Environmental learning in local languages

The bilingual Kalakad-Mundathurai Tiger Reserve field guide, Treasures on Tiger Tracks, released in October 2009, was an ambitious production in Tamil and English. Its primary objective was to make biodiversity knowledge more accessible to local communities in the Tamil Nadu Western Ghats.It is part of a larger effort at enabling environmental learning in the local language: there is the Nature Talkies of the Agasthyamalai CCC team; Nesara, a Kannada-English newsletter of the DNA club; and CERC publications and activities in Vembanad, Kerala.

On World Environment day, the Agasthyamalai CCC at Singampatti launched a performance art group named Nature Talkies, an evocative name for an enthusiastic young theatre group that performs skits and dramas for rural audiences.

Thirteen youngsters from ATREE’s Green Brigade and six children from nearby Mukkudal village were trained in Kalialattam, Kolattam and street theatre by well known folk artists in the area – Mr. Elango, Mr. Kanagalingam and Ms. Merlin Gnana Jeeva - during the summer holidays. Through drama, dance and skits, the children drove home the message of environment protection, into which were woven local contexts and issues. The focus of the first performance was protection of water resources and the biodiversity they support.

Another production that gives space for local language expression and sharing is the newsletter Nesara, which means ‘rising sun’. A bilingual production in English and Kannada, Nesara offers a platform to exchange observations, concerns, anecdotes and insights of children and teachers enrolled in Karnataka’s DNA club activities, as well as the vacation training programme that takes place every year during school summer holidays.

As the editor’s introductory note puts it, “The message is simple, educate our young on the value of our natural resources and the need to conserve them, and they will take it from there.”

Meanwhile, at Vembanad, ATREE’s Community Environmental Resource Centre has managed to create a groundswell of local support for the management and conservation of the Vembanad wetlands. The stakeholders are diverse: student groups to fisherfolk, clam collectors, farmers and houseboat associations to politicians, CBO and NGO bodies. Besides the Vembanad lake itself, a key unifying element that binds this stakeholder group is language.

Community-engaging activities such as Jalapaadom and Jaldarpanam have generated resources, ideas and forums for exchange in Malayalam. Examples are the Jalaapadam student magazine, a student documentary film titled ‘Weeping Wetlands: A tribute to Vembanad’, puppet shows, water quality reports of the ten basin stations distributed near the lake and the Vembanad fish census.

Such local outreach initiatives and conservation education programmes that employ the local idiom and language ensure a two-way participation of the various stakeholders and are better received and comprehended, leading to contextualized learning about the environment.