I spent this past week at the Northern Guam Soil and Water Conservation District’s 2013 Educators Symposium on Soil and Water Conservation. The symposium took place from 8:00am – 5:00pm, and from August 5th through the 7th. It was a wonderful experience that I am grateful to have been a part of. On the first day of the Symposium, Dr. Robert Underwood emphasized the importance of the event by explaining the way in which children on Guam, as a result of being under such a heavy Western influence, tend to learn many lessons “vicariously.” To help the audience understand what he meant, he shared an experience he had at a local elementary school: While walking through the hallways, he noticed a beautiful bulletin board, decorated by our island’s students and teachers that read, “April Showers Bring May Flowers.” He was immediately put off by the bulletin and approached the school’s principal to point out how ridiculous it is to teach Guam’s children that “April Showers Bring May Flowers.” April showers may bring May flowers for children in other places around the world, but on Guam, it is one of the driest months of the year!
Within my classroom, I can also think of many ways in which Guam’s children learn “vicariously” through experiences documented in Western literature and curriculums within our schools. There is a disconnect between what is actually unfolding around them and what they are reading about in their books; a disconnect that may not form as large a gap as it would, say, in California. I see this disconnect clearly when I read or interact with the children in my family. When I read them books that contain Pacific Imagery, local jokes, or that incorporate experiences from their lives, they react and recognize things more quickly. It’s more meaningful to them. Within many of our local schools, our children are not always taught to connect with the island around them. Their immediate experiences, as Pacific Island children, are often dismissed or framed as experiences that are lacking in comparison to those of stateside children. What this symposium did was remind our island’s educators that the immediate experiences of our island’s children and our local environment are valid and worthy of incorporating into formal education.
During the 32 hours we spent at the symposium, we were provided with in-depth presentations that helped educators, especially those who do not specialize in science, understand how unique and wonderful our island truly is. It was impossible to leave each day of the symposium without feeling a revitalized connection between yourself and the soil beneath you. I found my mind running a mile a minute every time I used our faucet or put something in our trashcan. As a matter of fact, I think I came home and annoyed my family, because I was suddenly on fire with all the new information I was given.
I noticed that the rest of the educators in the room felt the same way. It wasn’t necessarily that in the past, we did not care for our island’s ecosystem, but we were not yet educated, in a complete way, on our relationship with local soil, water, plants, and animals. Many of the educators in the room were much older than me. Hearing about their experiences and the ways they have witnessed ecological changes on our island over the years made me realize just how much I want my son to experience Guam for the beautiful place it already is. I don’t want my son to grow up being taught that our island is lacking. I want him to see, very clearly, what a place of abundance our home is. I want him to take pride in the fact that this is his home, especially as a CHamoru male.
I have to laugh a little thinking about all the A’s and high marks I received in science classes in school. I learned so much about the ecology of the rest of the world, but we never once stopped to study Guam. What I did know, that was specifically about Guam, prior to the Symposium was gathered in bits and pieces from the manamko in my family or other relatives who grew plants or raised animals on our land. I can’t summarize everything I learned into a single blog entry, but what I can do is bring this new awareness into my classroom and my home. I’m excited! I don’t have a degree or specialization in ecology or biology, but at this symposium, I realized that it was completely possible to work conservation into my curriculum anyway. Our island is full of resources and qualified professionals who are eager to help make this happen. Now, I know where to find them! Now, I know where to begin.
In addition to becoming excited about the information as an educator, I couldn’t help but connect some of the things occurring in my personal life to each presentation. As most of my readers already know, I have, for the past few months, made some drastic changes to my eating habits. I have made a big effort to remove processed foods from my diet and have, as much as possible, incorporated locally grown, organic plants into my meals. Doing this has completely changed my life. Some of my friends and relatives don’t believe that it could all boil down to food, but I am convinced it is. For the two years after I had my son and lost my grandmother, I struggled terribly to crawl out of depression. Changing what I eat and exercising more has turned me into a person who is more excited about the day ahead of me. My body FEELS different. Before I started doing this, I felt broken (inside and out). I have not completely healed myself yet, but I know, with complete certainty, that I am moving somewhere better. The information presented at the symposium almost seemed to help me understand WHY changing what I have been eating has made such a big difference.
I want to thank the island’s conservation districts and the Guam Department of Education for making this last week possible. It was a wonderful way to begin the new academic year.