Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Musings of a Naturalist, Part 1

All of us are immersed in the natural world. We might reside near a park and be roused in the morning by a singing bird, or awaken on the 26th floor in a structure built of concrete and steel where we are be surrounded by designs and colors inspired by nature. Pictures on the wall inside might harken to the world outside.

Blue monkey at the rim of the Ngorogor Crater in Tanzania

When one notices the natural world, whether in one’s own compound or further afield, it triggers curiosity. A fleeting glimpse of a flower or catching a snatch of bird song can raise the question: what is that flower, or what bird sings? After repeatedly noticing and recognizing individuals, it is natural that one puzzles over the question: how does such a flower or bird comes to be present here? Then, as a familiarity with nature increases, one’s thinking may expand to consider the framework, the bigger picture, of how several species interacting together form a community and what environmental factors govern such groupings. 

An interest in nature, once started, is an ever-expanding realm of discovery - whether it be in nearby parks or exploring in distant lands. Travel is one vehicle that broadens horizons, takes us out of the familiar, and gives us the opportunity to connect with other people and to encounter new species. Thinking about nature around the world may lead to the realization that we all live in one biosphere on this one rather small globe in which the parameters for our survival are remarkably narrow. Thus for the sake of that flower or that bird, or indeed our own futures, we need to be caretakers of our environment.  It is no accident that Future Generations University offers a master’s degree in Applied Community Change with Conservation. If we are to leave a better world for future generations, stewardship of our natural world is essential.

Gull on the Oregon coast

Some thoughts on the usage of the term "natural history":

At the present time the use of "natural history" has fallen out of favor. The term is very old fashioned. Very 1800s. The American Museum of Natural History, for example, was founded in NYC in 1869 and the British Museum (Natural History) in London in 1881. These days one does not study natural history but majors in fields such as ecology, biogeography, ethology, zoology, plant genetics, or other disciplines.

Yet "natural history" is a useful term and I find it hard to locate a suitable replacement, an umbrella that connotes an all-encompassing look at our world. One might use the terms nature, nature conservation, the natural world, or the world’s flora and fauna.  Nothing, though, quite replaces natural history and I have circled back to using this as a good way to indicate an overall summary of our natural world.

Dr. Robert Fleming is a Professor of Natural History at Future Generations University. This is his first in a series of articles about the natural world.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Cite Soleil's New Community Library

The Future Generations team in Haiti has recently been mobilizing local resources to create a library in the Port au Prince neighborhood of Cite Soleil. Residents are imagining the new library as a centrally located place where people can find books, study, and share ideas.

The new Bibliyotek Site Soley (Cite Soleil Community Library) got off to a strong start with a groundswell of community contributions such as those depicted in the photos in this post. The library is the newest initiative of Konbit Soley Leve, an organization led by a team of Future Generations students and alumni.

The library is an exciting example of SEED-SCALE in action. Responding to local priorities, drawing on local resources, and building on past successes, the library effort has created a focused platform for community action and solidarity. Not only are resources for a community benefit project being pooled in a transparent and inclusive way, but people have taken to social media to spread the word and share how they have participated. Using the hashtag #konbitbiblyotek, community members created visibility for the effort and built local pride and excitement among those who contributed. Organizers looked to community members for small contributions rather than wealthy donors who might be able to fund the project with one or two checks. "Marathon" is the name the Haitians give to this process of going door to door to collect donations. Money came not only from community leaders and local organizations, but also from school children, motorcycle drivers, and once word spread, from friends around the world.

Using digital methods of sharing community plans and actions, Konbit Soley Leve has harnessed community energy and funds to create the new library—which will serve both as an inspiration and a resource for the community for years to come.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Alumnus Publishes Manual on Traditional African Conflict Management Techniques

The Procedural Manual on Traditional Conflict Management Techniques is a compilation of traditional conflict management mechanisms, actors, institutions, and symbols that have been used in select Nigerian and Cameroonian villages. Jonathan Tim Nshing (Class of 2015) compiled the manual with support from the Future Generations Global Network.

The manual begins with a definition of what conflict management is, and more precisely, traditional African conflict resolution methods. It looks at different types of conflict in a traditional African setting. These include: ethnic/tribal, religious, family, and land disputes, among others. It also looks at the role of each of the actors and institutions involved in traditional conflict management such as the secret society, village traditional council, quarter heads, village development groups, and religious leaders. Nshing explores the roles of common symbols and ceremonies such as plants (peace plants, fig trees, calabash, kola nuts), rituals, animal sacrifices, and the pouring of libation. Finally, he examines the idea of restorative justice – the examination of guilt, remorse, and compensation. These are core concepts in traditional African conflict management. With guilt, for instance, Nshing looks at what it takes for an offender to confess, as well as what it takes for the society to forgive the offender.

The manual puts all of these mechanisms, actors, symbols, and concepts into perspective by looking at their real-life application in the Cameroonian villages of Bafanji, Bambui, Bawock, Ndzah and Oku, and the Nigerian village of Ikwuano. It is not meant to be an exhaustive study, but an informative guide on traditional conflict prevention, resolution, and management in Africa.
The Procedural Manual on Traditional Conflict Management Techniques is available through www.future.edu.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Future Generations Graduate Tsering Norbu (Class of 2009) Continues to Develop the Pendeba Society as One of Tibet's Most Influential Non-Profits

The Pendeba Society, previously known as the Pendeba program, has faced many challenges throughout the years. The original Pendeba program was created in 1996 by Future Generations in Tibet as a method for local leaders to gain skills related to environmental protection, conservation, healthcare, women’s education, sustainable livelihoods, and renewable resources. In 2008, largely due to rapid economic development in China and an unstable political situation in Tibet, the Pendeba program was terminated.

Norbu (2nd from left) meets with pendebas in the Surmang region of Tibet.
Tsering Norbu (Class of 2009), who previously worked with the Pendeba program in Tibet, realized the significant impact felt by locals when the program was discontinued. He faced the same question from people everywhere as he traveled from village to village -“What became of the pendeba program that had captured the profound interest of the community?”  He knew he had to do something. He needed to go local. He decided to take the bottom-up, SEED-SCALE strategy to a new level by seeking the support of the Chinese government.

Norbu faced many challenges and restrictions. He spoke to countless officials, locals, and the movers and shakers in the communities who continually offered him support. One of his supporters included Mr. Gongu Duoji-La, the first Tibetan mountaineer to climb Mt. Everest, who also happened to be from a town close to Norbu’s own birthplace. After countless setbacks, frustrations, and tribulations, on June 26, 2009, Norbu created the Pendeba Society as one of the first civil organizations registered in both China and Tibet. The challenging process also became the basis for his master’s practicum at Future Generations University.
Pendebas meet in front of ancient, eroded towers in the Dingri region near Everest.
In 2012, the Pendeba Society was conferred as a Top Grade Civil Organization by the Department of Civil Affairs of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Recognition continued, and in 2014 the Pendeba Society won the United Nations Development Programme's Equator prize and the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection's Environmental Prize. Although the difficulties of functioning as a community development organization are still an everyday reality, the Pendeba Society stands as an example of what one individual can accomplish if his or her heart is dedicated to the cause.

“As a leader, you should have a strong passion to do something and have infinite patience to do it in many different ways until you realize your dream,” expressed Norbu. Norbu, in all his efforts, is a beautiful example of what a Future Generations University student can accomplish by the SEED-SCALE methodology with passion and local knowledge.

For more about the Pendeba Society, visit www.pendeba.org.