Sunday, September 10, 2017

Musings of a Naturalist IV: Loango: An Elephant Eden

We were edging along the Rembo Ngowe river in a small outboard, hugging the east bank in hopes of seeing a Giant Kingfisher or the Palm-nut Vulture, when we rounded a bend to suddenly come head to head with a magnificent Forest Elephant feeding on a grassy peninsula, its yellowish and relatively straight tusks nearly touching the ground.   The animal stopped chewing, surveyed the situation, and deciding that we were too close for comfort, slowly backed away, disappearing rear-end first into a curtain of green... 

We encountered the elephant in Loango, a 1550 square kilometer national park that fronts on the Atlantic Ocean in Gabon and we were here to learn about the Congo Rainforest Biome as well as hear about Gabon’s conservation successes. Loango has been called the ‘Eden of Africa’ and this may be the case, but Eden, like Shangri-La, is an overused word, one that connotes varying images to different people.  Eden, to me, brings up a vision of a garden paradise where food supplies are inexhaustible, where plants and animals exist in balance, where animals roam without fearing man, a place of peace and beauty.  Such may exist in one’s mind, but certainly not in western Gabon – at least not as yet. 

However, if we were to say that Loango is an Elephant Eden we would not be far wrong, for Loango is indeed an elephant sanctuary, a place with a fairly uniformly hot climate, copious quantities of food, and with protection from hunters.

We rounded a bend in a small outboard to suddenly surprise a
Forest Elephant, Loxodonta cyclotis, feeding on a grassy peninsula
poking into the slow-moving Rembo Ngowe river. While this animal
did not show alarm, it did stop eating and slowly backed into the forest.
The white bar at the lower left-hand edge of this picture shows the rim
of our boat and indicates how close we were to this magnificent creature.
As it was, I was surprised that this elephant backed into the forest as I couldn’t remember seeing elephants departing in this way - Savanna and Indian elephants usually swing around before fleeing.  In addition, I had never been suddenly this close to a wild elephant without it showing considerable alarm. This morning there was no sign of aggression, no ears tilting forward, no trunk in the air, no trumpeting. This certainly spoke of the splendid protection afforded by the park and that the animal had not had bad encounters with humans.

The elephants that roam in Loango are Forest Elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis), a species that a DNA study published in 2001, showed was different from Savanna Elephants. Subsequent papers have confirmed this separation, and indeed the elephant in front of us did have a distinctive ‘feel’ to it. The tusker, even though fully mature and somewhat aged, did not seem inordinately large even at our close range and it also appeared to be a dark. We had read that the tusks of a Forest Elephant (when compared with a Savanna species), are straighter and yellower and ears are smaller, rounder.  A Forest Elephant also has four, not five, toes, but we were so taken with the encounter that we forgot to count.  In any case, the toes were well hidden in the grass. 

The characteristics of these Gabon elephants are adaptations to a dense forest habitat, where small size would be useful, where relatively straight tusks would help to lift impeding vegetation out of the way, and where ear size, a part of their cooling system, would not be as necessary in forest shade as in open grasslands.  In addition, a darker skin would blend with the darks of forest shade.  But why four and not five toes?  I have no idea.

Furthermore these elephants, as befitting their habitat, do not associate in large herds. During our time in Gabon, we encountered solitary animals, or a mother with a calf, or small groups of four or five animals. The largest gathering we saw was eight individuals clustered around a clump of trees in the middle of a wide, green marsh.  Elephants also seek out clearings in the forest, locally called bais, where they are perhaps attracted by the soil’s mineral composition and where they associate with others, 

Forest elephants move seasonally, frequenting soggy marshlands during the dry season and moving back into the lowland rain forests when the wet returns and the marshes flood.  While in the marshlands, elephants feed on a variety of grasses and rushes, including papyrus, and in the forest they consume a wide variety of leaves, bark, and fruit. Some forest trees benefit from the presence of the elephants as the animals eat the fruit and then distribute seeds over wide areas. Indeed the seeds of some trees, including the 30-meter tall Navel Fruit, Omphalocarpum in the Sapotaceae family, germinate only if they have passed through the animal’s digestive system. In addition, the health of a forest may be assisted by the elephants breaking off branches and trampling the undergrowth to help light reach the ground and foster plant growth.  In some parts of West Africa, the original forest composition has noticeably changed following the disappearance of elephants.

(Navel Fruit trees are part of what has been called the Megafaunal Syndrome which theorizes that in past ages very large fruit may have evolved in order to attract very large animals (the megafauna) and thus assist in wide seed dispersal (for more see Megagardeners of the Forest – the role of elephants in seed dispersal, by Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz and Stephen Blake in Acta Oecologica, posted online 22 Feb 2011).)

Any thought of elephants immediately brings to mind the grim straits that the Forest Elephant and all elephant species face.  Elephants need space but with habitat loss and fragmentation this is a fast diminishing commodity.  Besides space, rampant poaching is a dire on-going threat that will be eliminated only when human needs are adequately met and when there is no market for ivory - or bush meat.   There are many on-going efforts to deal with poaching so we retain the hope that elephants will indeed survive in the wild.

Gabon had received little conservation attention and Loango was almost unknown until zoologist Michael Fey’s well-publicized on-foot transect across the Congo Basin, a journey that ended in Loango in 2000.  With Longo now on the map, the forward thinking prime minister, Omar Bongo, created the National Agency for National Parks in 2002, and this body decided to protect thirteen areas of special biological interest as national parks. These now occupy ten percent of Gabon’s land area.

While elephants, as a charismatic group, attract special conservation interest, their protection and the retention of their habitat also benefits many other species which, in Gabon, includes Lowland Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Red River Hogs, African Gray Parrots, and Slender-snouted Crocodiles, all indicator species of the Congo Rainforest Biome.  And also benefitting from habitat protection are Giant Kingfishers, Palm-nut Vultures, and the African Rock Python, species I had previously encountered in other areas of Africa – but never in these numbers.

The Red River Hog, Potamochoerus porcus, is one of 19 species is the family Suidae. These hogs search the forest floor in tropical rainforests of West Africa and are found from the Congo Basin west to Guinea. Their preferred habitat is good forest as well as open edges of streams and marshes where they search for tubers, fruit fallen from trees, and even carrion.  In addition they look for the balls of forest elephant feces which they break apart to feed on the undigested seeds of trees such as Balanites wilsoniana.   While Wild Red River Hogs usually roam in small groups of up to ten animals, the large assemblages seen in Loango indicates fine habitat and good protection.
In the bird world, African Gray Parrots are perhaps the most accomplished mimics of the human voice but in the wild they don’t sound like humans at all. On the first morning at the Loango Lodge, I stepped outside my cottage to hear a melodic chorus some distance to the left.  Those wonderful, mellow voices at varying pitches, sounded like orioles. But several orioles singing together?  Most unlikely.  This was a puzzle.

But not a puzzle for long as I was soon told that these were African Gray Parrots talking.  Parrots singing like orioles?  Seemed most improbable, as members of the parrot family screech and squawk.  But sing?  No way!  So I walked over to the trees where the birds were moving about and sure enough: Gray Parrots. 

In the bird world, Grays are perhaps the best imitators of the human voice (Talking Mynas are a close second) and Alex a captive Gray, one of the most famous representatives of its species, was taught to ‘say’ over 100 words. But not only that, this remarkable bird seemed to understand what the words meant. Additionally, it was demonstrated that Alex could count up to six and could recognize seven different colors (for a splendid biographical account see: Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg, first published in 2008 by HarperCollins).

Gray parrots are much in demand as caged birds – and this poses a dilemma for this parrot, as it does for all cage bird species. In the past the capturing of wild birds (often chicks or eggs robbed from the nest) has been a income source for some but these days with tightened regulations through CITES treaties, heightened publicity of illegal acts, and well trained customs officials, the illegal bird trade has diminished - not finished but much reduced.

One good way to impede nefarious wildlife activities is to recruit the best village ‘poachers,’ and train them as ecotourism guides. When the economic benefit of guiding outweighs remuneration from poaching, the same hunters often make outstanding wardens. We saw this in action in Piaui State in Brazil where income is generated by showing visitors the stunning Hyacinth Macaw. 

Iguela Lagoon, a large fresh water lake with brackish water towards the Atlantic Ocean, is a special feature of the northwestern part of the park. Much of the territory immediately around the lake is marshland, waterlogged during the rainy season, but transformed into vast grassy swards in the dry season.  Slightly raised terrain inland from the lagoon, often small ridges, support stands of tropical forest in which animals such as White-nosed Monkeys and the Red River Hogs live.  Forest elephants are at home in either terrain and when green grasses sprout during the dry season elephants emerge from the forest into the marshes.

Even during the short dry period, the time when we were in the park, the water channels running into Iguela Lagoon remain filled, but with banks exposed enough to host rows of palms, their long leaves often drooping over the water.  And with the palm canopy punctuated by tall trees, this is a perfect habitat for the Palm-nut Vulture (Gypohierax angolensis). 

The Palm-Nut Vulture (Gypohierax angolensis), a raptor primarily of wet equatorial forests in western Africa, might best be called a vulturine eagle for its head is totally feathered, save for red facial skin, and the bird features acrobatic aerial courtship displays, rolling and diving. Besides the bird sometimes attacks living prey, occasionally picking disabled fish off the surface of the water or eyeing the occupants of a chicken coop. This vulturine eagle does feed on carrion but its primary food source is nuts of Elaeis and Raphia palms.
Eagles and Old World vultures are closely related and the Palm-Nut Vulture looks and acts like a black-and-white eagle, especially in aerial courtship displays and when attacking live creatures such as chickens.  Their name is appropriate as these birds feed primarily on the nuts of the palms (especially Elaeis and Raphia), but they also consume dead fish - as do American Bald Eagles and the African Fishing Eagles.  During our Gabon visit we did not see this species scavenge and thus the name Palm-nut Vulturine Eagle would be appropriate, or perhaps the alliterative Vegetarian* Vulture would be at least partly applicable. 

Gabon is also a stronghold for the Slender- snouted Crocodile Mecistops cataphractus, one of four African crocodilian species. This rainforest reptile thrives best in shaded, aquatic situations and is known from the Congo Basin and surrounding regions as well as living in rainforest patches that extend west along the African coast to as far as Senegal. The crocodiles living in far western Africa may well represent a separate species.  Whatever, population numbers are uncertain but the crocodile is usually listed as critically endangered and Gabon likely harbors one of the highest concentration of this species with Loango and its Iguela Lagoon and the shaded waterways is one of the best hopes for this species.  

This, small, long-snouted crocodile (adults rarely run to more than three meters in length) is a fish eater, the snout slashing sideways when detecting prey.  It also supplements its diet with aquatic reptiles (turtles are a favorite) and the occasional bird or mammal.  From time to time, crocodiles like to haul out of the water but as very few open banks exist in Loango, the reptiles climb onto protruding logs, often managing to clamber up a dead tree trunk sticking out of the water at a slant of up to 25 degrees.  In Loango the reptiles are not hunted for their meat or skins (as they are in many areas of this biome) so the animals we encountered were remarkably tolerant of our approach.  However, if our boat floated too close for comfort, the crocodiles suddenly launched off the logs and belly flopped into the water. 

This crocodile is a mound nester, and towards the beginning of the rainy season a female will gather vegetation into a pile on the bank and then lay around 20 large eggs in the mound. These eggs take a long time to hatch, one report listed 110 days, during which period the female stays near the nest but does not assist with incubation. However, when the youngsters begin to cheep as the eggs hatch, the female digs into the mound to free her offspring so they can swim out into the flooded marshes.

The slow-moving, shaded Mpivie River is ideal habitat for Slender-snouted Crocodiles as it supports a splendid fish population and there is ample shade from the Eleias palms and other trees lining the channel. This habitat is also much favored by kingfishers as well as the African Finfoot and the large, Pell’s Owl, both rare bird species.  

On occasion most crocodiles like to haul out of the water to spend time on dry land. However, few exposed banks exist along the Mpivie or other rivers in lowland Gabon, so Slender-snouted reptiles often clamber up trunks of dead trees fallen into the river (one such snag appears on the left edge of this image).

Gabon’s thirteen national parks are the ‘top down’ variety, reserves imposed by officials on areas of special conservation interest. One does need to start somewhere but in the long run, the top-down system has been effective - over the long haul - mostly where initiation has been followed by strong community outreach and where people living in or near the protected areas are incorporated into the economic benefits of the conservation plan. Without community cooperation, and the members assisting in surveillance to help maintain their economic asset, most plans don’t succeed, or succeed only if governments invest huge amounts of money in order to patrol the area. 

No two conservation areas are alike so programs need to be flexible and adapt to what works within the given context, and in Gabon we can be thankful both for the government initiatives and also for the evolution of conservation thinking has led to a point where locals are included, not excluded, in plans.

Much of the terrain inland from Gabon’s southern Atlantic coast features a mosaic of lagoons and waterways, and the people living here are masterful fishermen.  Hunting in Loango National Park is not permitted but fishing for local consumption is allowed, the operations supervised by park authorities. This mid-afternoon image shows a park ranger recording the ‘take’, which includes catfish and other freshwater species while staff from the Akaka tented camp bargain for dinner.
A multiuse concept covering areas of special significance, initially voiced in the 1970s, works well in many places. This scheme envisions three zones - or adaptations thereof. A core zone is a strictly protected area where entry is granted by special permission. This is surrounded by a buffer zone where limited, sustainable use activities, including low impact tourism and recreation is promoted. And all are flanked by an outlying transition zone in which people live and where sustainable economic activity, such as ecotourism lodges or selected logging, is encouraged and where various stakeholders work together to ensure a long-term, on-going benefit to the people in the area.  

Gabon still has a long road ahead to reach the point where their national parks are protected for the long term, but a fine start has been made so future generations of elephants as well as people can be thankful for the vision and the effort that is evident today  

Pictured is Dr. Fleming with a staff member of
Loango Lodge; the photo was taken on‘Gorilla Island’ near the
Loango National Park where there is a rehab center for rescued gorillas.
This week's blog piece and photos make up the fourth installment in our Musings of a Naturalist series, courtesy of our own Dr. Robert (Bob) Fleming: Professor Equity and Empowerment/ Natural History. Having grown up in the foothills of the Himalayas in India, Bob has long been interested in the beauty of nature. This progressed into a fascination with natural history and cultural diversity, leading him to obtain his Ph.D. in zoology. He has  explored many of the planet's special biological regions, ranging from the Namib Desert in Africa to the Tropical Rainforest of the Amazon, and the Mountain Tundra biome of the Himalayas. He has worked for the Smithsonian's Office of Ecology and the Royal Nepal Academy and, along with his father and Royal Nepal Academy Director-Lain Singh Bangdel, he wrote and illustrated "Birds of Nepal," the first modern field guide to the birds of the region. In addition to his work with Future Generations, Bob is the director of Nature Himalayas, a sole proprietorship that he began in 1970. Through this company, Bob has led some 250 outings. He currently lives in the temperate rainforest of western Oregon in the USA's Pacific Northwest.

Many thanks to Dr. Fleming for another great contribution!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Using the SEED-SCALE Model to Assess Access to Education in Engikaret, Tanzania

To bridge academic research with field research conducted in Engikaret, Tanzania, Taylor Lee presents her findings in regards to access to education and the role it plays there. Using the SEED-SCALE model and associated core principles outlined in Just and Lasting Change, she used her research to evaluate Engikaret's access to education, operating on her belief in its ability to increase opportunities for individuals living in rural, resource-poor environments. Observation and personal communication led Taylor’s investigation with Maasai community members, government agents, parents and youth of the community, as well as community liaisons operating through or in conjunction with Nyayo Discovery.  She primarily focused on the general community's understanding of access to education and how this pertains to community opportunities and well-being... 

7th Year Students at ECPS.
Core Teachers: Sion and Priska.
Guest Teacher:Taylor


            Social change within a community can only be sustained when multi-layered partnerships are organized in the context of community empowerment, wherein the needs and wants of the community are center to the movement. Such is the case with access to education in rural Tanzania. The Maasai of Engikaret have been empowered over the last decade through shifting social values to promote access to education for the community’s youth. I bore witness to partnerships between local leaders, regional government, and outside agencies; all of which empower the Maasai of Engikaret to continuously improve access to education to the benefit of the community’s overall health and well-being. 

Principle One: Rising Aspirations Lead to Action

           The Maasai of Engikaret live in a resource-poor and geographically isolated area, with an estimated population of 4,000. While resistant to overt cultural change, I found the Maasai of Engikaret open and willingly promote formal education as a means to generate opportunities within the community.  The community's openness to supporting formal education (such as enrollment in primary school) reflects Principal One of the SEED-SCALE model, which asserts that when promoting sustainable community programs, such as access to education, assessment leading to action should begin with evaluating the strengths of the community.

          Within these strengths, I could see the hopes and dreams of parents wanting their youth to have the opportunity to attend primary school.  As evidence, Engikaret has two primary schools. New Vision Primary School is a privately funded, faith-based school whereas Engikaret Community Primary School (ECPS) is a government funded, public school.  While there are resource discrepancies between the two schools, the focus of my observations leads me to conclude that within the larger community context, there is a community-driven want to provide access to education for the youth of the area.  Further, within the parameters of Principle One, is the need to assess how communities understand education as it relates to community health and well-being.

            Officially, the community supports education, at least through the primary grades for the majority of the community's children.  I gleaned this informal information through participation in multiple Maasai community discussions.  I had ample opportunities to meet with the mamas of Engikaret, who repeatedly stated that they want their children, regardless of gender, to be in school.  While the position presented by the mamas highlights how the Engikaret Maasai have embraced social change through the verbal promotion of education, it is of interest that there are school-aged youth, primarily girls, who are not enrolled in either of the community's primary schools.  This observation led me to inquire about the rates of girl to boy enrollment within the public school system of Engikaret.  Interviews with the public school teachers confirmed that more males are enrolled and supported in school attendance than girls.  Perhaps this reflects traditions that "might create obstacles to healthy change."

           Evaluating challenges to healthy change does not mean to focus on the negative; rather Principle One acknowledges that when assessing community strengths one should not "ignore problems." I suspect part of the reason for lower girl enrollment stems from the Maasai's traditional gender roles.  Traditional expectations of Maasai women are focused on marriage, child rearing, and home duties rather than on building gender equality through access to education.  It is not to say the community does not embrace healthy change-- from my observations of the Level Seven class at ECPS, I saw more female students enrolled than I had initially expected.  Within the Level Seven class ,I calculated 43% of students were female, compared to 57% male.  This data reflects a 23% increase in girl enrollment rates within the last generation.

            Another obstacle I observed with regards to youth accessing education surrounds the initial rollout of education programs by the Tanzanian government.  The government mandate requiring youth aged 7-13 to attend primary school was not initiated nor initially supported by the Maasai.  Thus it did not stem from a community-driven desire.  Because of this, it appears the Maasai had little involvement with the placement of ECPS.  The repercussions are that many primary aged school children walk long distances to and from school each school day.  According to teachers at ECPS, children may have to walk up to an hour one-way to access the school building.  Parents in the community also have concerns with their children crossing the highway to get to the school building; this is especially concerning for the younger students. As the community has come to support formal education, I was able to observe how the community has taken action to help mitigate some of the obstacles students face on the journey to school.

             One clear way the community has supported the students' journey to school is seen in how the students move as a group.  Many children were observed arriving at school in groups, comprised of family members and neighbors.  Within these groups arriving at school, it was apparent that there were always older children with the younger children.  The grouping of students to ensure the safe passage to school proves the community of Engikaret has found a community-based approach to supporting access to education.  Further, as school enrollment increases, the government, this time with the collaboration of the Engikaret Maasai, is looking to build a second primary school.  The hope is to shorten the journey for students.  As the community's aspirations regarding access to education rise, I believe the Maasai community of Engikaret will show a greater capacity to advocate for the building location of the new public school when the time comes. 

            Rising aspirations is a strong motivator for social change, a motivator that is conceived from the community's perceived positive development.  I believe that as the community observes how access to primary, secondary and university education improves the quality of life for those individuals, they then will promote the equal access to primary school enrollment for more of their community's youth.  For example, in visiting a boma that showed more development than others, such as solar panels to meet the family's energy needs and buildings that required less maintenance by the females of the family, I asked Patrick (Nyayo Discovery liaison between the community and global visitors) if this family was considered wealthy.  His response was not that the family was wealthy but that the family's son had completed primary, secondary and university education and therefore had the capacity to take advantage of opportunities that impact the health and well-being of the household.  I believe Patrick's response reflects elements of Principle One; social growth begins with improved conditions for some community members that in turn spark interest and participation in social change by others.

            Based on my observations, the community of Engikaret is driven to overcome obstacles presented by their geographical isolation and resource-poor living conditions. The value of formal education is held in high regard and desired by the majority of the Engikaret Maasai.  For example, I observed at least one primary school aged child enrolled in school per family. Social change is a slow process.  However, as the community experiences more access to opportunities because of education, I believe the community's interaction and support for the education system will increase.

Mamas of Engikaret

Principle Two: Three-way Partnerships and Malleable Leadership

            For large-scale social change to occur, such as empowering communities through access to education, the construct of community needs to be redefined.  In the context of empowering people through access to education, "the community" is not limited to the geography of participants.  Rather community is defined as a holistic approach involving anyone with a shared vision and capacity to enact change. In this context support for education comes from multi-dimensional partnerships all of which have various degrees of connectedness to the community.  I observed how the broader notion of community leads to educational access in the Engikaret area.  For example, top-down support is evident through funding for school buildings and supplies by both public and private funders.  When evaluating systems as complex as formal, community education, there is a fundamental requirement to have some degree of top-down support.  While exclusive top-down support is not associated with community-driven programs, it is associated with a three-way partnership model outlined in Principle Two.  The Engikaret region is geographically isolated and resource-poor; thus top-down support alleviates some of the financial strain associated with maintaining a school. 

            Additionally, Principle Two outlines the need for outside-in involvement as it can spark innovation. This aspect of Principle Two is seen in the observed partnership between Nyayo Discovery and the Maasai of Engikaret.  Nyayo specializes in increasing the economic platform of the Engikaret community through increased tourism, cultural awareness and utilizing the human energy of global volunteers.  Outside-in support for community development as it pertains to access to education was something I, a participant in Nyayo's global volunteer and tourism program, was able to experience firsthand. 

            Because of my affiliation with Nyayo and my background experience as a US teacher, ECPS invited me in to teach several lessons to the Level Seven students.  Through this experience, I have come to understand the hardships of educating in the face of adverse conditions, most notably the utter lack of resources.  Fortunately, one of the ways outside-in support fosters innovation is through the sharing of ideas, best stated by Taylor and Taylor, "The value of outside-in [support] has little to do with who and everything to do with what." In this regard, sharing teaching methods with ECPS teachers allowed the growth of resources in the form of easily adopted learning games.  In reflection, perhaps this is why the teachers were so eager to learn then employ these games regardless of my presence.

          From my point of view, one of the most important aspects of Principle Two is the malleability of roles, specifically leadership roles.  A key contributor to the success of any community-driven program is shifting from outside-in or top-down leadership to leadership by those who are directly impacted by the efforts of social change. While I was not privy to evidence directly showing how roles have shifted in the Engikaret community, I was able to observe leaders among the Maasai that allowed me to infer that the community's affiliation with Nyayo Discovery has generated leadership roles that may not otherwise exist without the outside-in partnership.  For example, I was able to work directly with two Maasai leaders, Loshiro and Peter, who serve as liaisons between the Maasai and global volunteers.  The work Loshiro and Peter do represent how an outside agency, such as Nyayo, can foster leadership within the community.  Community leaders are better able to embody the needs, wants and realities of the community, which in turn promotes social change from within the community. 

             Lastly, Principle Two highlights the immense importance of social change derived from bottom-up support. Bottom-up support relies on human energy found directly within the community to meet the goals set forth by the community.  Within the context of access to education bottom-up support was seen in the employment of Maasai teachers and support staff at ECPS. From my experience, having systems utilize local employment strategies creates a stronger economic platform for rural communities.  Additionally, teachers with a deep-seated understanding of the traditions, values, and realities of Engikaret can offer higher equitability to students.  As evidence, Maasai community teachers face unique language barriers.  Traditionally the Maasai people speak Maa, however schools across Tanzania teach in Kiswahili and English.  Having a native Maa speaker, like those I observed at ECPS, allows more students and families to access education, and educational resources comfortably.

Maasai children herding after school and before the enrollment age of 7.
NAU students: Aubrey Babcock and Taylor Lee

Principle Three: Assessing Social Change through Community Perspectives

            Assessing the progress of any social change program requires that the assessment use community values and realities, in other words, "locally relevant" evidence. I believe that this may be one of the greatest challenges facing the Engikaret community within the context of access to education.  Education often is viewed by distant third parties, with mandates and successes outlined for review by policymakers, stakeholders, or partners who may have little insight into challenges facing the community.  In reflection, I have come to understand how outside definitions of success or success marked by goals that may or may not be relevant to the community, may have adverse consequences on social change. 

            Specifically, the progress Engikaret has made in creating access to education can be viewed in two ways.  First, it can be viewed from the community's perspective, a viewpoint that celebrates increased enrollment, even if it means only one of each family's children is in school. In turn, this same data can be viewed from a value system not aligned with the realities of living in a geographically isolated and  resource-poor environment; a viewpoint that is removed from the idea that the family's immediate livelihood may be in jeopardy if all school-aged children were enrolled.  From perspective two, it could be argued that the community of Engikaret is not  providing access to education, adversely partners may pull funding due to low success rates.  

            However, in support of the community's celebration of progress, ECPS projects that of the Level Seven class, 60% of those students will be promoted on to the secondary level. ECPS projected data unveils the continued progress at providing access to education as seen over the last decade in the community of Engikaret. I believe that when operating under the guidelines of principal three, evaluators must have a clear and consistent guideline for measuring success, one that relies on the realities facing the community. 


            The Maasai of Engikaret are operating within a framework supportive of social change, inspired and brought to fruition by organizations that recognize community-driven partnerships relevant to improved access to education, result in increased health and well-being of all community members. Evaluating access to education using the SEED-SCALE model allows partners to highlight community successes and build upon them. Secondly, access to education as a community-driven program, will be a sustainable movement if actions are supported through layered partnerships. The most influential of layered partnerships are those that expose the human energy within the community to generate bottom-up support.  Lastly, goals, success, and progress must be defined in terms of community realities. Only then can the markers of success or the addendum of goals be aligned to actual community needs and wants.


This week's blog contributed by Taylor Lee. Taylor has a passion for promoting equitable education in underserved communities, and is currently teaching in rural Arizona with predominantly Navajo youth. While her work is focused on delivering access to high quality science education at the middle grades, embedded within her classroom work is providing youth and families with meaningful experiences that inspire students to seek post-secondary opportunities. She believes that the cycle of poverty, often associated with under-resourced communities, can be broken when youth have equitable post-secondary options readily available. She works in collaboration with community partners to provide such pathways to her students through exposure at the middle grades level. 

In addition to teaching, Taylor is currently completing her last semester for her Master of Secondary Education through John Hopkins University. While this endeavor has take n the majority of her focus, she was able to participate in Norther Arizona University's Study Abroad program during the summer of 2017. She believes that this opportunity to explore the communities of Africa was a life-changing experience which made her a stronger educator.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Equip Yourself to Make the Change You Wish to See

As Future Generations looks forward to offering a special opportunity, Equip Yourself to Make the Change You Wish to See: Learn Mahatma Gandhi’s Social Change Methods, a chance to study at Gandhi’s powerful Sevagram ashram, this blog posting provides some background. His methods are highly relevant for dealing with today’s challenges...

Gandhi's ashram in Sevagram, India-- participants in the certificate course Equip Yourself to Make the Change You Wish to See spend part of their course time here for an in-depth learning experience

Mahatma Gandhi coined the term swaraj (literally, self-rule, though he preferred to translate it as self-control) to describe the growing capacity of a population to determine its future. Gandhi was in South Africa at the time, and the idea of people rising up with internal nonviolent energy for political independence was a new concept in the world. His idea was that people could take control of their own destiny through taking control of the most basic functions of life. Colonialism was a loss of control, but so too was poverty, caste, and illness. From taking control over lives came true freedom; it allowed people to own their futures.

The Mahatma was not was not internationally recognized when he came to believe in swaraj. He wasn’t even in India or thinking of the independence of India, but wanted to improve a few lives in an intentional community on a very marginal piece of land in South Africa. What would grow into a freedom movement for one-fifth of the world’s population, indeed launch all the freedom movements of the 20th Century, began on a marginal piece of land and freedom for a few. 

Swaraj gave part of the answer, “a morality based in Truth” he often called it, a way by which people could define their destiny. His concern as his awareness grew was not simply opposition to the British Empire, but to the discrimination and poverty which underlay oppression. Fundamental social change was the objective, and the physical context for this control of destiny was the sparse land of his utopian South African Phoenix Colony. These then seeded an idea that would scale up into one of the world’s most powerful forces.

In some of his writing after the movement had started to expand in India, Gandhi expanded the term to gram swaraj, which is community-based freedom. Gram swaraj generates sustaining energy for the community from inside and with it self-correcting direction. It is inspired and regulated by satyagraha, the energy of Truth. Gandhi argued that the true forces that bring change in the lives of people come not from the marketplace, not from armies, not from a religion, not from political process, but from knowledge of Truth that is internalized and adhered to so that it continually corrects action. These forces that begin inside each individual then redefine society to bring authentic help to all people. 

His spinning wheel visibly conveyed this message on the importance of process and the search for Truth. Each individual turning his or her wheel gave evidence of self-potential and direction. The act of spinning used resources grown in that place, locally-grown cotton, locally-grown wood that made the wheels. When people wore khadi cloth they showed proof that a becoming life could be made by them. Done collectively, homespun khadi showed that India could weave a new life, using threads of local resources from one direction, massive energy of the villages from the other. Actually wearing these clothes of their own making as flags of self-reliance as they marched, India’s people gave evidence that they were dressing in a new way: their way. Do that, and from that other freedoms will grow. Swaraj was to strengthen India with tightly wound new fiber to pull apart deep forces of oppression: caste, poverty, ignorance, fear of leprosy, and gender discrimination.

Today, as military powers send soldiers to distant lands to free people and label the liberators “peacemakers,” and as corporations are freed to cross the world for cheap labor arguing that they create local development by creating jobs that bind people to global labor imbalances, the question must be asked (even if it cannot be answered): what is freedom? While freeing people from oppression and providing jobs are both freedoms, going toward freedom in the way that “peacemakers” and corporations pursue misses a core principle that guided Gandhi: that truth was in the process, the never-ending journey faithful to the operating principles. 

Professor Taylor teaching Gandhi's methods of social change at the Mahatma's ashram in Sevagram, India

Freedom is not given to people. Freedom is when people come together as communities to rule themselves. Joining together as communities not only liberates from these outside forces, but also it grows a momentum that, in his vision, would reach all. His was a vision for a new justice through new means: “If we are to make progress, we must not repeat history but make new history. We must add to the inheritance left by our ancestors.”

Inarguably, significant differences exist now than those present in people’s lives in Gandhi’s day. As such, it is helpful to focus just on that which Gandhi viewed as foundational: Truth. With information and instant access to anything people want to hear—information is awash now over the world pummeling people with falsehoods and facts. The worship of Truth is possibly more essential now than in Gandhi’s time. The response needed is not to abandon the quest and turn to fundamentalisms and black and whites, but to work with all the nuance that of how what is true in one locale is not in another, how what is true from one person’s perspective is not from another’s. Truth is understood through having a process to engage the facts and falsehoods. And so, a more complex set of principles is needed. To unpack in greater detail the principles Gandhi actually did use; we state them in the context of SEED-SCALE’s four principles:

1.     Gandhi made sure every protest was successful. With each, he thought through whether he had enough people, picked his time carefully and understood the temperament of each British commandant, identifying especially those with values that would chafe when confronted with nonviolence. Gandhi wanted imprisonment and beating, but if these were to happen, he made sure that each brutalized person would not be in vain for with each success he knew he built strength.

2.     He was a strong believer in partnerships. Top-down he got the liberal British on his side, as there was a growing powerful contingent and sentiment of progressive British. Also Top-down, he got Hindu leaders on his side through using their religious texts. Outside-in, he masterfully used the media to carry his actions to all the world. And Bottom-up, the third aspect and foundation of partnership, three hundred million people, the largest voluntary mobilization ever achieved, not only his soldiers but in giving momentum to nonviolent movements ever since.

3.     Fear-filled, timid villagers stood strong against British batons. They stood because Gandhi had given them evidence for each protest—and he made certain that evidence of their protests was clear, with an attention to detail that encouraged people to wear clean white clothes so the dirt and beatings would show well on photographs all over India and the world. He studied what happened each time, treating them as ongoing experiments, then out of that new options turned up.

4.     Gandhi changed behaviors among victimized people; to achieve this he taught them that their victimization was a consequence of their acquiescing behaviors. He argued that freedom did not come from killing oppressors (American, French, and Soviet revolutions had until then pointed in that direction.) Freedom comes by changing the oppressor’s behavior. To achieve that, the participant starts by changing his and her behavior. When confronted by wrong behaviors there is a tendency to blame those behaviors of others without realizing that in our behaviors that allow those of others resides a basis for such continuation.

We can all still take inspiration from his perseverance and learn the lessons he left behind in his philosophy and methods. The application is timeless and invaluable in preventing history from repeating itself. By participating in Future Generations certificate course, “Equip Yourself to Make the Change You Wish to See,” you can learn Gandhian social change methods right where the Mahatma himself taught them to his followers, at his Sevagram ashram in central India.

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This week's blog contributed by Future Generations founder and current president and professor, Daniel Taylor. Daniel has been engaged in social change and conservation for four decades with a focus on building international cooperation to achieve ambitious projects. He founded the nine Future Generations organizations worldwide (including the accredited Future Generations Graduate School). He also founded and led The Mountain Institute. In 1985, after providing the scientific explanation for the yeti, he led creating Nepals Makalu-Barun National Park, then, in close partnership with the Tibet Autonomous Region, Chinas Qomolangma (Everest) National Nature Preserve and Four Great Rivers Nature Preserve protecting one-seventh of Chinas forest reserves. He is one of the synthesizers of the SEED-SCALE method, an understanding of social change initiated by a UNICEF task force he co-chaired from 1992-95. Since 1995 he continued to lead global field trials of SEED-SCALE and is senior author of Just and Lasting Change: How Communities Can Own Their Futures and Empowerment: From Seeds of Human Energy to a Scale of Global Change. Among his honors, Taylor was knighted by the King of Nepal Gorkha Dakshin Bau III; was made the first Honorary Professor of Quantitative Ecology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; and was decorated with the Order of the Golden Ark by HRH Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Cultural Poverty Reduction as a Strategic Policy

Future Generations University believes in the importance of supporting its alumni and creating a community of changemakers. It is for this reason that Future Generations Global Network awards a number of collaboration grants  every year for which alumni can apply to implement projects that embody our philosophy and demonstrate the SEED-SCALE method. This week, we hear from Rohan Sagar and Suzanne Munro, who received one of these grants in 2016 to fund their research into cultural poverty reduction...

The Cultural Poverty Reduction as a Strategic Policy project funded by Future Generations Global Network was a response to the ethnic and social landscape of Guyana. This project was conceptualized and implemented by two alumni, Rogan Sagar and Suzanne Munro, of Future Generations University (then the Graduate School), Class 2014. The project implementation period commenced in August and concluded December 2016, and was built around three main components: (a) Research, (b) Applied Ethnomusicology, and (c) Observations, which was an application of Evolutionary Psychology. Essentially, the project as a research praxis validated the main hypothesis encompassing ethnic and race relations and the outcomes validated the application of Applied Ethnomusicology as a possible bridge between present political structural policies and a culturally based epistemic.

Our research component sought to establish a baseline of cultural knowledge bymeasuring depreciation (of fixed variables or not known by the respondent). According to research articles on Evolutionary Psychology and Music Psychology,"music is the main marker upon which identity is constructed.'" Therefore, according to the research objectives, the level of knowledge of ethnic based traditional musics will be an indicator of the broader levels of cultural knowledge. The data is clear that interethnic as well as intra-ethnic cultural awareness exists at very low levels, with less than 25% of the respondents actually aware of their own ethnic identity constructs. The majority of the respondents (75%) also indicated lack of awareness of the identity of specific cultural tools indigenous to their specific social group, and could not relate to indigenisable sonic designs. In Evolutionary Psychology this phenomenon could be referred topsychophysicaland provides a referential marker located in the absence of being rooted within ones own identity; this response then became a referential point of departure to locate from the respondents own experiences their relationships to other groups.

To understand and diagnose the openness or receptivity of respondents to multiculturalism and multiethnic universals, the project relied on the principles of Applied Ethnomusicology. Here the process was guided by the alumni and two facilitators: Mr. Somdatt Ramessar and Mr. Handel Neptune. The scope of this component was confined to observation and was tested on the youth demographic. According to new studies on music and its impact on the brain, specific rhythms and melodic designs usually generate psychophysical indicators on which was premised the main hypothesis. What both the investigators and facilitators noted was the presence of  genuine positive reactions to rhythms and melodic designs that could be defined as both indigenous and endogenous. We found this behavior not to be surprising given the existence of evidence of cosmopolitanisation within Guyanese society. Two percussive rhythmic pieces identifiable to two ethnic groups, Africans and East Indians, the Patois Hand and Keherwa Taal or (8 beats) as well as two vocal materials, Ba Ta Taa and Harey Krishna were used in this exercise . Additionally, the Amerindian percussion instrument, the Sambura, was used to interconnect as a part of the overall orchestral arrangements.

What the researchers and facilitators did note as an interesting find was the dichotomy between the research findings (the less than 25% knowledgeable marker) and the observational high ratio positive response. The research seems to suggest that the demographic in question, the youth, seems to be more susceptible to endogenisation, a process likely to have generated greater traction outside of their primary place of habitat. What is yet to be discerned is the impact of this endogenous experience within ethnic enclaves, additionally the research protocol did not address or clarify this fundamental question. Guyana is often called theland of six raceswhich is often a source of pride and is a benchmark used to establish comparative distinctiveness between the high levels of co-existence here in Guyana and ethnic or race based conflicts universally. From the Amerindians, who it is scientifically accepted were the first settlers in this part of the world, to the other four ethnic groups who were forced migrants as a consequence of European colonial adventures and conquest, Guyanese have found a unique method to co-exist.

But this phenomenon is not without it's historical antecedent. Historians have commented on pre-Independence race relations as always being on the positive side, except of course for a few misadventures which somehow became characterized asrace-related incidents’, until the early 1960s when serious race and ethnic violence erupted causing population dislocation, ethnic realignment, and killings. The Cultural Poverty Reduction project being aware of the historical roots of co-existence, as part of the projects declarative objectives, attempted to resuscitate and re-germinate these positive deviances to, as indicated previously, contribute to a cultural epistemic that previously existed. The main results will be included in the policy paper, which is another of the projects objectives and was submitted for publication. It was the studied opinion of many experts that what contributed immensely to the positive race relations in the colonial era was the strong bonding between ethnic groups, perhaps in common opposition to the then colonial authorities,  and for which there were many a good reason. However, it is also that thisdiscoveryof theothergenerated significant empathy post-realization that the immediate social conditions demanded co-existence and the presence of any other options were in themselves not only significantly reduced but quite dangerous

Out of this condition arose evidences of homogenous and heterogeneous communities, mix marriages and relationships, and the interethnic experimentation with the phenomenon, creolization. Creolization was for all intents and purposes a grassroots learning process when ethnic groups were forced to coexist, not deliberatively, but through the many life sustaining mechanisms, and knowledge and awareness essentially blossomed so that each one got to know theotherculturally. Some of these phenomena include social concepts as weddings, celebration of births and deaths, commerce, as well as  sharing other ecological spaces. As Guyana progressed towards Independence political self-governance awareness was gaining traction amongst the citizenship and in 1953 Guyana elected its first form of self-government after winning universal suffrage. But in 1962-4 Guyana entered into a dark period as the country descended into civil unrest and riots, largely as a consequence of the fracture of the then single largest political party along ethnic lines.

In their conclusion the Cultural Poverty Reduction, project leaders wish to reiterate that the cultural policy research paper was designed and built in accordance with the 7 Tasks of the SEED-SCALE research method; the full research paper was submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal; other visual materials are also available on the first authors website: The project leaders wish to thank Future Generations Global Network for its support to help realize this project; additionally, project implementers are pleased to facilitate greater awareness of Future Generations University and its work worldwide.

Rohan Sagar read for his Master’s Degree at Future Generations University, in his thesis he argued for a multicultural approach to music education in Guyana where he resides. Rohan is also an ethnomusicologist presently conducting investigations in the traditional musics of Guyana amongst the Native American, African and East Indian populations. His most recent project was research assistant to the Evolutionary Psychology project with Harvard University.

Suzanne Munro is a graduate from the University of Guyana, where she studied Environmental Studies. Further development of her education took place in the obtaining of a Masters Degree in Community Change and Conservation through the Future Generations Graduate  School. Ms. Munro  has worked at Conservation  International (CI) for over 10 years, where she focuses on grants management, community development, and conservation. Currently, she is with the Government of Guyana as a Procurement Specialist  working under the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF). When not at work, she is active in a small group of women that focuses on early exposure  and availability to reading in young children.