Lesson Learned

Gabriela Alonso Yáñez, Research Fellow, Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (ITEC).

On secondment from Centro de Educación Ambiental e Investigación Sierra De Huautla in México, Yáñez worked at ITEC on a project teaching basic ecological and conservation principles to children in 21 schools in the area surrounding Bocas del Toro, Panamá, in the southern region of the Mesoamerica Hotspot.

What was the most important lesson learned?

Working through official channels – nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and government for example – can be slow, but informal networks of committed professionals on the ground can really help move projects along.

Describe how you learned this and whether / how you have adapted your approach or specific project elements as a result.

From the beginning of the project, we worked directly with teachers working in Panamá. We tested the manual and the materials we created, incorporating many extremely helpful comments and suggestions from them. In fact, in some ways, the “success” of the project is down to them.

During the implementation of our project we had three different coordinators at the Ministry of Education due to the frequent changes in governmental offices, so every year we had to have meetings in order to re-explain the objective of our program.

Fortunately, we kept in contact with the teachers who helped a lot during the design of the manual. We learned how important it is to involve people directly related to the project and also to look for people who are personally committed to conservation action.

It’s not easy - there are many elements of managing a conservation project that involve governmental or nonprofit organizations who work independently from each other. These disconnected efforts are often inefficient and very draining.

In contrast, by the end of our project we had established an informal network of conservation partners in schools in different regions in Panamá and also with NGOs. We were able to do workshops and distribute our materials with people that were really interested in conservation education activities. Hopefully, this will assure that this project will have a relatively permanent impact.

Distributing the manual to people who are working directly with groups that need basic education on environmental ethics will help other organizations to promote environmental education as an integral part of their projects.

- February 2006