathia;
- Church habitat tower in the Carpathian Mountains;
- Conscious handling of waste from an early age.
Representatives of the church and NGOs, distinguishing the environmental education calendars, considered creating an annual church program, wherewith the participation of environmental scientists, public environmental initiatives for the church would be combined with liturgical and theological components of education. The Church could plan for itself several civic and religious activities each year in collaboration with local activists and environmentalists, for continuous environmental education among the believers where children environmental education would take first place as the most effective direction for community education.
Informational service of Institute of Ecological and Religious Studies