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Photo by María Chaves Villalobos

Training municipal programme facilitators: Environmental education, protecting our water sources against climate change


Please briefly describe your Water ChangeMaker journey

Given recent extreme climatic events, there needs to be a cultural change in public action. Since all of our behaviours have an impact, environmental education seeks to go beyond traditional education, relating human beings with their environment. The aim is to generate a change of attitude, raising awareness among the audience to help preserve the environment in the future and guarantee a quality of life for generations to come. The proposed project had several stages. The first stage involved exchanging, researching and analysing issues most appropriate for achieving cultural change among the population of the Alajuela canton in Costa Rica in relation to drinking water sources that supply the population, with climate change as a cross-cutting issue. The second stage was designing the methodology to be used according to the issues defined for the main theme, proposing fun activities that moved away from a lecture format and instead incorporated movement, artistic creation and teamwork. The final stage involved carrying out workshops to train facilitators, such as educators, environmentalists, students and public officials working in water management on the methodology.

Please describe the change that your initiative created and how was it achieved

The direct change brought about by this initiative was the training implemented in the Alajuela canton, which translates into capacity building among trained facilitators. These facilitators now have fun, dynamic and varied tools so that they can carry out environmental education and awareness-raising in their field of expertise, enhanced by materials such as puppets, story books, flashcards and memory games provided to them. To date, 104 facilitators have been trained and certified in the methodology. It is important to emphasise that this project promotes different ways of approaching environmental education, shifting from traditional lecture-based classes in the search for more relevant and enjoyable ways of learning. To receive the certification, workshop participants were asked to deliver an activity to at least 15 people to show they can apply the knowledge, techniques, and materials acquired. This also guarantees knowledge-sharing among more people in the canton. To date 1,706 people from the canton have been educated by the trained facilitators. As this project was developed within the scope of the sister cities relationship between Lahr (Germany) and Alajuela (Costa Rica), during the exchange and conceptualisation stage, different materials and approaches to environmental education from both countries were analysed.

How did your initiative help build resilience to climate change?

According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, social capacity building and protecting natural buffer zones are among other essential requirements for an area to become resilient to the effects of climate change. The proposed project is aligned with these principles. It aims to strengthen the community’s knowledge and appreciation of forests, biodiversity and water, from a basin perspective, taking into account urban development and the cross-cutting issue of climate change. This improvement in awareness must be translated into behaviours that lead people to develop good environmental practices in their home and workplace. At the community level, it should result in support for solid waste management programmes, Blue Flag ecology programmes in educational centres and neighbourhoods, and reporting of water leakages.

What water-related decisions did your initiative influence or improve?

This project improves the knowledge and awareness of people about the sources that supply them with drinking water daily. It explains the relationship that forests and biodiversity have with water, along with the need to protect these against pollution and to develop more sustainable practices that guarantee the health of people and ecosystems. It also includes mitigation and adaptation actions to tackle the potential impacts of climate change. Following this, the project explores the concept of water as a whole, rather than different categories of water (drinking water, wastewater, rainwater), since that results in people feeling more concerned about drinking water than wastewater. By unifying the concept of water, solutions can be examined from the source of the problem, i.e. consumption. Although the methodology is fun, the concepts and topics covered have a scientific and technical grounding, which can be seen in the materials produced. This project provides the municipality of Alajuela and other organisations with an alternative educational tool for training and raising awareness. This is incorporated in plans and projects for integrated water resource management which include, in addition to environmental education, other lines of action such as reforestation, investment in infrastructure and land management.

What were some of the challenges faced and how were they overcome?

One of the challenges of this project was changing participants’ behaviour during training workshops, as most of them were used to being passive recipients of the information shared by the facilitator during training. This project’s methodology is different in that people work collaboratively in teams, playing, drawing, creating and running. Of course, the objective is always to share knowledge, analyse a topic and explore emotions in search of deep behavioural change. By the end of the workshop, most participants had adapted to this way of working, thanks to the encouragement and enthusiasm of the facilitators and other participants who took on a leadership role among their peers. Logistics were another challenge, since the project required a certain amount of space, support and coordination among facilitators given the number of activities carried out, all with varying space, time and material requirements.

In your view: Will the change that was created by your initiative continue?

Facilitators will maintain their newly strengthened capabilities as long as they implement their training. Suitable selection of trained people ensures that the knowledge and tools continue to be used. The current challenge is to continue training and educating people by adapting the methodology to a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to the closure of schools and national parks, the implementation of remote working, and home confinement for both facilitators and potential participants. To improve the project’s results, it was presented to Editorial Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica [National University of Costa Rica Publishing House – EUNA] to be edited and nationally circulated so that more people will know about it and use it.

What did you learn during the initiative or after? And is it possible that others could learn from you?

The participation of facilitators of different ages, with varying interests and of different professions (for example, students, teachers, community water managers, pensioners, environmental consultants, public officials and municipal officials) in the training group enriched discussions, outcomes and analyses thanks to the diversity of their approaches and perspectives. Surprising the participants and teamwork are other elements of this project that should be highlighted. Another element worth highlighting is the impact of the teaching materials participants were given, as these were diverse, visual and had a unique design which motivated participants and made them receptive to the workshops’ methodology and development. As part of the improvement process, one lesson learned was to ensure that the facilitator has adequate control over fun activities to avoid confusion and demotivation among participants. Preparation and prior planning of the workshop is therefore of utmost importance.