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Ministry delegation explores environmental education in Germany

Let's join in ” relates to a No Plastic! initiative in the city of Bonn, Germany. This tagline became the daily motto of a Lao Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MoNRE) delegation exploring environmental education and communication during a study tour to Germany on 14-25 June, 2017. The five delegation members headed by Mr Lonkham Atsanavong, Acting Director General of the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion (DEQP) at MoNRE, were impressed by what they saw and learned. Mr Lonkham and Mr Phouthala Souksakhone, Deputy Director of Environment Promotion Division, DEQP appreciated the high variety of different approaches to environmental education and the many people they came into contact with.

The study tour started off in Bonn and ended in Berlin with Essen, Osnabrück, Mardorf, and Hamburg as stops in between. It was financially supported by the German Government through the Promotion of Climate-related Environmental Education (ProCEEd) project of MoNRE and the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in Laos. The tour was planned, organised and implemented by GeoMedia, a consulting company in Bonn.


From Bonn, the delegation learned about sustainable forest management during a trip to the forests and lakes of the Eifel National Park and to Burg Vogelsang , the park's environmental education centre. At Abenteuer Lernen (learning is an adventure), an association specialised in education for sustainable development for school children and teachers in Bonn, the delegation experimented hands-on how much oil is needed to produce a plastic bag and how environmental pollution affects drinking water quality.

On 17-18 June 2017, the delegation took an active part in the GEO Day of Nature in Essen, which was hosted at Zeche Zollverein, until 1986 the world's biggest coal mine. AGUM, an international association of operators of environmental vehicles, invited the delegation for a presentation and professional discussion about the environmental tours MoNRE has been organising in close cooperation with GIZ as part of the joint ProCEEd project since 2013. In addition, MoNRE staff had many opportunities to engage in networking with German government and non-government environmental organisations at a fair and during interactive guided tours.

The German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU) in Osnabrück is one of Europe's largest foundations and promotes innovative and exemplary environmental projects. DBU was established in 1990 when the German government invested 1.3 billion Euros from privatizing a former steel producer in an environmental foundation. The income from these assets is used for the promotion of environmental conservation. Mr. Lonkham was surprised at “how much money the German government invests in environmental conservation.”

The Mardorf Youth Hostel at Lake Steinhude is supported by DBU as well. It hosts environmental education activities for school classes camping out at the hostel. The Lao delegation was impressed how much a class of eight-year-olds knew about water quality and how curiously they accomplished their experiments and tasks.

In Hamburg, the delegation spent a whole day investigating environmental journalism in Germany as guests of the Norddeutscher Rundfunk - NDR, and the editors of GEOlino, an environmental magazine for children. Manfred Oepen, who served as a tour guide and has been conceptualizing ProCEEd's environmental education and communication strategy since 2012, provided an overview of environmental journalism in an offline panel discussion at one of the major NDR TV studios. While the environmental magazines and reporting that ProCEEd introduced via Lao National TV, Lao National Radio as well as Vientiane Times and Paxason are new to Laos, such formats have a 50-year history in Germany.

At Gut Karlshoehe, a huge former state farm that was converted into an environmental centre, the delegation was shown a decentralized waste water treatment system and an underground reservoir of water heated by solar thermal collectors on the roofs of 120 nearby houses that use the reservoir water for heating and hot water. The guests from Laos most enjoyed the centre's Seasons in Hamburg workshop which offers activities based on learning by experience. Here, children can be researchers who experiment, explore and discover on their own how nature works.

On 22 June, 2017 in Berlin, researchers who conducted environmental awareness surveys in Germany, welcomed the MoNRE staff for a professional discussion. ProCEEd had carried out the first-ever environmental Knowledge-Attitude-Practice (KAP) survey in Laos in 2012 and a second one in 2016. This made for an interesting exchange regarding survey results and methods applied.

For another two days, the Lao guests experienced firsthand different approaches to environmental education by NABU, the largest environmental NGO in Germany, and by the forest schools of the Berlin Senate Department for the Environment. They visited the Tempelhofer Feld, an area on the huge but now defunct inner-city Tempelhof Airport where citizens have established an urban gardening initiative.

NABU also presented the environmental centre at the Biosphere Reserve Schorfheide-Chorin in Brandenburg, which is characterized by lakes, moors, wetlands and beech and pine tree forests. A ranger showed the delegation around and explained how the area serves as an economic and ecological model region for sustainable development: People safeguard their livelihoods while wild animal and plant species are protected and the unique landscape is maintained for future generations.

At the Teufelssee and Bogensee forest schools near Köpenick respectively Wandlitz, the guests from Laos experienced a type of school without a classroom. Instead, the forest itself is the classroom where children and teenagers explore hands-on why dead wood is so important for birds and insects and why the entrance of beavers' lodges is always under water.

The delegation had a chance to take a guided forest tour together with a class of twelve-year-olds.

“Laos should also have an environmental education centre. Maybe at a school near a forest where we could establish simple and low-cost environmental education exhibits, tools, games and exercises like we have seen in Germany,” Mr Lonkham said.

The Lao delegation concluded that some of the simple, low-cost elements could be adapted in Laos.

(Latest Update August 22, 2017)

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