DOINews: DOI-ITAP: DOI Introduces Young People in Jordan to New Ways of Engaging with Nature

Last edited 09/05/2019

Group of young people in foreground; forested area in background.
The Youth Engagement Workshop group poses for a group photo at the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature's Ajloun Nature Reserve. Photo by Enad Mqatashhe.
Group of youth seated and walking in foreground; stone building in background.
Workshop participants enjoy pleasant weather during several outdoor sessions at Ajloun Nature Reserve. Photo by Bob Fuhrmann, NPS.

Young people the world over are spending more time in front of digital screens and on mobile electronic devices. Richard Louv's influential book, "Last Child in the Woods," raised an alarm about the adverse effects of technology on childhood development. Louv claims the nature deficit among today's wired generation is leading to disturbing childhood trends, including obesity, attention disorders, and depression.

The Department of the Interior has long understood the importance of fostering connections between American youth and our nation's natural and cultural resources and providing young Americans employment opportunities that promote conservation. Many countries have recognized DOI's leadership in this area and are seeking out DOI's expertise in youth engagement.

Consider the Republic of Jordan: More than 70 percent of the Jordanian population is under 30 years of age. The unemployment rate among Jordan's young people is more than twice the national unemployment rate. The government of Jordan recognizes that strengthening the bonds between its growing youth population and their natural and cultural heritage is important and is eager to generate conservation-based employment opportunities for these young people in, for example, sustainable tourism and hospitality. Recently, the Jordanian Government requested DOI's assistance in developing creative strategies for accomplishing these goals.

With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, DOI responded with a Youth Engagement Workshop in Ajloun Nature Reserve, located in the forested region north of Jordan's capital, Amman. The workshop brought together educators, students, protected area managers, and youth-centered civic organizations to generate strategies for building meaningful connections between Jordanian youth and the outdoors.

Leaders in environmental youth engagement, Allison Ginn, outdoor recreation planner for BLM in Buffalo, Wyo., and Bob Fuhrmann, NPS youth-program manager at Yellowstone National Park, shared strategies that have been successful in the U.S., including fun, hands-on activities in local communities around protected areas and staging outdoor leadership-skill-building opportunities in protected areas. Participants found the U.S. Junior Ranger Program appealing as a model for cultivating young conservation leaders among Jordanian youth. They also liked the Yellowstone Distance Learning Program, which uses video conference technology from an outdoor location to deliver curriculum-based distance learning to hundreds of students throughout the United States. The group expressed interest in implementing a similar distance learning program in Jordan. The group also discussed opening protected areas for camping, which is currently prohibited in Jordan.

Approximately 33 attendees participated in the workshop. Of those, 10 were students between the ages of 14-16 from communities adjacent to Jordan's protected areas. According to the DOI specialists, “Youth participation greatly enhanced the workshop on engaging youth in nature. Their enthusiasm was infectious!” Ginn and Fuhrmann noted that having youth participants, reserve-education directors and representatives from several agencies within the Jordanian government working together was extremely useful in identifying feasible solutions to youth-engagement challenges.

During the workshop, the group was asked to share what motivates them and their peers to engage in nature. The responses were fascinating, with answers ranging from traditional hiking and bird watching to hope for achieving “international peace through conserving scarce resources.” One Ajloun Forest Reserve education officer commented: “I chose to work on a reserve and specialize in natural resources to assist in creating a change in behavior [to protect nature]. Children are a window of change.” This was a widely shared sentiment among participants. Situated between Iraq and Israel, Jordan has witnessed its share of conflict. Abu Hassan, representative for the Minister of Agriculture in Ajloun, commented during the panel discussion that, “part of a healthy life is taking care of nature and being a good global citizen. Conservation is the beginning of peace.”

By sharing their ideas and experiences -- and by including young people in their workshop -- Ginn and Fuhrmann have undoubtedly sparked creative thinking that will influence their work at home, as well as in Jordan. This exercise in two-way learning was an important step in inspiring the next generation of conservation-minded leaders in Jordan.

Submitted by: DOI's International Technical Assistance Program

March 23, 2015

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