Thursday, November 24, 2011

Two-day ecology conference

This week I taught the first two-day ecology conference for adults at UCI in Caiman Haiti. There were about 40 men and 2 women. Most of the men were pastors, which here in Haiti are community leaders. One man came for the 1st day on the back of a motorcycle from Hinche, about 2 hours away. Each day started around 8:30am and ended around noon with lunch. I set the teaching materials on the walls around the worship center so people could try them out while we waited and during breaks. Diranot was the translator.

I followed the outline below. The participants were really into discussion and giving examples, sometimes rehashing the same concept (they need to plant more trees, how bad the land is without trees, rats are bad, etc.) without any conclusion. My goal was to convey the science behind the environmental degradation, and I often suggested that some Haitians need to step forward and begin making the changes they want to see in their environment. In lieu of the government stepping in and making laws, I think more education will motivate people to take action.

Day 1 – Water and the landscape
1. Turbidity – what causes it in the streams and how it kills fish.
2. pH – acidic car batteries and basic soap in the rivers will kill the fish.

3. Deforestation
a. How does this affect water clarity?
b. In turn – how does it affect fish?
4. Watershed
a. Pointed to surrounding hills and ask where water goes.
b. How would it be different if trees were there?
c. What if neighbor upstream was dumping batteries in the water?
We had a discussion about livestock in the area getting sick and dying, while in another town the livestock are fenced in and water brought to them. I suggested they keep an eye out for pollution in the water that might be harming their livestock.

DRINKING WATER QUALITY - Microbiology and fecal coliform test kits. Using drinking water I demonstrated how to use the ecoli kit, and later tested the sink in the dorm bathroom and the cistern where the women do laundry. The cistern was the only one that showed a fecal coliform colony, which indicates contamination by ‘kaka,’ human or another mammal. This in turns means there’s a moderate risk of a disease like cholera or dysentery in the water. This raised a lot of questions about health and water treatment, most of which I could give only vague answers. There’s plenty of opportunity for someone to teach about this.

Day 2 – Zoology
BIRDS – Louiders talked about his job as bird guide. We talked about hawks killing the rats that kill the chickens. This caused a lot of discussion about the hawks killing chickens. I pointed out that the rats kill more chickens, we just don’t see it, and they would lose even more to rats if there were no hawks. They kept returning to this topic later when I was trying to move on about bats.

Discussion about humming birds led to a lesson in the pollinization of plants. I wanted to cover more topics about birds but time was running short since they kept bringing up the hawks and rats!

BATS – I finally managed to get through the lesson on bats. They thought that bats come from the metamorphosis of old mice – just like caterpillars, the mice go through a stage in which they grow wings. When I heard about this belief last year I thought it must be an old folktale so I asked how they learned it. They are taught it in school! So this will be my focus when I teach in the schools starting on Friday. There is also a fear of bats from their association with voodoo (not sure what their role is in voodoo, something about spirits taking the form of bats). And they thought bats are ugly so I went over the functions of the features on the bats’ faces.

Thanks to everyone who provided the materials I used for teaching – they were put to good use, and I’ll leave it here in a tub for others to use.

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