April 21, 2017

April 22nd, Earth Day: Education for a Healthy Planet

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The Earth is our home, it is where we are born and we grow up, where we learn how to live and where we learn how to interconnect with all living beings. The Earth is our best school. However, our “common house” is in danger due to the overexploitation that we are putting the Earth through and as a result we are affecting our own existence.

To mark Earth Day on April 22, Friends of Fe y Alegría in the US calls to attention the critical role that education plays in our planet’s sustainability. The environmental crisis is a challenge on several levels: the socio-economic level, as it affects the poorest and most vulnerable communities and forces us to re-examine current development, economic and welfare models; the geographical and physical levels, as they effect the exhaustion of our resources and the actual limits of our planet; and the cultural level, as it challenges our lifestyles and social relationships.

Emergencies, crises and environmental degradation obstruct or block the right to education for children, youth and vulnerable adult groups. Today, more than 75 million girls, boys and young people have seen their education interrupted or destroyed by emergencies and protracted crises, many of which are aggravated by climate change.

The Adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement

While 2015 and 2016 were critical years to launch sustainable development and climate change related commitments adopted by different States, 2017 is Year-1 to implement action. In September 2015, the United Nations endorsed the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, placing sustainability at the same level as poverty and inequality. Additionally, Paris hosted the COP 21 Climate Summit in December 2015, where world leaders signed a historic agreement to combat climate change and committed their countries (including the United States) to various changes, including decreasing average global temperatures by the end of this century.

The Key Role of Education achieving Sustainable Development

To complete the SDGs, education plays a key role. Environmental education involves the care of the planet as it (1) contributes to raising awareness and increasing environmental concern, (2) equips citizens for better use of global resources and (3) empowers individuals and communities to reduce their impact on the environment. Education can also encourage citizens to demand from governments environmental protection and participation in international agreements in order to achieve true sustainable development.

Education can be an instrument for vulnerable groups to prevent, adapt and mitigate disasters. What’s more, education also enhances the resilience of individuals and communities who face the effects of environmental degradation and raises their awareness on the risks caused by natural disasters and provides ideas which create abilities to face and endure these hardships.

Fe y Alegría promotes education opportunities that respect and care for the environment in each of the 21 countries we operate in around Latin America and Africa. One such opportunity can be found at Fe y Alegría La Merced, El Salvador, where an environmental education program called “Environmental Guardians“, has been implemented. The Environmental Guardians program promotes the creation of a movement of children and youth–supported by teachers–who will protect their surrounding environment. The Guardians also promote environmental education, create cohabitation among team members and create social and environmental responsibility with their local community. Among other activities, the Guardians are charged with the up-keep of school gardens and receive trainings to become tour guides for groups who visit the area. 

The full implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement will be achieved if and only if all social movements, schools, teachers, families, media, companies and politicians demand a change. An articulated global collaboration is urgently required that will stimulate personal and communal change in the way we interact with Nature.

Happy Earth Day!

[This story was adapted from an article written by Sara García de Blas and Valeria Méndez de Vigo of Entreculturas-Fe y Alegría España. To read the original article in Spanish, click here.]