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Non-Formal Education: a Way to Tackle the Environmental Crisis We Are Facing by Grecia Bárcena Calde

Non-Formal Education: a Way to Tackle the Environmental Crisis We Are Facing by Grecia Bárcena Calde



Friday has arrived and the only thing you can think about after spending so many months indoors during lockdown is the weekend you will spend with your friends camping in the forest that’s a couple of hours away from your town. You have packed some groceries, a tent, a sleeping bag, and a guitar to share your favorite songs. When you arrive in the Protected Area, you notice something is different. The huge pines you used to climb have been felled, the camping area where your tent was going to be set has been changed into a farming area, the lake where you like to kayak is completely dry, and the only thing you can think of is:


What happened!? Who allowed this to happen!?

You look for the closest park ranger to find some answers and the only reason you get is - “it had to be done because we need to make more money from growing food and extracting some basic resources like wood and water”. Sadly, the much-awaited weekend has ended before it even began!


A few days ago the UN Secretary-General stated that “humanity is waging war on nature and we need to rebuild our relationship with it.” Human impact on nature has made us lose 85% of wetland areas, 75% of the land surface has been altered, the number of invasive alien species per country has risen to 70%, and more than 60% of coral reefs are in danger. Climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events; wildfires, floods, and droughts have increased in the last 50 years, and we are reaching a point of no return.


Some of the many paths we need to take to be able to live in harmony with nature are those that foster change in human behavior and shifts in values. Our consumption and production patterns must become more environmentally conscious and the value of respect for nature must be at the center of our relationship with it.


The IPBES global assessment report identifies education as an important leverage point to enable the radical change that we need if we want to live in harmony with nature as it addresses many indirect drivers of environmental disruption, fosters value shifts, and ultimately, behavior change. Non-formal education plays a key role in this process because it enables the development of soft skills, competences and brings a unique contribution to personal development, especially to the individual’s value system.


Environmental education allows people to have a higher level of responsibility, awareness of the current situation of their community and encourages people to come up with more strategies and tools to be proactive and contribute to tangible solutions for adaptation and risk reduction.

We all have a role to play and we can ensure that education and awareness-raising are a part of all our actions. For example, Mary Petit, a scout from Kenya, lives in a community where it is very common to cut down endemic trees and bushes in order to change the land for farming. She identified an indigenous tree species called “brown olive” that enables soil fertility, shade for the crops, and it helps to keep the ecological balance. Therefore, the crops are able to grow more efficiently without causing any harm. Mary conducted several interactive training sessions for different local groups, in churches, and mosques to share the importance of agroforestry and why they should take care of biodiversity. After the training, she helped plant a tree to mark the day when the community will start applying the new knowledge.

Many non-formal educational youth organizations and movements have activities that allow young people to gain essential skills whilst being outdoors surrounded by nature. The transformative change we need also requires transformative education that facilitates the reconnection of people with nature and motivates them to deeply experience that reconciliation and harmony. This reconnection is about understanding and feeling how valuable are those insects, the trees, the fresh air, the peace, the silence, it’s connection to every element and the entire fragile system we belong to.


Through experiencing nature, people can be open to learn and better understand how nature works, our reliance on biodiversity, and the many contributions that it gives to people. Through environmental education with a strong focus on non-formal education, with the methodology of learning-by-doing and deeply experiencing nature, we will be able to gain values of respect and understanding for nature, change our behaviors and allow ourselves and future generations to continue to benefit from nature.


As you go back home with a combination of feelings of frustration, helplessness, and sadness..


Remember, we, the youth, can make meaningful contributions towards transformative change and it’s everyone’s responsibility to create a future where we live in harmony with nature. Act now!



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About the author:


Grecia Bárcena is a Youth Representative of the World Organization of the Scout Movement from Mexico, part of the Steering Committee of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network, and has a social entrepreneurship on sustainable tourism called Grupo Biósfera. She has a major in International Business and a minor in Global Issues from Tecnologico de Monterrey, and a diploma course on Sustainable Tourism from Salamanca University.


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Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth supports all young people and their diversity in exercising their right to freedom of expression. Reach Not Preach platform serves as a safe space for all young people to share their take on the topic of climate change. The views expressed in the Reach Not Preach platform are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the United Nations Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth and the United Nations.