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Kat Cooley's Log

Katharine (Kat) Cooley is a WLC volunteer serving in Chengdu, China with the Earth Charter and ECOLOGIA. Here are excerpts from her monthly report not only about the work she hopes to do with Curriki, but in general.

Recap of month?s events

This month has been full of incredible and very new places and experiences. I flew into Beijing with Ecologia on September 20th, and since then have spent time in both Ningxia and Chengdu. Our four days in Ningxia were spent working with ALCAN, to continue developing their CSR program, specifically, to help them launch a new series of ongoing community based projects in Dabba, the cite of their big aluminum plant. On October 1, I flew with Yang, my new Ecologia colleague who also works for the GreenSOS, a student network in Sichuan, to Chengdu, where we had one week of National Day celebrations, and one and a half weeks of meeting our partners, sharing our prior work related experiences. During this time I have been living with the Wang family just inside the University of Sichuan campus, which has been the perfect transition to life in Chengdu: they feed me (way too much!), help me with directions, and are very nice. Since I am stuck on my American independence however, and feel like I need a better work environment at home, I found an apartment nearby where I will be living for at least the next 3 months. So as not to offend anyone I told them that ECOLOGIA insisted on getting me a place with a meeting space so I can have students over to talk about projects. My new apartment is across the street from one of the city?s rivers, and equidistant from both the Ecologia/GreenSOS space, the Roots and Shoots office, Conservation International, and the Campus, so after I give it a thorough cleaning I will be very excited to move in. Further recap of my activities will be mixed into the following responses to avoid redundancy.

Specific examples of the impact of your service: During the ALCAN workshops I was very surprised by how my experience with the Sunday Night Group at Middlebury had familiarized me with the brainstorm and project planning processes. During the actual workshops my role was largely as an observer, but I was also able to connect with some of the ALCAN participants on the side, creating more substantial relationships that will be important for work with ALCAN in the future and during my trip with Yang in November. During private Ecologia meetings I also tried to reflect upon and share some of my experiences addressing problems, creating action plans, and generating a sense of ownership and enthusiasm for projects in Vermont.

In Chengdu I have spent this month largely working with my new colleagues to lay the foundation for impacts in future months. There are of course some more subtle impacts that I can tease out of these experiences.

The more significant impacts I think have been made with my new co-worker Yang. She is incredibly passionate and experienced in her work with GreenSOS, but will be the first to admit that amidst feeling like she is often the only person fueling the fire in Chengdu, and her recent and quite de-habilitating back problems, she has been feeling increasingly overwhelmed and skeptical at the prospect of her work. I, on the other hand am fresh out of college and blinded by naivety to many of the issues that make her work so difficult. This combination has generated a lot of enlightening conversations, and a working relationship that is both dynamic and supportive on both work and more personal levels. Between the two of us we are also able to host meetings between representatives of 5 different organizations, Yang representing Ecologia, GreenSOS and the Sichuan University Environmental Volunteer Association, and me representing Ecologia, the Earth Charter, and the World Leadership Corps. Needless to say, we?re having a lot of fun that infuses our work and working network with energy.

Lastly, as a new and foreign presence on the scene, my introduction to our various partners has been a great excuse to have meetings and re-open relationships. I have been using these meetings to present the various projects Yang and I are working on, and start finding different possibilities for collaboration. In student meetings, I think fresh input has also served as a catalyst for more action and commitment, and somehow my presence makes recruiting new members easier, since it means practicing English etc. I?m not sure how I feel about this consequence of my being foreign, I?m wary that it is tainting my perception of student motivation and real interest to the projects, but I suppose that will reveal itself with time.

Earth Charter-specific update: From what I can see so far, the Earth Charter does not have much of a presence in Chengdu. While some university students are familiar with the Charter, it is not used routinely in project planning or evaluation. Yang and I are working on a more formal collaboration between Earth Charter and Roots and Shoots that would promote both the use Earth Charter principles in Sichuan Roots and Shoots groups, and the creation of a series of capacity trainings for environmental project and group leaders in early 2007. Apparently in R&S there is doubt as to how the EC can be made into a more pragmatic and practical document. I think the Chinese experience has made people much more hesitant to endorse idealistic visions if there is no clear and achievable action plan on how to attain the goals/vision. Hopefully I can bring examples from Earth Charter in Action to our meeting tomorrow morning, and sell the idea; there will be more to reflect upon afterwards of course.

Yesterday I also visited the Waldorf School in Chengdu with Shen Chen, the youth coordinator from R&S. We had a great time, and proposed starting an R&S group with their elementary school kids that could also introduce the Earth Charter. Earth Charter may also be integrated into a GreenSOS/Waldorf composting project at the school and with local farmers.

ECOLOGIA specific updates My vision for the CSR research in Chengdu has evolved a lot since my arrival. Initially I thought I would be able to draw a lot on connections through the University, but have quickly found that professors here are not as involved or interested in student and NGO work as I am used to. I?m going to keep trying to find an interested professor, and may be on the brink of a useful connection in the economic department.

Otherwise, through the existing GreenSOS and Ecologia network I have found some very exciting prospective businesses to investigate. A fried at Waldorf gave me pamphlets about an organic silk farm in the province and has invited me to join a field trip to a local organic garden on Sunday. R&S is also working on ecotourism/sustainable development project that will encourage families near national parks to host tourists and provide green maps and tours of ecological sites outside of the park. This will hopefully create many small businesses that have a stake in preserving the environment and may prove relevant to the SR picture in China. This morning I also received contact information for the business coordinator at Conservation International, and the Chengdu office expressed interest in the initiative. They have a developed network in the Western Mountain area of China, and have tentatively invited me to come on some of their field visits to poke around in the local business sector while they go into the field. I also have about a dozen more contacts that I am reaching out to, including a lot of NGOs and individuals that have already started working on this issue. Everywhere I go I get positive feedback on the project and lots interest in staying updates and offering resources. I am feeling very optimistic about the project and excited to keep going.

Yang and I also think it is important to include students in the CSR research, but are concerned that if we do not do it the right way, we will slow the process and potentially taint the information we gather. We are in the process of figuring out to what extent, and how we will incorporate broad student activity into the project, and would welcome any perspectives on the issue.

Curriki-specific update: I think curriki could be an integral part of a program that Yang and I are working on to help students make better project proposals. It would basically be a step-by-step guide/workbook for thinking through the project, in the spirit of the Ecologia workbook that we used in Ningxia. The workbook could then be tailored for different audiences (smaller kids, college kids, SR businesses etc, different countries etc.)

Our work with Roots and Shoots to create a series of more formal and professional trainings could all be captured in an open source text of some source, and then accessed by students who want to do more trainings in the future.

I?m also wondering if I could use a curriki platform for the interviews I will be doing with different businesses in the future. Does it count as open source if initially it is just me making all of the adjustments? I plan on carving out some time to investigate "The Success of Open Source" in the near future.

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