Hello from the United States! I have had such an amazing time working for Coaching for Conservation in Botswana and traveling around Southern Africa the past two months, but it is so nice to finally be HOME. My experiences led me far and wide across a foreign continent and it has made my homecoming all the more sweet. Besides reuniting with friends and family and slowly cleaning out my duffelbag, I have been doing my final review of Coaching for Conservation and wrapping up all of my learnings into my final report.
Since my last post was mostly focused on analyzing Coaching for Conservation as a program (which I found to be very successful), I would like to use this last blog post to go through my initial 5 research questions to see what I learned along the way. I found that I was able to answer some of the questions more in-depth than the others, but I guess that’s just what happens in research. Anyways, here it goes:
1.) How do perceptions towards the environment differ amongst differently developed nations (i.e. First World vs Third World)? The major thing that I noted while in Botswana is that the First World and the Third World are struggling with different types of environmental problems. What I noticed is that there is a complete disregard for trash in Botswana and littering is not only seen as okay, but the norm. While in developed nations we have mostly gotten past this sentiment and find trash bins on every corner, we are still dealing with environmental issues greater than the undeveloped world: overconsumption. What I’m trying to say is that even though Botswana deals with littering, they do not face the overbearing problem of over-consumption that the First World struggles with. I would rather deal trying to overcome littering than an ingrained lifestyle of over-consumption. Also, perceptions towards the environment and wildlife are very different in Botswana than it is in America. While Batswana live off of the land and come into contact with leopard and lion all the time, Americans shop in grocery stores and go to zoos to see these wild animals. There is a very different level of connection and understanding between these two spheres of the world.
2.) How do perceptions towards the environment differ among different demographics (age, sex, degree of education, socioeconomic status, etc)? What I found through my experiences in Botswana is that one must be able to respect themselves before they can choose to respect their environment. Conservation is such a future-oriented practice, and so we cannot even start talking about caring for the environment if a person does not choose to respect themselves and therefore have a future. People in Botswana have such a multitude of things to worry about everyday—from getting food on the table to caring for their many children to dealing with HIV—that dealing with the environment comes to occupy a very low spot on their list. In my data collection and analysis, I found that students that came from families that owned safari companies (usually the wealthiest people in town) generally had the most positive attitude towards the environment. This supports many of the assertions that I found in my literature review before the trip, particularly that Maslow’s Hierarchy of self satisfaction also can be used to determine degree of environmental care in an individual.
3.) What are the variables that most affect positive environmental behavior change (knowledge, attitude, etc.)? While I did much research on this question before my trip, I was frustrated to find inconclusive results in this section based on my data. What most current literature review says is that there is a very weak link between knowledge and positive environmental behavior, which goes against many of the earlier thoughts on this topic. It is now believed that just because one knows about an issue they will not act on it, unless they have a change in attitude as well. Coaching for Conservation seemed to go by this view as well, as they made the program not only about knowledge gain but also attitude changes, and attempted to simultaneously track both of these in their students (which is what I was in charge of doing). While my data did not give me very conclusive results, I still do believe that attitude changes are most important in promoting positive behavior change, but that an attitude change cannot take place without some level of proper knowledge on the issue. Therefore, I believe that one cannot happen without the other.
4.) What is the link between local, community involvement and successful conservation projects—who must we reach and with what message? My experiences with Coaching for Conservation made it very clear to me that without community involvement, conservation cannot be successful. As I heard many times this summer, conservation is about people. If the local community is unaware or uninvolved in conservation efforts, they will simply fail. Programs like C4C are critical in bridging the gap between theoretical research and community action. Given that wildlife destruction directly stems from human-wildlife conflicts, it is vital that locals are aware of the issues and the implications of their actions. I found C4C to be very successful at this, by teaching games that applied to the context of the community and related to the every-day contact that humans would have with wildlife. The cheetah game was particularly successful at this, where we would simulate the interaction between cheetah and cattle and the effects of this interaction on farmers. If farmers did not care for their cattle and let them roam freely, cheetahs would eat them. Yet, if farmers were to correctly corral their cattle and care for them, they would not be affected by cheetah. Cheetah, then in turn would be able to eat many of the other predators that prey on cattle, therefore making it easier for the farmer to protect their cattle. The whole game tried to promote a positive relationship between the farmer and the cheetah, instead of a negative one (which is the norm). Overall, the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust has experienced such success in its conservation efforts over the past couple of decades because of their emphasis on community involvement and community education, providing the community with simple solutions to effectively care for themselves and their surroundings.
5.) In total, how effective are non-traditional teaching methods at communicating important issues and changing behavior? I found that soccer can be a very effective tool for not only engaging students in a learning process, but can act as a creative way to get students involved in gaining important life skills. If you put a text book and a soccer ball in front of a young student, chances are that student will jump for the soccer ball. Soccer is the sport of the world and provides an amazing outlet for energy and creativity. My data likewise showed that soccer has the ability to capture the minds of young students and promote positive self image as well as positive environmental values, if taught in the correct way. I believe that “sport for development” is an extremely creative and exciting new frontier in the international development world, and I believe that programs like C4C can be modeled all over the world, across different geographical regions and across different social and environmental problems. As long as boys and girls are equally able to access these programs, I believe that they could find much success around the world. While my data has only allowed me to track changes in attitude across a 2 or 3 week period, I would have liked to continue tracking these changes 6 months and a year later, to see if these messages really stuck with our young students.
In conclusion, I am so happy to have completed my research for my Monroe project and I look forward to more fully fleshing out some of my analysis over the next couple of weeks before submitting my final report at the end of the month. I am so thankful for this opportunity to explore the world and take my studies to a whole new level—I will never forget it!