Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A new look for Service News Worldwide

For over four years, ICP’s newsletter Service News Worldwide has been providing readers with key news from the youth service and national youth service policy worlds. Historically, this newsletter has been released bi-monthly, featuring a detailed, in-depth look at a few key news stories and events from around the world.

On December 15, we launched the first edition of a new format for the newsletter, which will be released every two weeks. By releasing the newsletter more frequently, we are able to include more information while it's still new, and we seek to expose readers to more youth service events, news and resources than ever before. The bi-weekly newsletter will be complemented by a less frequent version that will mimic the style of the old, providing a deeper look at particularly compelling topics.

The new format includes a note from our Executive Director, upcoming events, brief updates from our networks, featured youth service resources/publications and news from both ICP and the youth service field in general. We also welcome submissions and feedback. Please feel free to share your news, resources and events with us by emailing info [@] icicp.org.

With this new format we strive to keep our subscribers up to date on recent news, resources and events to help further promote youth service around the world. To view the December 15 issue or archives of Service News Worldwide, or to subscribe, please visit the newsletter website.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Engaging our Wild Side

By Soren Graae

It is clear that many young people through the US and world are interested in engaging with the environment. It is our responsibility to provide young people with opportunities to develop and express this potential. Encouragingly, studies show that many young people have no lack of desire to engage in environmental preservation, education or other outdoor activities. Instead, a number of obstacles stand in the way of participation, including a lack of opportunity, poor infrastructure and lack of support. These are barriers we have the capability to control and therefore should be working to remove. 

Photo Credit: National Public Lands Day
Recently, President Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative (AGO) and proclaimed the month of September as National Wilderness Month, a month to celebrate, explore, and preserve the vast history of our nation’s wilderness. Also during September, on one Saturday each year since 1994, is National Public Lands Day—a day devoted to improving and enhancing America’s public lands.

AGO recognizes the importance of fostering a bond between young people and their environment. The President called on government leaders, including the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, to lead the initiative. AGO aims to take a leading role in confronting many of our nation’s most critical environmental concerns. Here are some other examples of US organizations connecting young people with nature.
Just this past November, the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), in partnership with HSBC Bank USA, awarded grants to three Washington D.C. area elementary schools to instigate water saving and environmental education projects. Students will learn about water conservation by installing a water efficient irrigation system in the school garden, employ rain barrels, track rainfall, and compare the data to previous water use habits. This grant will help children learn about water conservation while also making a lasting positive impact on the school itself.

NEEF was established by Congress in the National Environmental Education Act of 1990 as a complimentary organization to the EPA to advance environmental knowledge and action. Its core goal is what it calls “environmental literacy” for America’s children while improving their overall success.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, Kids for the Bay, a project of Earth Island Institute, has been teaching environmental science to children and teachers using pro-active hands-on learning experiences for over 17 years. In 2005, it was awarded the EPA Environment Award.

Kids for the Bay instructs teachers on how to use the local environment as an educational resource to stimulate learning, allowing the entire community to work together to achieve common goals for their environment. The Kids for the Bay program aims to empower children with the knowledge and skills necessary to make educated, environmentally friendly behavior changes and to help solve many local environmental problems.

On the east coast, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is also a strong advocate for service-learning for young people. The Foundation recognizes the increased interest being shown in environment-focused service and responded by developing the Oyster Gardening in Maryland program. Opportunities like the Oyster Gardening program offer young people a unique opportunity to learn about the qualities of a fascinating and vital species, while also contributing to its preservation and the marine environment they help to maintain—helping to solidify a connection between young people and nature.

The EPA is actively seeking to incorporate more environmental learning activities into the lives of young Americans. In 2001, the EPA and NEEF conducted a brief survey to determine the “Environmental IQ” of the general public. The findings of the study concluded that most American’s know about certain environmental issues such as the significant impact of the loss of animals habitats or that the majority of carbon monoxide comes from automobiles.

However, only about 25% of Americans surveyed knew what the main cause of water pollution is (surface water run-off from yards, city streets, and farm fields), and only 33% of respondents knew that the US’s primary form of generating electricity was burning coal, oil and wood. Encouragingly, however, most respondents felt that environmental protection and economic development can co-exist, and that the federal government should be spending more on environmental programs. Test your own knowledge about the issues facing our environment here.

Without a connection with nature, how can we expect young people to become responsible stewards of our planet? While many children are outdoors scoring goals, running bases, and exercising, it is important to recognize the need for a more intimate and tangible interaction with nature. Opportunities like the ones mentioned above, in which young people can spend quality time in nature; learning, touching, and contributing to its preservation, allow them to foster an essential bond and appreciation for the environment.

Teachers can weave environmental learning into the classroom curriculum and seek to make it fun and engaging. Policy makers can encourage and support these initiatives through funding, advocacy and coordination. Parents can take our children on hikes through our beautiful National Parks, or participate with along with them in programs like Kids for the Bay. It is the responsibility of our current leaders, policy makers, teachers, and mentors to properly equip those of the future by encouraging these experiential service opportunities in the environment.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Youth delegates play an active role at the Climate Change Negotiations in Cancun

This year at the Conference of Parties United Nations Climate Change Negotiations (COP-16) in Cancun (November 29 to December 10) not only marked important agreements on addressing climate change, but also major increases in the visibility and magnitude of youth participation. It’s exciting to see so many young people gain the opportunity to voice their opinions on global issues at such an important event. Here are some of the highlights for youth participation at this event:


Youth delegations have actively participated in conference proceedings as a unified coalition called the YOUNGO constituency, which represents all youth NGOs at the talks. As a constituency within the UNFCCC framework YOUNGO is given office space at the conference and has opportunities to participate by attending workshops, delivering statements, asking questions, and holding meetings with officials.

One of YOUNGO's most important achievements at COP16 was the coordination of the Conference of Youth. Youth concerned about climate change met in the three days prior to the climate talks for the 6th annual Conference of Youth (COY), which served as “a place for youth to help empower a global climate movement, and to prepare their strategies for bringing this movement to the UN climate negotiations.” Together the participants hoped to pressure delegates into agreeing upon solutions through lobbying, demonstrating and direct action. Youth delegates met in groups, attended workshops by climate change NGOs, and planned collaborative actions for the climate negotiations. With 500 young people in attendance, the Conference of Youth helped solidify the importance of youth to the outcomes at COP16.

Young and Future Generations Day

December 2 at COP16 was given the official designation of Young and Future Generations Day (YoFuGe).
This day called to attention the critical importance of the climate change negotiations in shaping the future for youth worldwide. Youth participants wore t-shirts bearing the phrase, "You have been negotiating my whole life - you cannot tell me you need more time," a quote from a 17 year-old from the Solomon Islands at COP15 in Copenhagen.

US-China Youth Climate Exchange

The US-China Youth Climate Exchange partners young people from both countries to promote cooperation between the nations. As the two largest emitters of carbon, the United States and China are the most important countries at the climate negotiations and their ability to cooperate is of paramount importance. Members of the US-China Youth Climate Exchange encouraged negotiators from each country to stop blaming each other and focus on collaboration.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Holiday Volunteering around the World

by Christina Malliet

The period surrounding the winter holidays – Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice – is one of the most popular times of year to volunteer. It can also be the time of year when the impact of volunteering is felt most significantly for those in need. Following is a sampling of some of the ways young people (and adults) from around the world volunteer during the holidays. Many of these programs are implemented through the European Voluntary Service (EVS), while others are done by individuals or independent organizations.

In Szczecin, Poland, children at Public Preschool #5 “Magnolia” perform a Christmas Eve play for homeless people in the community. Not only do children provide Christmas cheer for play attendees, but they also gain sensitivity to people in need.

In Cadca, Slovakia, young people aged 4-30 are placed by EVS as volunteers at the KERIC European Youth Center. Volunteers present Christmas celebrations as they occur in their home countries for members of the Cadca community. This show promotes a broadened, international reach of the Christmas meaning.

Through International Cultural Youth Exchange (ICYE), young volunteers in Chisinau, Moldova, run a stand at a Charity Christmas Bazaar, where they promote their efforts and those of the EVS, as well as raise money. The youth also learn about other volunteer opportunities in Moldova.

In the United Kingdom, TimeBank coordinates several volunteer opportunities. Volunteers help at crisis centers for homeless people, providing necessary companionship, hot meals, warmth and other services. Otherwise, people volunteer to provide confidential emotional support over helplines, spend time with or deliver meals to the elderly, or participate in a caroling service for hospice care patients. Finally, families host international students at Christmas, promoting peace and worldwide understanding by sharing holiday traditions.

Photo courtesy of TimeBank.

Volunteers at Pensioner Day Care Center in Rezekne, Latvia, decorate and organize activities for Christmas. These volunteers are live-ins, placed in the community through EVS.

Parishioners from the US and Mexico travel to Nogales, Mexico, over Christmas through the Navidad in Nogales program. While there, volunteers play with, feed, give presents to, and present the Christmas gospel to local, impoverished children.

Voluntary Service International (VSI), of Ireland, hosts the “Stop Occupying Christmas Project” in Bethlehem, Palestine, over the Christmas period. Through such services as agricultural aid and rehabilitation, Irish volunteers prepare Palestinian youth to make positive contributions to their future and to society.

Also through VSI, in conjunction with the Irish Wheelchair Association, volunteers in Donamon, Co. Roscommon, Ireland, work at the Cuisle Holiday Center. Disabled people stay at the center over Christmas, where they celebrate the holiday in comfort. Volunteers provide festivities for visitors.

If you have any more information about holiday volunteerism around the world, or if you would like to share your own story, we welcome your feedback in a comment below!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Recapturing our Wild Side

“Too many of our rivers and streams are becoming polluted, and we are losing our connection to the parks, wild places, and open spaces we grew up with and cherish. Children, especially, are spending less time outside running and playing, fishing and hunting, and connecting to the outdoors just down the street or outside of town.”

-President Obama

Presidential Memorandum: America’s Great Outdoors

April 16, 2010

Photo Credit: Ralph Lee Hopkins, National Geographic,
Nankoweap Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park
Nature sustains our very existence and is the inspiration behind much of our modern science, medicine, technology and mathematics—not to mention that observing nature is also a fascinating pass-time.

Yet, despite the obvious importance of our natural environment, a growing number of young people are becoming increasingly detached from and apathetic toward nature. According to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, children ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day consuming media on various types of electronic devices (cell phones, computers, television, mp3 players etc.), with links to poor performance in school, obesity, bad behavior or boredom often reported in the heaviest users.

As urban sprawl continues and our environment shifts from “natural” toward a more manicured, artificial environment, human beings’, and especially young people’s, connection to our natural environment has begun to diminish. Consequently, vital environmental issues tend not to be prioritized. In order to meet the environmental challenges we face, it is crucial to encourage an interest in and affinity for nature by providing better opportunities for young people to engage with nature in meaningful and lasting ways.

The challenge of invigorating young people’s desire to respect and enjoy nature is a daunting one and at ICP we believe national service and service-learning are important avenues for accomplishing that goal. This blog entry is the first in a pair of entries that endeavors to discuss some of the most vital aspects in the larger strategy of fostering meaningful experiences with and preserving our great outdoors.

These strategies include: incorporating environmental education and service-learning into school curricula, engaging underrepresented young people in the cause, creating more opportunities for youth service in preservation and revitalization programs, and encouraging parents to allow their children to experience nature by utilizing America’s wonderful public lands.

Cultivating an affinity for nature in young people is a first and critical step toward safeguarding our environment. It is unrealistic to expect a person to care for something they have no appreciation for, or understanding of. Experiencing nature in meaningful ways is about more than just preservation, it offers young people a window into the beauty and complexity of nature that they might not otherwise have had, as well as an opportunity to learn about science, math, culture, history, etc. Compassion stems from empathy, and empathy necessitates a level of understanding.

Environmental education, both formal and informal, can be the first step toward a greater understanding of nature. The No Child Left Inside Coalition (NCLI) is a national coalition of over 1,800 business, health, youth and faith groups working to ensure that every student achieves “basic environmental literacy.”

The NCLI defines Environmental Education as “the study of the relationships and interactions between dynamic natural and human systems.” Experiencing these interactions first-hand while also contributing to nature preservation is an important piece of that education. It is a component of a young person’s education that is critical to his or her own future, as well as that of the planet. NCLI is working toward incorporating environmental education into the curriculum of elementary and secondary schools throughout the United States.

Weaving environmental service-learning activities into academic curricula is a critical method of encouraging the development of valuable connections to nature. In September, the Maryland State Board of Education recognized this opportunity and voted unanimously to make environmental education part of the public school curricula; something the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a strong advocate for environmental service-learning for young people, had been working toward. Maryland was also the first state to mandate service-learning participation as a graduation requirement which first came into effect in 1997.

Recognizing the value that early interaction with science and nature holds is vital to creating environmentally conscious scientists and public servants of the future. I was fortunate enough to have teachers who recognized the advantages of interactive learning long before the Maryland State Board of Education inserted it into curricula.

My elementary school science teacher, and later my favorite high school biology teacher, both held several classes in a much larger and more interactive classroom environment—the great outdoors. We would take “nature walks” to learn about plant genus & species or take samples for further study back in the classroom. Unbeknownst to us, however, was that we were forging a valuable relationship with nature, something a student cannot glean from a textbook or computer screen.

My memories of these particular teachers and classes were some of my fondest and most informative as a child, and helped to create the affinity and respect for nature that I have today. Research also shows that the great majority of adults who are active in the environmental science, engineering and advocacy fields “had formative outdoor experiences during childhood or had role models who directed their attention to the environment.”

Similarly, at the Forest Hills Elementary school in Pennsylvania, Nola Barton, an AmeriCorps Environmental Education Specialist, is helping teach a series of hands-on lessons about animals, plants insects etc. She says that “without these firsthand experiences, children often have many misconceptions about animals and nature, so we try to dispel some of these myths.”

Interactions such as these, seeing physics in action or examining first-hand how a mammal differs from a reptile, are the types of memories and experiences which could help spark much needed interest in science, mathematics and nature; and help to solidify an important bond between a young person and his or her environment.

A recent Purdue University study of 10 eighth grade science classes serves as a more tangible example of the success of interactive learning. This study involved conducting science classes in two distinct teaching methods. Five classes were taught in the traditional manner using textbooks, lectures and tests while the other half were taught using experimental interactive teaching methods including a design/engineering challenge. The researchers found that the students taught using the interactive teaching methods were more engaged in the learning process and more successful in grasping the material.
Photo Credit: Guido Tramontano Guerritore,
Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah,
National Geographic

The researchers concluded that through hands-on learning and direct experiences young people exhibited a deeper understanding and higher level of interest in the material being taught. Furthermore, researchers at Purdue also observed that while all students in the experimental learning classes made gains, these gains were especially evident in students whose native language is not English.

Earth Force, an advocate of environmental education for young Americans, states on their website that incorporating interactive environmental learning activities into education is vital to “fostering young people’s ability to critically assess environmental information and use it to make sound choices.”

Developing relationships with nature among young Americans through environmental education is an important step in providing them with the experience necessary to take on the immediate environmental responsibilities of our world. Planting the seed of this important bond with nature at a young age will help to solidify this key relationship.

With studies like the one completed at Purdue University exemplifying the benefits of hands-on learning, and government institutions such as the Maryland State Board of Education recognizing the importance of environmental education, the initial steps toward an environmentally responsible future are being taken. However, if we are to succeed in these goals, we must continue to encourage young people’s thirst for knowledge, exploration and a concern for in the environment.

A subsequent blog entry will follow next week, outlining some of the programs underway in the United States and globally whose aim is to help achieve these goals, as well as how and where you can get involved.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Celebrating International Volunteer Day

by Christina Malliet

This Sunday, December 5, is International Volunteer Day (IVD) 2010. Celebrated annually since the UN passed the resolution in 1985, IVD is observed in many countries around the world. Each year, people celebrate in more than half of the world’s countries, from
New Zealand to Lebanon to the UK. IVD focuses on celebrating the efforts of volunteers and organizations, increasing their visibility and offering them thanks. Typical activities surrounding this day include rallies, parades and campaigns that promote volunteerism.

Sunday also marks the launch of
IYV+10, a year-long campaign by international volunteer-based organizations worldwide aimed at better understanding, promoting and supporting volunteerism. Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers, these organizations, led by UN Volunteers (UNV), seek to claim recognition for volunteers throughout the year which will culminate in two UN General Assembly sessions dedicated to volunteerism in December 2011.

This year, UNV also hopes to highlight its efforts toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) during IVD activities. The MDGs are a set of eight major goals, which address human rights issues like health, poverty and peace, that UN member states agreed to achieve by 2015. In honor of this Sunday’s holiday, UNV is asking for participation in an online community forum for its
Share the Story campaign.

Of course, a day recognizing volunteerism wouldn’t be complete without the activity itself, so many cities and groups are organizing community volunteer projects, hoping to excite people who may not volunteer regularly. UNV and many other websites also offer many resources for finding your own activities. It can even be as easy as volunteering online. For even more resources, please refer to our Thanksgiving post!


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