Drink the Wild Air

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” Alejandra Benavides/conCIENCIA

Working for the balance and health of nature as a conservation biologist brought me to understand the importance of nature in the balance and health of communities. The great gap between the two inspired me to establish conCIENCIA, a nature-based education design program. We build environmental identity in fishing villages across Peru through nature-based integrated learning guided by play, creativity, curiosity and the senses.
As First Mermaid in conCIENCIA, I work with an amazing group of artists and scientist, to connect coastal children to the natural wonderland, since 2010.

Lobitos has some of the most beautiful beaches on the Peruvian coast. Its world-class surfing draws hundreds of surfers from all over the planet and is known far and wide. A lesser-known fact is that it also has 153 children enrolled in its elementary school. Walking down the beach we wonder where these kids are. We walk from point to point with not one in sight. There’s no laughter or splashing on the shores. Surfers and fishermen dominate our view. No mothers and children sharing the democratic fun the beach offers: a place with more attractions than we could ever finish exploring.

In Latin American cities like Rio de Janeiro it is on the beach that rich and poor meet, crossing the giant social chasm that separates them, virtually identical in their bathing suits, covered in sand, sweat and salt. Surprisingly, this doesn’t seem to be the case in many of Peru’s coastal towns. Exactly why is hard to say. Our NGO conCIENCIA helps coastal communities develop an environmental identity and engagement through outdoor science-based learning. We hope to be able to answer the question ‘why’ through surveys, conversation and appreciation.

On the surface one could say it is cultural.  Fishermen don’t bathe in the sea or lounge on the beach. This is their place of work, as for a New Yorker her office would be–of course, with greater hardships and demands. The sea is treacherous and fish stock is dwindling.A fisherman leaves his home in one of the neighborhoods of the village, located far and with their backs to the ocean, crosses the coastal strip that many of us love with devotion, and then embarks to their place of work. When they are finished they come back and cross it with the same determination, back to Barrio Primavera, Bellavista or Nuevo Lobitos. This is a transit zone between home and work.

Authentic learning is born in authentic interest. A hermit crab sparks attention to it’s crazy adaptations on a beach clean-up.Alejandra Benavides/conCIENCIA

A great team of scientists, artists and educators came together for the first time in this town to host conCIENCIA’s annual summer nature camp. Enrolling the kids in our camp was hard. Many parents were reluctant to allow their children to spend every afternoon of their month of vacations on the beach.

Carrying out a summer environmental education program may sound ambitious; some may go so far as to call it futile and pointless. So what are we doing here? We like to think that beyond the scientific concepts we are trying to transmit, the core of our work is to open the minds of our students and their parents to see the coastal strip as a site for recreation. Not a dangerous realm, but a nearby, magical, practical place, good for spending family time, play with friends or creating moments of solitude admiring the processes that are occurring there all the time, in plain sight, waiting for an attentive eye and an open mind.

Eduardo is our resident acrobatics teacher, helping us draw parallels between science and performance arts.

Eduardo is our resident acrobatics teacher, helping us draw parallels between science and performance arts.

So why do this line of work? What does time in nature bring to us who regularly commune with it? What does it bring to you?

This varies from person to person but the truth is there’s something for everyone. Perhaps observing the natural rhythms, different organisms in their struggle to survive and thrive, makes our preoccupations humble.  Some of us seek time in nature for the peace that it transmits to us, seeing that we are part of a system in equilibrium, that we belong to something that works well. Nature has an outstanding capacity to stimulate our senses, persuading us to use our observation and analytic powers. Many have found in nature a temple where we can enjoy our solitude, analyze our problems, recharge and renew energy, escaping the weight of a roof over our minds. Those who have had the opportunity (which should be a right) to spend time in nature as children probably remember with a smile the free reign of our imagination when we experimented in it – some of us still do. A bald (dry) mountain in Chaclacayo became an ancient mystic land with haunted temples protected by venomous snakes. Our creativity becomes the protagonist when playing with the natural elements. Remember the tight friendship bonds you formed when you ventured out into the great unknown around you? Not to mention how good it is for our body when self-preservation heightens our coordination, senses and attention.

Spending time with nature is our strategy but our purpose is two-fold. Yes, we believe that in order for children to preserve their ecosystems as adults they need to have an emotional bond with it. However, most of all, we believe that for children to develop optimally, particularly their creativity and self-esteem, they must reconquer the outside world and once again claim it as theirs, rather than spending time to conquer “The biggest loser” and the latest video game. The great advantage to our work is that all we need to do is open the doors and take that first step with them. Nature does the rest, and truth be told, it does it well.

About the author: Working for the balance and health of nature brought me to understand the importance of nature in the balance and health of communities. The great gap between the two inspired me to establish conCIENCIA, a nature-based education design program. We build environmental identity in fishing villages across Peru through nature-based integrated learning guided by play, creativity, curiosity and the senses. As First Mermaid in conCIENCIA, I work with an amazing group of artists and scientist, to connect coastal children to the natural wonderland, since 2010.

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