2011 Eco Leadership Camp

[Arriving in An Long Cun]

The first week of August we took on the Sichuan summer heat to hold the second annual ECO Leadership Camp.   Peace Corps volunteers from the provinces of Gansu (Lindsay), Sichuan (Chris), Chongqing (Elizabeth and Jason), & Guizhou (the two of us) along with about 25 students from all across SW China joined together for four days of environmental education, project planning, and fun.

[Jason, Lindsay, & Gansu Students on a walk around An Long Cun]

We left Sichuan University in Chengdu at 9:00am and drove north toward the Gao family’s farm in An Long Cun just outside the city.  After an hour and a half, our bus stopped at the end of a tree-lined country lane.  The rest of the way, we would have to tackle on foot.  It was only about 1km, but added to the feeling of removing ourselves from comfort and convenience.  We were greeted by some of the most adorable dogs I’ve seen in China thus far, MaoMao the fox-look-alike and KaTe the aging dalmatian.   The girls stayed in the rooms connected to our meeting space, and the boys stayed at an adjacent farm.  All the PCV’s bunked together in what we affectionately called “Grandma’s Feather Bed!”

[PCV bed…it even had an Ethernet cord!]

The An Long Cun area is quickly becoming a model farming community for low-impact, organic farming.  About ten years ago, an environmental group, the Urban Rivers Association in Chengdu, was asked to study the water quality in the river that runs through the region.  They found high levels of chemicals coming from the family farms in the area.  The group decided to try a unique approach to solving this problem.  They met with the farmers challenged them to try organic farming and natural waste-water purification systems.

[Campers playing team-building games]

[Jason explains “The Human Knot”]

As many as 20 farms were part of the original group, but now, despite the local government’s efforts to the contrary, around 10 farms are still participating in the program.  The Gao’s farm is one of the most successful examples of transformation in An Long Cun.  They began their own research about the dangers of pesticides and other chemicals.  They now provide organic vegetables weekly to members of their co-op in the greater Chengdu area and have an educational space to teach the next generation about environmental issues.  This was an inspiring place to hold the Eco Leadership Camp this year.

[“Gao Mama” cooking dinner]

[Gao Jie Jie teaches campers how to make a salad…China needs more of this!]

Each of the five student groups helped prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a rotation. This included chopping vegetables, making salads, and feeding the cooking fires with grass. The Gaos are devout Buddhists and subscribe to a strict vegan diet.  This fact was off-putting for some of our students who see meat as a sign of wealth and status, but make no mistake, the food was amazing. The best dishes we’ve had in China to date.

[One of our tasty vegan dinners]

[Serena keeps the fires going in the kitchen.]

After each meal we washed our dishes using rice husks and rinse baths.  This process was so different and engaging that the campers wouldn’t let me wash my own dishes until the very last day of the camp.  The rice husks naturally absorb the oils from the food, and then the dishes each get rinsed in several rinsing tubs until they are clean and ready for the next meal. There’s never any lack of rice husks around the farm, and about once a week, the used husks are then given to the pigs at a neighboring farm keeping the cycle unbroken.

[Cleaning the dishes with rice husks]

[Rinsing the dishes]

During the course of the week, students participated in a wide range of activities: nature sculptures (ala Andy Goldsworthy), water testing, Frisbee, clearing a field, tasting herbs for tea, cooking, team-building games, and lots of discussion. Feng Rui Xi of the Chengdu chapter of Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots led a discussion about environmental problems that concern SW China and talked specifically about how to effect change.  Using the Peace Corps model of project development, students also developed environmental action plans for their university campuses, dorms, or classrooms.  Ideas ranged from challenging students to use no take-out containers, reducing the use of plastic bags, and cleaning up the riverbank.  We are hoping to have a follow-up gathering next semester to check progress on those projects and offer encouragement for continued efforts.

[Gao Mama teaches Serena how to clear the field]

[Campers test the water]

[Charlie teaches a session on Project Design & Development]

Many of these students grew up unaware of the cycle of food production and waste.  Simply living at the Gao’s farm for four days opened a lot of eyes to some of these very pressing global issues.  I know it challenged me to be more environmentally responsible in my day-to-day life.  We tried to stress the importance of each individual toward making big and small changes.

[One of the Riverside Nature Sculptures produced by the campers]

[Beka & Lindsay make bruschetta with the campers’ help. They grow basil at the farm!]

[Campers, PCV’s, and farmers proudly display their camp Frisbees!]

6 thoughts on “2011 Eco Leadership Camp”

  1. I’m with you, Katie! It was a great week. Wish we could do a few more of them before we go. 2 years goes in a hurry, eh?

  2. Really enjoyed reading your blog and looking at the pictures. The food looked delicious. Everybody looked they were having a good time. 2 hears may not seem long to you, but it surely seems a long time since you’ve been home. We love you. MOM

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