The podcast series shares inspiring stories about impactful sustainability initiatives sprouting from higher education cooperation.
Hopeful globe podcast series is a collaboration between projects that have received Global Pilot funding from the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. The podcast series shares inspiring stories about impactful sustainability initiatives sprouting from higher education cooperation. The series is coordinated by Senior researcher Pilvi Posio of the UTU Centre for East Asian Studies.
You are listening to the Hopeful Globe podcast, coordinated by the University of Turku in Finland.
Pilvi Posio: Welcome to the Hopeful Globe podcast, a collaboration between institutes of higher education, sharing inspiring stories across the globe. I'm Pilvi Posio from the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Turku, Finland, and the coordinator of the project Finnish ASEAN Academic Platforms for Sustainable Development, run by the Finnish University Network of Asian Studies. This episode, I have as my guest Dr. Segundo Joaquin Eclar Romero who is one of the collaborators of our project from Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines.
Dr. Romero teaches at the Development Studies Program School of Social Sciences. He is also a co-governor of Future Earth Philippines that is a multisectoral and transdisciplinary endeavor seeking to strengthen the country's sustainability and resilience through science-based solutions and linking the country with regional and global sustainability initiatives.
Welcome Dr. Romero!
Dr. Segundo E. Romero: Thank you, Pilvi. Nice to be here.
Pilvi Posio: Yes. Thank you for joining us. The Philippines is a country that is highly vulnerable to the impact of the climate change, particularly to the sea level rise. With its long coastline and many low-lying areas, the country is home to many submerged island, coastal, and inland communities that are already experiencing the impacts of rising seas.
The Philippines has some 7,641 islands of which 22% are inhabited. Many of these inhabited islands are now being reclaimed by the sea. How could you describe the problem of submerged island communities and the factors that are causing it?
Dr. Segundo E. Romero: Yes. Certainly, there are whole islands in Central Philippines like Batasan, Pangapasan, and Bilangbilangan that are completely submerged in about one meter of seawater all the time. There are also coastal communities adjoining Manila Bay in Bulacan and Pampanga provinces like the town of Bulacan, Calumpit, and Guagua, Lubao, Sasmuan, and Macabebe that are submerged by tidal waters from Manila Bay. And there are inland communities like Malolos that are almost always submerged in flood waters that had not receded.
Submerged islands and coastal communities became more pronounced as a problem since the world became aware of climate change. Many parts of the Philippines in Metro Manila are frequently underwater as a result of the floods that accompany the average number of 20 typhoons that hit the archipelago every year.
This has been the case over decades. These floods subside and people can live with them. However, the Bohol earthquake in Central Philippines in 2013 apparently caused some small offshore islands, Batasan, Pangapasan, as I've mentioned, to be submerged almost by one meter.
Now, it is only recently that while the submergence immediately affects these communities, this was only recently nationally noticed. These communities have been submerged for a decade already without a resolution to their problem.
Now, this situation has called attention to other areas, especially, as I've said, in the province of Bulacan near Manila Bay, where the continuous submergence covers about 10 towns.
This problem of submerged islands and communities has been linked to the increasing awareness of sea level rise, even though in the case of the Philippines, it has been more to the land sinking due to earthquakes, excessive groundwater extraction, loss of mangrove cover, and so on. That's the situation that we find here.
Pilvi Posio: Well, that's an interesting and multifaceted phenomenon you're facing also in the Philippines. It indeed seems that there are many kinds of submerged communities and several factors affecting this now very acute concern locally and globally. But how did you yourself get interested in studying this particular topic?
Dr. Segundo E. Romero: Well, it's an interesting story. I got interested in studying this topic because of the startling finding that the Philippines' ecological footprint measured in global hectares per capita at 1.1 exceeded the country's capacity measured at 0.6 global hectares per capita as of several years ago. And so we have a deficit of 0.5 hectares per capita. Now this situation has gradually worsened and you won't believe that it's been about 1964 when that imbalance began. The Philippines has since been a heavy importer of rice, sugar, and fish. We don't have food sufficiency. Our land is fast becoming converted into residential and other uses to accommodate the 115 million Filipinos.
Now, as a political scientist, I have come to the belief that many causes of poor and responsive and corrupt governance in the Philippines is due in large part to the macro imbalance between our territorial resources and our population. The Philippines is an archipelago that is hopelessly in the path of typhoons, but we have not learned well to manage risks from climate hazards and live sustainably in relation to the sea. Potentially, our maritime domain can make the country more sustainable, but we have not learned to really take care of our marine environment and make it a source of sustainable livelihood. For instance, we have lost our mangroves. We have destroyed our coral reefs. We have suffered damaging oil spills, and government officials are complicit in the continuous extraction of black sand by foreign interests.
Filipinos used to think that the Philippines is rich in natural resources. That's what we were taught in school. But our former first lady once quipped that, oh, the Philippines is a rich country pretending to be poor. Now, actually, I think the situation is that we are realizing that we are a poor country pretending to be rich. We've been profligate in our use of our resources, and until now, logging and mining proliferate. So that's the situation. And we stumbled into this idea of studying these submerged islands as an indicator of the general problem.
Pilvi Posio: Well, that's a harsh topic to study, but nevertheless, despite of this kind of environmental and unfortunate sociopolitical realities, many of these communities that you've been studying, they nevertheless continue living in their submerged environments.
Dr. Segundo E. Romero: Everything is interrelated.
Pilvi Posio: Yes, indeed. They are really systematic and also politically induced. So people, nevertheless, they choose or are forced to still remain in their submerged villages and towns. So how does the sea level rise affect everyday lives of these residents and why they stay in their communities? What do you think?
Dr. Segundo E. Romero: Well, if you look at these communities, they are actually funny to look at. Sometimes they wade in seawater, sometimes as if they are in the beach, they sit waist high and so on. They seem to have adapted to it. Our scientists attribute sea level rise to warming temperatures, which melt the polar ice caps, causing oceans to expand.
Of course, that's what we know. Now this is happening outside the Philippines, but the Philippines is at greater risk than many most countries because of its archipelagic nature. Now in April, climate scientist Dr. Marcelino Villafuerte, and this was sent to me, said the sea level in the Philippine Sea has risen by about 12 centimeters or about 5 inches over the past two decades. According to our government climate scientists, the sea level in the Philippines is rising three times faster than the global average. And the Philippines has a coastline of 36,000 kilometers. Can you imagine that because of our islands, which is one of the longest in the world!
Some 70% of our country's municipalities and cities face the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea and other seas. Now this puts many of our coastal villages at risk. The inundation of low-lying areas may be imperceptible, but it is already happening now. Submergence of islands that we have observed are not even submerged due to sea level rise. The coastal communities are submerged when the tide comes in. They are not constantly underwater. Many communities inland are constantly underwater because of excessive extraction of groundwater, deconstruct dikes, which raise the roadways and this become like dams and they've constructed fishponds and so on.
Also the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 also shifted the water from one river basin to another, which is really another interesting thing. Now many residents in this frequently and constantly submerged communities decided to stay, learning to give up their own livelihood relating to farming. So they conduct their daily business wading in knee-deep water, they use boats. There is so much immobility, inconvenience, and of course attendant problems like lack of water and sanitation facilities. There are not much community activities like sports tournament. Even going to church requires entering the churches in boats and sometimes pictures we get are ridiculous when you see them.
Now, these communities have adapted to their water worlds and have transformed their livelihood from farming to fishing. Others have found specialized lucrative livelihoods like, I don't know whether you'll understand this, breeding fighting cocks, because fighting is one of the favorite gambling forms in the Philippines for which there is tremendous demand. And the water worlds are ideal for this because they are isolated from other communities. The cocks are very noisy.
Now, while not as dramatic as the effect of land subsidence, sea level rise is the greater long-term threat to the Philippines because it interacts with the deterioration of the land in relation to the sea. Sea level rise is a global phenomenon and the Philippines, like many Pacific countries, will be at greater risk.
Pilvi Posio: Wow. It is a really challenging situation to cope with and kind of resonates widely in the Philippines, but it's kind of good to know that there are creative adaptive efforts to adapt this situation by these communities. But I also understood that there are great disparities in income and vulnerability in the Philippines. And I kind of presume that the sea level rise must highlight these as well. So what do you think are the social and political roots and implications of this problem?
Dr. Segundo E. Romero: Yeah. Well, I think overall it has something to do with the endemic poverty of the people. You know, the well-to-do families could always relocate, right? They can always move to another part of the country, but the rest of the people can only adapt to their adverse circumstances. The people cannot relocate their places, especially without assistance from the government. You have to buy land. You have to construct your house. You have to learn to live in another community. And many have title to the land that has been overtaken by the sea, and they have no way of raising money to transfer elsewhere.
Now the attachment to the land is so strong for sentimental reasons also. But you know that many OFWs, of course our overseas Filipino workers, are famous worldwide. They earn a lot of money, especially those from Pampanga. But when they come home, you know what they do? They build exactly big mansions in these submerged communities. How do you explain that? So it's really the attachment to the land.
Now the political problem stems from the lack of government strategy and policy. While there are government programs to relocate settler communities, squatters we call them, from waterways and other dangerous areas, there is no similar program to relocate communities in submerged islands and coastal communities. I should imagine these bigger communities can band together and take advantage of government programs and facilities like a community mortgage program, so they can build their own medium-rise buildings on dry land. But this requires community mobilization efforts, perhaps by concerned NGOs, and that has not yet happened, I think.
Pilvi Posio: Yeah, so it seems that this really is touching upon individual choices and attachment, as you said, but involves also finding a solution through this sort of community engagement. And we've already mentioned also that the sea level rise is a really global phenomenon and touches upon many contexts.
So in addition to this sort of community engagement, for example, what actions are taken or should be taken to solve this issue of sea level rise in the Philippines, and what do you think are the lessons to learn from them on a global scale?
Dr. Segundo E. Romero: Well, the Philippines is not a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. We're too small industrially to do that, so it cannot do much in terms of the mitigation of climate change. But it is an active supporter and an avid participant in international efforts to promote the SDGs and global climate action.
The immediate action of these communities has been to raise the road above the water or raise their residences and buildings and dikes. Without an understanding of the whole problem, however, these tactical actions impede the flow of water and worsen the situation.
There is now greater awareness of the importance of, say, mangroves, and there are many efforts to rebuild them. However, many people are not aware that there is a science to seeing where to plant them and what species will survive. So meanwhile, there are a lot of knee-jerk construction of seawalls and dikes that actually prevent rivers and floodwaters to flow freely to the sea.
There are also a lot of major infrastructure projects in the Metro Manila area, such as extensive reclamation of Manila Bay. So our Manila Bay is becoming smaller because of reclamation. That is required the sourcing of filling materials from nearby provinces like Cavite. A major multi-runway airport is being planned in Bulacan province where there is much flooding. So reclamation action to raise this airport would exacerbate existing problems of submerged communities.
Well, the Philippines, you know, is not the only one. There are other countries that face similar problems, right?
Pilvi Posio: Yes, it seems that, well, everywhere this topic must involve balancing between these immediate actions and long-term policies and also urban planning practices. So it is a complex issue as you've now really vividly described.
But to wrap up these discussions, let's move our focus towards the future. So what do you think are the future prospects of these submerging communities in the Philippines and also globally?
Dr. Segundo E. Romero: Well, let me reflect on your call for what are the lessons to be learned first. I think number one, we need to use foresight and futures thinking to anticipate slow onset as well as immediate adverse conditions. You know, Filipinos, they're very short-sighted and they're not thinking beyond the three-year election cycle. So we could not really have a vision of what we should be. And therefore, there is no coming together to make that vision. So I think a little bit more of foresighting and futures thinking will help.
Also, we need to build a science of culture among the people so they understand the ecological context and consequences of their action. There is a lot of technology in the lives of the people, but there is little science understanding there. We also need to capacitate local governments so they can respond promptly and effectively in helping people help themselves. You know, the problem with our national government is that it hogs most of the money and the local governments, while they are close to the people and can perhaps help more responsibly, are not able to do so.
Also, we need to use more innovation and human-centered design. Future-Earth Philippines is now thinking, why don't we have the water world villages like in Brunei, where the houses are on stilts, even the public spaces are on stilts and people are able to move around and they don't have to wait in water. Why is it that we could not make those things?
We also know that there are floating houses, there are other architectural solutions. So I think there must be more innovation in solving this kind of problem.
Finally, we need to conserve the environment. We need to reverse the deforestation, destruction of mangroves, reduction in farmland, and so on. I think this will come only if we start with the education of our youth, because we don't really have the kind of education that will give them the mentality to conserve the environment eventually.
So the prospects of the submerged communities, I think it's a little grim, they will continue to be submerged, which is why we are in Future-Earth Philippines and the National Academy of Science and Technology. We're trying to prototype a solution, the water world villages that I was telling about. And we have engineers with us, we have marine scientists, we have mangrove scientists. So we're trying to make a solution, but we are going to focus on specific communities so the results will be tangible.
We're working with the towns of the province of Pampanga, where you have these submerged villages. And who knows, we will be able to come up with a model village, and hopefully that will inspire our national government to see, aha, there is a solution after all, and that they will put money into the larger mainstreaming effort. So that hopefully is going to happen to us.
Pilvi Posio: Well, that's wonderful to hear that you've been conducting this sort of activities to innovate and also to actively work on this issue. That is indeed a complex issue to solve. And this discussion has given a really kind of wide perspective on it. And I hope all the best for your activities at the Future-Earth Philippines.
And now I would like to thank you very much, Dr. Romero, for these insights that enlightened this topic that is really a global and local concern for many people.
So thank you for joining us.
Dr. Segundo E. Romero: Yeah, my pleasure. I like talking about this submerged problem. Thank you.
Pilvi Posio: Yes, and our listeners can learn also more about this issue from your texts that you've been writing and are introduced in this introductory text of this particular episode. So I invite everybody to familiarize themselves into this topic.
And for our listeners, thank you for joining the Hopeful Globe Podcast, showcasing inspiring initiatives by institutes of higher education across the globe.
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You are listening to the Hopeful Globe podcast coordinated by the University of Turku in Finland.
Anahita Rashidfarokhi: Welcome to the Hopeful Globe podcast, a collaboration between institutes of higher education, sharing inspiring stories across the globe. My name is Anahita Rashidfarokhi, I am a Postdoc researcher at Aalto University, and today I am joined by my colleague Professor Saija Hollmén. Professor Saija Hollmén is a professor of practice in Humanitarian Arquitecture at Aalto University Department of Arquitecture, and she is a director of a newly developed professional WiT diploma program that she will explain later. The program is funded by Educase, Educase platform, which is a pilot initiated to engage faculty, academy, students and staff in interdisciplinary efforts to build a lasting partnership for science, innovation, entrepreneurship and educational impact related to global challenges. Science research interest focus on arquitecture as a social cultural construction, as well as interdisciplinary university pedagogy. Since 2009 she has been teaching courses related to building design and global development within and outside of Aalto University. She is a co-founder of WitLAB with Matleena Muhonen and also she is a founding member of Ukumbi NGO. Their work aims at empowering disadvantaged communities. Welcome Saja.
Saija Hollmén: Thank you! Thank you for the introduction, and for having me here. And also thank you to Educase and, Global Netflag, and Turku University for organizing the podcast series.
Anahita Rashidfarokhi: So Saija, you are de Director of the new Aalto WiT program, which is 5-month transdisciplinary professional diploma program under WiT, or World in Transition, research LAB. Tell us more about the program and what inspired you to developing this initiative.
Saija Hollmén: Well, WiT is a post-Master professional diploma program which focuses on the resilience of human settlements in the Global Majority context. It is actually a continuation of a long-term education of Aalto University, and actually Finnish development cooperation as well. The roots go very far. This program is organized with partnership with international organizations and local communities, and combines scientific methodologies with work life experiences through, real life cases of humanitarian architecture, and sustainable development.
Anahita Rashidfarokhi: So, what inspired you to develop this initiative?
Saija Hollmén: Well through my own work in architectural design with vulnerable communities throughout the years, I have come to notice that, you cannot only operate only through architecture, you need other disciplines, when you are trying to create conditions for vulnerable communities, for the betterment of their living environments, and create ownership for the communities and the participants themselves, so they are able to become agents in their own lives. So we need architects, engineers, social scientists and we need, intelligent business management for the work that really expands to many, many disciplines. That´s one of the most driving principles and premises for creating this program. And in a university context we have very carefully for years tried to create the kind of environment and frameworks that can allow us to do something like this. And this program, although it is a new initiative, is based on long collaboration and line of thinking and also education at MA level studies that we have been undertaking for three decades at least.
Anahita Rashidfarokhi: Saija you highlighted that the main theme of the program is shaped around this theme of humanitarian architecture. Can you tell us what humanitarian architecture means?
Saija Hollmén: Humanitarian architecture engages in designing and planning of human settlements in vulnerable conditions, from short-term emergency situations to long-term poverty alleviation. It aims at the betterment of living conditions of vulnerable communities and it can basically be described more a process than put outs, because it really aims at engaging people in becoming agents of their own lives. And it can also refer to cultural appropriate and locally adapted architectural design solutions in low-resource sectors.
Anahita Rashidfarokhi: What you believe are the current knowledge capacity gaps in the field of humanitarian architecture?
Saija Hollmén: I think the biggest capacity gap resides within the approach of architects themselves, in the role of architects. I think we suffer a little bit from a designer syndrome in which we see the ownership of the design as something very important. whereas in humanitarian architecture one has to adopt an attitude in which the ownership is not that essential. What is essential is that the community itself can build a sense of belonging in the environments that we design in collaboration with them. That we become agents and facilitators in the betterment of the living conditions of the most vulnerable. This is certainly a legacy of colonialism that still is reflected in the attitudes, we really should learn to appreciate the local, more than we do now at times. And in terms of academia, there is still a great distance between practice and research. This is what the program is actually trying to breach.
Anahita Rashidfarokhi: You mentioned that the WiT is planning to breach those gaps that you mentioned in the field, so tell us how are those shortages and gaps addressed with the help of the WiT program. What would a participant of the program achieve after finishing the diploma, and what capacities would be gained?
Saija Hollmén: I think that the biggest thing here is that, we live in a world where universities still tend to be rather far from practice, so… the driving principle of the program is that we are creating collaborations between grass root organizations that work on the field, in the humanitarian field I mean, and then then, research infrastructure and education in universities. So the program brings these together by providing opportunities for networking, for both academia and organizations, by providing a research infrastructure, and then an opportunity to engage with grass root field work for the participants. And thus gaining capacities to really prepare themselves for challenging situations on the ground, and on the other hand for organizations to create networks and connections and tailor-made contents that would be relevant for their own organizations.
Anahita Rashidfarokhi: Saija you mentioned about the organizations who provide grass root case studies in Global Majority context. Tell us a bit more about the partnering organizations and their role in the WiT program.
Saija Hollmén: Partners are the key component for the WiT program, because they are providing the substance and the content for the lifelong and lifewide learning experience for participants. At the moment we have confirmed cases in Brazil, Jordan, Rwanda, Ghana and Tanzania. Up to date we have agreements with UN Habitat, which will provide a refugee camp context in Jordan, UNHCR are providing a refugee camp case in Brazil, Finn Church Aid which is Finland´s largest international aid organization, they are participating with an educational-related project in Kenya and possibly in Uganda, RLabs Tanzania” is a collaborator in Tanzania working with carbon footprint management in constructions, BRRI, the Building and Road Research Institute in Ghana, who is looking at local construction materials. And, our university partners, which are Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana and then also University of Rwanda.
Anahita Rashidfarokhi: Saija, your explanation about the partners and their role in this program was very inspiring. So can you also tell us about the content and structure of the program?
Saija Hollmén: Yes, we have designed the program to be a 5-month intensive, so the people who already work in the professional field can find that opportunity easier rather than taking 2 years away from an additional Master’s program. So it is a 5-month diploma program that allows people to really get involved in tailor made education for the specific grass root cases, and also of course for the organizations, to get motivated people to work on these specific projects.
The program starts in early January with a two-month intensive, what we call, Otaniemi Camp. Otaniemi is where Aalto University campus is located in Espoo, in Finland. And then March is dedicated for fieldwork, and then in April and May there is what we called an incubation period where the projects are being developed and final projects are then presented in the end of May. The Otaniemi Camp in more detail includes, well of course, a kick-off session when we concentrate in an introduction and team building, partnering up organizations and present their work and their cases as well. The general contents include discussions of humanitarian architecture, on decolonization, on how to decolonize sustainability to be more specific, on system and resilience thinking, future studies and coaching. We have a coaching component here that we can support our partners throughout the whole 5 month in their own personal career building.
Then, according to the organizations needs we are building case-specific contents that are related to cultural heritage and humanitarian response, on sustainable-built environment and materials, on coaching as well, also on the training of trainers, in that pedagogy aspects that I referred to earlier. Then, before we go into do the fieldwork, we have all participants design a project plan, which includes a theoretical framework for their projects, a research design and a fieldwork plan. And also not to forget the ethical components that very carefully need to consider on the fieldwork, and that is also part of the academic research.
And then for the rest of the 5-month period we will continue to support the participants in collaboration with the organizations who are working more closely with the field. The final seminar in the end of May brings all the part participants back together, and in the end you get a diploma and hopefully maintain collaboration with the organizations you worked on your case, after all.
Anahita Rashidfarokhi: Saija, please tell us more about the career prospects of a participant in the WiT program.
Saija Hollmén: We think we would be able to equip participants with strategic and practical knowledge and skills that are essential in working in the fields of humanitarian architecture, emergency response and sustainable development. The program develops capacities that are increasingly demanded and valued by a variety international organizations, private sector, NGOs and academic institutions that are active in the field. Some competences I could mention that you could gain, and work opportunities that you would also be able to acquire. Say in international organizations, probably about program planning, coordination, monitoring and evaluation. NGOs in the humanitarian field, would be project design and management, community capacity building. In the public sector I would assume, planning, resilience and disaster management planning. In the private sector it could be consulting and entrepreneurship, academic institutions. The program also opens up possibility for research and teaching as well. We have a component of training of trainers, of mentoring that also academic participants are very welcome to join us for in order to provide that teaching skills and mentoring skills that are required for repeating the framework and building on top of that in their own institutions as well.
Anahita Rashidfarokhi: Thank you Saija for providing an overview about the program. Now let´s move to the more practical questions. So tell us who can apply to the program, and when is the application period?
Saija Hollmén: Well, WiT program belongs to Aalto´s University new lifewide learning strategy and it is part of the offerings for that framework. Anyone with a MA degree or a BA degree and three years of working experience in the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, design, engineering, business, social scientists or any other related field actually, can apply. The application period starts mid-August and lasts until the end of September and the program itself starts in January. More information about the application process can be found or our website.
Anahita Rashidfarokhi: As a final question, tell our audience why anyone passionate about creating a better future should apply to the WiT program, and why this program serves as the education for the future.
Saija Hollmén: I think the future is really requiring that we look at the big picture, and that we really try to bridge academic research and universities with the needs in the practice in the societies. WiT program is providing an opportunity for organizations that work on the field on grass root level, and also individual professional, for networking, for identifying mutual interest and building long lasting relations. The organizations who work on those areas of humanitarian field, they may find it difficult for find resources and means for updating their methodologies, and widening their networks, and then on the other hand, individual professionals that possess valuable capacities already, may find it difficult to enter the field, and find the opportunities to investigate their own potential into the field.
WiT program is an opportunity to test ones boundaries and get involved with grass root case work in the humanitarian field while learning research skills and critical systems thinking. It is a platform also where individuals and organizations can find their match, while creating wider networks. It allows for research methodologies to become more widely use in grass root casework, for better informed decision making and wider understanding of local challenges. It is also a framework that helps individual professionals to benefit from academic research environments. And really an opportunity to get involved with grass root projects in the humanitarian field. And it´s an entry point for stakeholders, from both practice and academia to create connections and new knowledge on issues that are specifically related to the collaboration of organizations and also interest of the disadvantaged. So I think it has a potential to create a new standard on a baseline for collaboration between practice and academia.
Anahita Rashidfarokhi: Professor Saija Hollmén, thank you so much for joining the Hopeful Globe podcast, showcasing inspiring initiatives by institutes of higher education across the globe, with me, Anahita Rashidfarokhi.
Saija Hollmén: Thank you very much!
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Pilvi Posio: Welcome to the Hopeful Globe podcast, a collaboration between institutes of higher education, sharing inspiring stories across the globe. I'm Pilvi Posio from the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Turku, Finland, and the coordinator of the project Finnish ASEAN Academic Platform for Sustainable Development, run by the Finnish University Network for Asian Studies.
In this episode, I have as my guest, Dr. Emmanuel Delocado, who is one of our project's collaborators from the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. We'll be discussing biodiversity conservation and education, which are the themes on which Emmanuel has developed extensive expertise through his work. Emmanuel currently works as an assistant professor at the Department of Biology of the Ateneo de Manila University and as the laboratory head of the Ateneo Biodiversity Research Laboratory.
He's also active in the field of sustainability education as the program manager for sustainable development goals of the Ateneo Institute of Sustainability, and he is the executive director of ASEAN University Network on Ecological Education and Culture.
He also serves as the country manager of Sustainable Development Solutions Network Philippines. This network mobilizes scientific and technological expertise with the aid of the country's academic and research institutions to promote practical solutions for sustainable development.
Emmanuel Delocado: Hi Pilvi, thanks for having me here. How are you doing?
Pilvi Posio: Yeah, fine, thank you, and thanks for joining this Hopeful Globe episode.
Well, your research interests include freshwater biodiversity, molecular systematics, and education for sustainable development. And you've headed numerous related research projects, including the Integrative Philippine Freshwater Invertebrate Taxonomy and Ecology Project, the goals of which is to discover new species of the highly neglected yet highly diverse aquatic insects. But how did you get interested in this topic of biodiversity conservation in the first place and what makes it important?
Emmanuel Delocado: Great question. So I'm from the city of Manila, a very bustling city with dwindling green spaces. My interest in biodiversity and by extension, environment and sustainability started not with encounters, but with people.
It did not start with exposure to the great outdoors, but on several occasions, I met people who feel strongly about biodiversity. They're really passionate about it. That caught my attention. I thought to myself, it must be something of great importance that they share the great passion and even, you know, going to tears when they talk about biodiversity, especially conserving places that we rarely visit. There must be value in it that compelled them to choose this. And that proved me to read more, immerse myself more in the field. Essentially, as a young kid, you wanted to do something and maybe see that there are multiple routes. And I learned that there are many ways to go to conservation. You can be on the ground at the heart of the forest. You can be engaging local communities, the people, the indigenous peoples. You can be doing policies, lawmaking, and apparently you can be in the academe doing research and teaching.
I see that biodiversity has value, but is not valued. So perhaps I could position myself as a contributor to conservation by yes, doing research, but also exposing young minds, what they can do to make this world a better place. So here I am now, I have tried this in various capacities from informal like-minded groups to starting Facebook groups, to moderating student organizations, and now to formal teaching. And through all this, I made deliberate attempt to expose the students to biodiversity, both hearing passionate individuals talk about biodiversity, which is how I started, and to actually exposing them to the diversity outside and even within a vicinity.
Biodiversity is actually very important because biodiversity provides for us. We use the term ecosystem goods and services to refer to the benefits human populations derive from biodiversity, from habitat, biological properties, processes of ecosystems. And this concept gained popularity when the United Nations published a four-year study by more than a thousand scientists entitled the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Biodiversity really provides for us food, medicine, biological control, industrial materials, recreational harvesting, and ecotourism. There are also indirect values such as the role in water cycle, nutrient cycle, photosynthesis, pollination, among others.
But beyond use actually, biodiversity has an intrinsic value. I truly believe that it does not need to be beneficial to us humans for it to have a value. Many organisms play a silent role, but a very integral one to their ecosystems without us knowing. In all this, I see that biodiversity is actually us, and we are a part of biodiversity. When we speak of biodiversity, people think you have to go to the countryside, to the mountains, forests, rivers, oceans to see and explore biodiversity. But we as humans do not only shape biodiversity, but we ourselves are part of biodiversity. And I believe that getting into biodiversity should not be alien to us, as we are it, and biodiversity is us.
Pilvi Posio: Well, that's a wonderful approach to a notion of biodiversity. And as you said, it's often kind of associated with the wild nature beyond, for example, the urban areas. And I was really impressed about kind of how you realize your personal motivation in your work, in which you are currently working on these topics at the Ateneo Biodiversity Research Laboratory.
So in practice, could you share us a bit, what kind of work does this laboratory do?
Emmanuel Delocado: Okay, so my laboratory, the Ateneo Biodiversity Research Laboratory, envisions itself as a leading research group in freshwater macroinvertebrate diversity in Southeast Asia. And the term seems loaded, freshwater macroinvertebrate diversity. So let's break it down. Freshwater, we work with rivers, streams, waterfalls, and macroinvertebrates. So invertebrates, but visible enough to the naked eye. They're not microscopic, but they're not also the really big ones. They're not megafauna. So essentially, our work focuses on aquatic insects.
So what do we do with insects in the lab? The first part is we describe new species. Apparently, in a study in the Philippines, it's projected that we discovered only one third of aquatic beetles. And thus, we have several hundred left to discover in the Philippines and thousands in Southeast Asia. In the last few years, even in the pandemic, our lab discovered at least 100 new species of insects. Some have been accepted already as valid in science, and others are in the process of publication. We don't usually talk about insects in the public sphere. They're often ignored in discussion. But some of our discoveries have generated some social media mileage. For example, we have the father jet beetle named after our university president who's part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. We have the Angat Buhay beetle from Northern Luzon Island in the Philippines named after the poverty alleviation campaign of our former vice president. And then we have a beetle named after Leonardo DiCaprio which was discovered in an expedition in Borneo by our former lab head. It's funny because Leonardo actually changed his Facebook profile picture to the beetle for like a day.
Pilvi Posio: [laugs] That's great!
Emmanuel Delocado: Yeah, yeah… so that's part of what we do, insect discovery of a new species. But aside from that, we identify the conditions, what we call the physicochemical parameters, and where they survive. So like the pH, salinity, temperature, and up until recently, light. So these different factors which help them survive, yes, knowing what they are is important.
But we have to know what are the conditions in which they can survive because without such information, we cannot proceed in identifying how to properly conserve them. We have heard of conservation groups on crocodiles, eagles, pangolins, but for insects, really, not much. So we hope to be the boots on the ground on insects because proper and sound conservation efforts can only be elucidated if we know what exists. There's no one size fits all for biodiversity.
Pilvi Posio: That's really interesting practical work to do on your ambition to promote the biodiversity in the region. But let us now move from the context of your laboratory to the general context of the Philippines and the Southeast Asian region.
As a good part of Southeast Asia where your work is centered, it's said to be a biodiversity hotspot. Can you tell us about the biodiversity hotspots? Is that a good thing or should we be somehow concerned?
Emmanuel Delocado: Okay, yeah. Thanks for bringing that up. A good part of Southeast Asia is said to be a biodiversity hotspot. There are 20 territories which were identified as hotspots in 2000 and these include the Philippines, Kuala Seya in Indonesia, Sundaland, which spans from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and South Central China, which practically is the continental Southeast Asia. So majority, if not entirety of Southeast Asia is a biodiversity hotspot.
Is that a good thing? When we hear of biodiversity hotspot, people usually assume it has high diversity, so they're amazed by it. Well, that's true actually, no? Hotspots hold a vast majority of diversity, especially plants. However, the term biodiversity hotspot is a two-pronged idea as it does not only mean high diversity but also high level of threats. These areas may have high level of biodiversity, yet this diversity is dwindling in rapid rates due to high level of human-induced threats. This is why insect discovery is a very pressing matter to us because many of them would go extinct before we actually discover them. That's why we have to ramp up our initiatives. We use an approach called integrative taxonomy so that hopefully we can speed up our inventory, speed up or accelerate the discovery of species so that we can also accelerate conservation efforts.
Do you know that in the recent Sustainable Development Report published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, it was revealed that we are not progressing as much in SDG 14 life below water and SDG 15 life on land? And of course, you can relate that to SDG 6 and 13. We're not really progressing globally, but much more so in the region. So our progress on climate and biodiversity goals are too slow, especially in developing countries in which majority of the Southeast Asia is classified. So we hope that through the initiatives, this can be changed throughout the region and we can switch the classification of a hotspot.
I guess related to that, it's very cultural in Southeast Asia that many of the cultural civilizations, indigenous groups, and even in a more rural setting depend on the environment, especially rivers. We know that the origin of civilization of life on earth started on river valley systems. For the longest time, the approach to conservation worldwide is protecting the sites. That's why we have protected areas like forests and even marine protected areas. This is a very valid approach, but especially in population-heavy, population-dense cities in Southeast Asia, where it is human-dominated, we have to consider that biodiversity is actually a source of life and living for people. So we have to enhance our diversity in human-dominated environment, yet not prevent humans from actually engaging and using, utilizing biodiversity. While it is not completely unique to Southeast Asia, that scenario of reconciliation ecology is actually very pressing in Southeast Asia.
Pilvi Posio: Well, that's really interesting. You mentioned the human impact affecting this biodiversity hotspots, but what do you think are the main challenges in biodiversity conservation in Southeast Asia?
Emmanuel Delocado: Scientists usually classify the five major drivers of biodiversity loss, and these are the main challenges globally, but much more so in Southeast Asia. These five drivers of biodiversity loss and challenges to conservation are pollution, overexploitation, climate change, habitat loss, and invasive alien species. But personally, I feel that a lot of it has to do with thinking and valuing of biodiversity. Our view on the threats are myopic,
like we see pollution as, you know, there's garbage there, there's contamination there, and like, that's it.
But we have to consider why are people resorting to the usage of these, let's just say, environmentally harmful products. For example, it's quite common in the Philippines and some other Southeast Asian countries, the use of what we call sachets. I guess in comparison, you might have the big shampoo bottles, which you can buy from the grocery supermarket. But here, these are served in smaller servings, like, you know, good for a day or two, because that's what people can afford. Unfortunately, there's a major cause of pollution, of microplastic pollution in water bodies. So there's a myopic view on the threats. We do not think of it in the context of systems. I think people want to change, but we have to start with their mindset. Like there's valuing of construction of roads, like endless, countless number of roads and development projects. But we have to consider also the impact of these projects to our biodiversity. There's a question also of valuing biodiversity.
Like many governments actually implement rules that would prevent or limit what biodiversity researchers can do. And they are primarily applying it to the commercial businesses who might abuse biodiversity. However, of course, there are unintended consequences of doing this because the research being done is also being limited. So yes, while there are known threats to diversity, I think that a lot of it has to do with change in thinking and how we value biodiversity. Because biodiversity has value, but it's not really valued as much.
Pilvi Posio: Yes, and indeed, this kind of connects closely with your interest and work on sustainability education. And it seems that many of your responsibilities concern the activities aiming to develop a generation of Southeast Asians who have a mindset and competencies for the conservation of the environment. So what role do the students or the youth play in the conservation? And how have you found them to respond to these challenges?
Emmanuel Delocado: Well, essentially, we need more boots on the ground. We need the youth to be the boots on the ground. We can unravel the often neglected, yet highly valuable diversity that we have. Students seem to be always been intrigued by the idea. And I actually applaud them. We know that biodiversity has value, and they agree with me on that. So how come we haven't considered this as a career, as an advocacy?
I guess a good part of it also is cultural. We grew up in a society where we're told that we can be doctor, lawyer, businessman, engineer, teacher, professionals, but not really scientists, not really conservation biologists. So I hope we can engage the youth, especially through our work in the ASEAN University Network on Ecological Education and Culture.
We can talk about the different volunteer opportunities and research projects that students can take part in, like all day, there's a lot of them. But I think that the role of AU and EEC is improving the mindset and competencies of the youth to be inclined to the environment, which it's not just the concrete opportunities they can sign up for, but actually that change in mindset. Because I really believe we cannot solve our problems with the same mentality, with the same thinking that we used to create them. So we hope that the youth can play a pivotal role by joining us in this.
I heard this line somewhere that sometimes what matters is not much the size of the tribe in the fight, but what matters more is the size of the fight in the tribe. I mean, it's a nice quote, but you know, we actually need more people also to bridge the gap. So we hope that the youth can join us.
Pilvi Posio: Yeah, so it seems like awareness building and engagement are really central in promotion of this conservation and education to actually move forward towards this sort of more sustainable and biodiversity-friendly future.
So to wrap up our discussion, let's move our focus to the future. So if you think about it, how should we then move forward in mainstreaming biodiversity, education and conservation, in your opinion?
Emmanuel Delocado: So moving forward, in order for us to mainstream biodiversity, education and conservation, I believe that there are five C's to consider. We need champions, communities, collaborations, competence and communication. But personally, I guess I would highlight competence and communication. I believe we need to capitalize on our own strengths in this road to conservation. Like we don't need everyone to be a biologist or environmental scientist because we actually need mobile app developers, artists, policymakers, photographers who have the competence and the passion, of course, to further conservation. So we need some holistic thinking, focusing on the idea that everything is interconnected and we can use our own passions and interests to further conservation. For the longest time, biodiversity is tackled in a rather myopic view.
So, you know, it's time for us to pull these competencies together to further conservation.
And the other one is, you know, communicate. Like we need to be creative in the use of language that engages people and that localizes the knowledge. Because by then, even with a lot of publications and conference presentations already, I think we need to understand the language of people and the local or indigenous knowledge on biodiversity so that we keep on engaging them. So there are exposure activities for students, there's citizen science for the general public, there are calls for open data science. So all of these are valuable so that we continue to localize and engage the people. But at the end of it all, no effort is small when it comes to conservation. Our actions, our individual actions, contribute to the big story, which is the story of life on Earth.
So we continue to plant the seeds that one day will grow and hopefully others do get inspired by this.
Pilvi Posio: Well, that's wonderful to hear. And indeed, this is a joint effort with small and big steps forward and sometimes backward. But I think this talk has really given kind of inspiration to actually build our awareness and knowledge on biodiversity, both conservation and the importance of education.
So thank you very much, Emmanuel, for sharing your insight and expertise about your work and motivation also. And biodiversity is indeed a very interesting and topical issues, and I'm very happy to hear about these activities that are promoting it.
And I hope all the best for your ongoing and future projects. So once again, thank you.
Emmanuel Delocado: Thank you for having me here.
Pilvi Posio: Yes. And for our listeners, thank you for joining the Hopeful Globe Podcast, showcasing inspiring initiatives by institutes of higher education across the globe.
You have been listening to the Hopeful Globe Podcast.
You are listening to the Hopeful Globe podcast, coordinated by the University of Turku in Finland.
Luna Erica: Welcome to the Hopeful Globe podcast, a collaboration between institutes of higher education sharing inspiring stories across the globe. My name is Luna Erica and I'm a research assistant at the Global Innovation Network for Teaching and Learning, or GINTL, and today I'm joined by Jun Peng, who is a doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Educational Sciences of the University of Helsinki.
She is also one of the co-authors of the recently published paper, “Dealing with Moments of Crisis Interculturally in Educational Virtual Exchanges”, a Sino-Finnish case study, which investigates reactions to and strategies to deal with moments of crisis in intercultural communication.
On top of that, together with Professor Fred Dervin, Jun has been leading the GINTL-funded global network pilot that is central to this podcast episode, and which explores understandings of interculturality.
Jun Peng: Thank you for your introduction, and I'm happy to be here to share our project. And also thanks to GINTL to give us support.
Luna Erica: Yeah, thank you for joining. The project you're working on is titled Practicing Interculturality “otherwise”. So how is your project doing it otherwise? So what's the new angle to the project?
Jun Peng: Okay, I think, like, you know, our project was based on our formal online exchange project, which is also funded by GINTL, between China and Finland.
And of course, my supervisor, Fred Dervin, he has done many of these kind of projects and research. So we noticed, like, when people teach about interculturality, they will promote one perspective, which usually is a Western perspective.
But through his work, through my own work, we feel like this way is actually very counterproductive. Just to have only one way of thinking about interculturality, and you know, actually interculturality is among different peoples, different views of the world.
So I think our project provides opportunities for researchers and students to share their understandings of interculturality.
And also this project is research-based, international cooperation. So based on our activities with researchers, students, we hope that we can get some scientific findings based on the projects.
And another thing for our project, I think it's kind of unique because it's a long-term virtual exchange, like students from China, Finland, and Morocco, they spent four months together with the students, with us, the researchers, the scholars.
Luna Erica: What made you decide to pick students from Finland and China, Morocco specifically?
Jun Peng: Actually, I think it's quite interesting, like, for example, from our formal project based on China and Finland, because I'm a Chinese, I have a lot of resources in China, and also taught at other universities, and also my research base is in Finland also.
And then this GINTL promotes the cooperation between Finland, China, India, and other African countries. So based on the formal one, we wanted to expand, so we invited colleagues in the university in Morocco.
So we include Asia, Europe, and Africa.
Luna Erica: Yeah, I think it's great. Like this whole range of different continents, even, you know, it really shows a different approach to other projects on interculturality, especially with such a, you know, like, only three countries, but very different countries. So yeah, I think it's a very interesting angle.
Jun Peng: And we experienced the COVID time and the pandemic, but things like online, it's very important to rethink about the ways of doing interculturality.
Luna Erica: Yeah, it's a great way to connect with different people from different places in a very effective way. So how would you define interculturality in this project?
Jun Peng: Okay, so I think maybe the question of definition is not the right definition for interculturality, because interculturality, according to Durvin's research, is a process among different elements, not only people, and especially for the interactions with people, which means everyone needs to negotiate again and again. So proposing a definition of interculturality actually is killing off interculturality and imposing a limited way of thinking about it.
Also Durvin shared in our online open event, he said every definition of interculturality both limits and opens up discussions of interculturality. So like our project, we gave the floor to our researchers, to our scholars, we gave the floor to our students to listen to different opinions of interculturality and to see how the students, they understand the concept of interculturality based on their experiences, based on their discussions among other people. For me, with my research going on, I also believe interculturality is more like a philosophy for me.
So I don't want to limit interaction only with person, because for me, like I studied in Finland, now I live in Paris, I go to museum often.
For me, this is also a way of doing intercultural communication.
It's time to think beyond that the intercultural communication is only among people from different backgrounds. That's how I think about interculturality.
Luna Erica: So even within culture, like culture as in the term that we're not supposed to use, but like within one country, for example, there are different cultures, right? But I was talking a few weeks ago at your, for the listeners, there was an introduction event a few weeks ago to this research where I attended and I talked to some of the students who were involved in the project.
And it was so fun to hear about their experiences, because they were really enthusiastic, first of all, they also learned about these, you know, like, so that interculturality exists within countries, within communities even, and that it's very easy to engage with interculturality.
But it's hard to define it exactly.
Jun Peng: I think we allow for interculturality, not allow, like, we listen to others, their understanding of interculturality, because how we understand a concept based on our knowledge, our experience, and how we understand one concept will change based on our later experience or something. So that's what I'm thinking of, definitions.
Luna Erica: Yeah, absolutely. But the process…so how would you, because you mentioned that interculturality is a process, how would you recommend listeners of this podcast, for example, to start engaging with interculturality if they're not sure how that process would start?
Jun Peng: I think, like, try to focus on the interactions. For example, even if I am alone visiting a museum, I saw the paintings and I have my understanding of the paintings, because the paintings come from some foreign painter or come from a long time ago, but I have my own understanding. For me, this is my inner process. But for the people I meet, so I think first, I don't want to put my judgment, I want to see, like, for example, when I see you, I don't want to think that, oh, you're Finnish, you have some kind of Finnish characteristic.
No, I don't think like this. I just want to feel how we're going together. And of course, this is also like intercultural, when teaching and learning. So for me, when I'm with my students, we inspire each other. You can get something different from each other.
Luna Erica: Yeah, absolutely. And I'll let you in on a little secret, I'm from the Netherlands, I'm not Finnish. So that's even, like, even in…
Jun Peng: Okay! [laughs softly]
Luna Erica: …yeah, and that's not a problem, you didn't know that, but it's like, it makes it even more interesting that we can have a discussion about interculturality without even knowing each other's background. So that's a really valuable, actually, finding.
Jun Peng: Like, I don't need to know your country, but I just want to know you.
Luna Erica: Exactly. Yeah, wonderful. So, about the project, we've talked about this a bit before, what is your favorite part of the project, or your favorite inspiring story, if you have one to tell?
Jun Peng: I think, as a researcher, the process, I contact students, and I got students' summaries, reflections, feedback. And I have to say, I was very inspired and very, very happy to see that the students, they feel something during the project. For me, it's really pleased to know that our project not only helps students better understand the concept of interculturality, as we are talking about, but also makes them more reflexive on the encounters in their daily life.
So, for example, the students wrote in their reflection, so before she was, I held the assumption that interculturality is the thing that is presented as us, other, issue by the government to tackle. So it's like a very micro level. However, after joining the project and discussing with other students, she thought, I have gotten a much larger and complex picture, and think about interculturality in my daily life more often.
So, that's the moment, every time I feel, oh, the students, I don't want to say they learn something, I would like to say they reflect something for themselves during the project.
Luna Erica: Yeah, they took something away from it, for everyday life, which is incredible. So I was wondering, while you were telling this story, how did you recruit the students for this project? Were they already engaged in interculturality somehow, or how did you find them?
Jun Peng: So actually, because we have our partners, first we need to design our project to let the students know how the project goes on, and then our partners in the partnering units, they recruit someone who are very interested in this topic.
Luna Erica: So they had an existing interest, which helps a lot, they need to be open to thinking about it. It's interesting, by the way, in this project, that you are actually doing interculturality, to put it that way, or you're engaging with interculturality while talking about it, which is super interesting.
Jun Peng: You are right. For example, I think, you know, to start a meeting in different countries, which means they need to deal with time differences, communicate with each other, like by email, or what kind of things, because people live in very different places. So, of course, it's not very easy at the beginning, because it's a process to negotiate, to find a solution.
For example, in each group, they have five, six students. So it's also like to find the perfect time for each one's individual schedule. Also like they are talking about interculturality, they are doing interculturality at the same time.
Luna Erica: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So what do you think the main lessons were for the students? You know, considering these kind of technical things that they had to deal with. So not only in terms of the project and interculturality itself, but I'm guessing this added something to it, you know, like the fact that they are interculturally engaging with each other.
Jun Peng: The first thing is to know that it's not easy. And every time when something happens, I tell myself, this is a lesson for me to know how to do intercultural communication with others. That's my prior knowledge about intercultural encounters. Like we said, it's a process to learn.
And for the main lessons, I would like to quote some students' reflections on the project. For example, one student wrote in the reflection, at first, we thought that interculturality can only be referred to when different cultures or subcultures are involved. However, by the end of the project, we realized that all encounters involve interculturality. We realized that interculturality is a journey of self-discovery and acceptance, which means the students, they change their mind doing interculturality and also feel like it's a journey of self-discovery. That is so true.
Luna Erica: Yeah, absolutely. And when I was talking to the students, again, a few weeks before this recording, they had the same setup, kind of, of how they talked about the project.
So they said, before this project, I thought of interculturality of so-and-so, you know, and I found it so funny because I could already tell that it had changed so much. And then they started naming this whole list of how much they learned.
One thing I really remember them saying is that they found out that the global South can help the global North as much as the North can help the South. I found it great that these students picked up on that in this project that is intercultural and that talks about interculturality.
Jun Peng: But when we are talking about South-North, I think different people have different understanding like what is South, what is North, and what is West, and what is East.
Luna Erica: Yeah, that's true. I'm just talking about like the academic terms that are often used. But yeah, this is another whole conversation that we can have about how to define those.
Jun Peng: Yes, yes! [laughts softly]
Luna: [also laughs] So let's keep it like a general discussion.
Luna Erica: So keeping all these, you know, like the students' lessons basically that they learned, but also what you learned in mind, what do you think would be a future direction that this projectcould help towards? Or did you get any new ideas for projects while working on this one?
What do you think the future of this looks like?
Jun Peng: Okay. For the future, I think because we already done the activities among students from different places and we collect the data. So we are planning to write a book, to publish a book to share our experience and our findings.
Luna Erica: Yeah. Any findings so far that you're willing to share? Or do you think we should just read the book?
Jun Peng: For now, we already know that students, they got something from the project or they know themselves better. They changed the way of seeing some concepts, which means concepts are always individualized. This is also very important, I think.
Luna Erica: Yeah, to help spread awareness about that. It's also, it's not just a concept. It's like a concept that you deal with every day. And there's so many misconceptions about it. So that's why, yeah, it's especially interesting. Absolutely. Yeah.
So, I'll start wrapping up from here. I just wanted to summarize again that we talked about interculturality as a process instead of as a term that can be easily defined, which it certainly is after this whole discussion. I can agree. And that this pilot specifically was a very effective way for not only the students, but also I think for you as the researchers to learn a lot more about the concept. That I think are the main lessons from the talk that we had. Would you like to add anything to that still?
Jun Peng: I'd like to thank my professor, Fred Dervin, who is always, he's the spirit…
Luna Erica: Yeah, exactly!
Jun Peng: He's the soul of the project.
Luna Erica: And he's the one who started it, right?
Jun Peng: Of course. Also, I would like to thank the support from the GINTL.
Luna Erica: Of course. No problem. Yeah, no, but we're very happy to fund projects like this, and we're even happier to hear that they're going so well. So thank you very much for sharing your expertise with us in this podcast.
Today, we've been discussing Jun Peng and Fred Dervin's GINTL-funded global network pilot on interculturality and its many practices. If you would like to read more about this project, you can reach out to Jun directly. I will add her email in the description of this podcast.If you would like to know more about the project, you can also always find it online, but do reach out because she's very happy to help.
Jun, it's been so fun to hear about your approach to this topic and about this project.So thanks very much for joining me today.
Jun Peng: Thank you for inviting me.
Luna Erica: My name is Luna Erika. Thank you for joining the Hopeful Globe podcast, showcasing inspiring initiatives by institutes of higher education across the globe.
You have been listening to the Hopeful Globe podcast.
You are listening to the Hopeful Globe podcast, coordinated by the University of Turku in Finland.
Luna Erica: Welcome to the Hopeful Globe podcast, a collaboration between institutes of higher education sharing inspiring stories across the globe. My name is Luna Erica, and I'm a research assistant at the Global Innovation Network for Teaching and Learning, or GINTL for short.
I'm joined today by my colleague Deepti Bora, who also works for GINTL, as well as this episode's guest, Mirjami Jeskanen. Mirjami is an education expert, as well as the main coordinator for the Faculty of Education of a project titled Developing New Teaching and Learning Methods in India. Set up in collaboration with the Tata Steel Foundation in India, the project provides support for teachers and students in mathematics and science education.
Mirjami Jeskanen : Thank you.
Luna Erica: So just to get into it right away, we'll start at the beginning. So what was the inspiration for this project? How did the idea for it arise? What did you set into motion? Where did it come from?
Mirjami Jeskanen: Well, it is a bit long story, but to explain the backgrounds of the project shortly. The project that we have is a collaboration between University of Turku and Tata Steel. Tata Steel is a huge, well-known company in India that produces steel. I think it's still currently India's largest private steel company. But besides steel production, they have started many activities for development of different areas of society, example, agriculture development, different healthcare related programs, for sure, education, just to name a few areas.
Luna Erica: I never would have thought that a steel foundation could have, you know, like worked with education.
Mirjami Jeskanen: Yeah, that was a surprise for me too, when we started the collaboration. So it was really interesting.
Luna Erica: How did the connection between you two come to be?
Mirjami Jeskanen: So they started the project already in 2015, which is many years before we jumped into the project. So I think we joined the program through the Finnish Embassy in New Delhi. So Tata Steel started the project to ensure that all the children in India get good quality education and they were looking for Finnish partners to collaborate with. Because as you know, the Finnish education system is very famous all over the world.
So the project coordinators contacted the Finnish Embassy and they contacted us. So that's how we jumped in there.
It was actually before I joined the project, so I wasn't there, but that's how it happened. Because GINTL also was established in 2021. This was when we joined the project. So we got the GINTL funding as we joined also the network. And with this GINTL funding, it was possible for us to start working in collaboration with Thousand Schools.
So the timing was perfect for us. So this is how we ended up in there. But yeah, it was a surprise for me also that Tata Steel is doing so much in many levels of society.
Luna Erica: Absolutely. Yeah.
Mirjami Jeskanen: This was one of their projects to work towards better education and it was nice that they were looking for Finnish partners and found us.
Luna Erica: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. So how, like, because you're the main coordinator from the education side, how does this differ from other educational projects being done in the India region?
Mirjami Jeskanen: This project? Well, I would say that this project is like working in so many different levels.
They're not focusing only in one area, like they started identifying the out of school children and educating the villages about why education is important and how it develops the whole society.
So they started in a very concrete level.
Luna Erica: So they educated the adults in the villages or also the children about how it works?
Mirjami Jeskanen: The adults, because maybe the villages were not very aware of the importance of education. So this project area is in Odisha, which is in the eastern India area, in the rural areas where the tribal villages are.
So as you ask, what is the inspiration for this project? I think overall, it was the need for better education for the children who were not able to go to school. And this was in the rural areas.
So they started the project there to make sure that all the children in India are able to go to school. So they started educating the adults first in the villages and letting them know, hey, the kids should go to school, not to work or, you know, because the children were working in the fields and so on. So they started just like doing very concrete steps. Then they started identifying the out-of-school children, started educating them through residential and non-residential bridging schools. So they established schools for the kids. And Tata Steel actually partners with ASPIRE, an NGO that helps, for example, training the teachers working in these project schools. So they are making sure that the kids are getting also high quality teaching in those out-of-schools.
First, they make sure that the kids go to school and then they make sure that they get high quality teaching and education.
Luna Erica: Yeah. And ASPIRE, where is it based?
Mirjami Jeskanen: Is it also in India or is it more... It's also in India. And they kind of send their experts to support the local teachers in Odisha area in these schools where they operate. They kind of have a collaboration also inside India. They work together.And we are in contact with them also.
So in addition to this, they also support the leaders of the school to strengthen the school management.
So they basically influence all of the areas in schooling. So I'm making sure that the children and their school path begins and also continues. So I think that's very important. It's kind of a holistic approach to help the villages. And we are focusing mainly in the primary and secondary levels, but we have done some activities related to early childhood education and care also.
And Tata Steel also runs different activities and programs where they offer education, like computer skills training or something like this for the other village members, not only the children.
Luna Erica: Are there any challenges related to that, if you know at all, or if you've been in contact with them about this, like the computer skills?
Mirjami Jeskanen: Well, they started sort of centers where they give an access for anyone in need for training or like just improving their own skills on their computers.
And they have kind of nice posters on the wall where all these computer things are explained. So they can come and train also themselves and look for the notes or what should I do, you know, writing word documents or something like this.
They are kind of setting up a center for the village members to come and learn different skills. And it's not only computer skills, but that's an easy example for me because I have seen those places where they have the computers on the tables and they run these.
Luna Erica: So you've also visited the places where these, you know, the teaching happens, of course, because you're part of the class.
Mirjami Jeskanen: Yes, actually, yeah, this is what we did last autumn. It was end of September. Our GINTL team from the Faculty of Education, we traveled to New Delhi and all the way to Odisha. And it was a long travel, but it was so enjoyable. We visited the schools. We met the teachers, the team members.
Luna Erica: So this was one and a half years after.
Mirjami Jeskanen: It was last September. So, yeah.
Luna Erica: It must be really impressive then to see your work actually, you know, like put into action.
Mirjami Jeskanen: Yeah, it was very nice. It gave me so much more understanding about the whole Indian culture, first of all, and the facilities where we actually operate. Because what we do in collaboration with Tata Steel is that we are producing learning and teaching materials for the project schools. They are lacking of school books and good materials, and we try to kind of help with that. And then we are training the teachers. And in the beginning of this collaboration, we got feedback that the teachers are lacking skills in math and science. So these were the topics that we started with teacher training and we have been doing it online. Our trainers here in Finland and then they have a small study groups in India where they gather together and then they join the online lessons.
So it has been rich so far.
Luna Erica: Yeah, absolutely. I can imagine. Yeah.
Mirjami Jeskanen: First, before we were able to visit there in Odisha, it was a bit hard to imagine where we are actually working. We have agreed on these activities, but how they actually function in there, it gave me so much more understanding that we were able to visit there.
Luna Erica: Yeah, I can imagine. And I think this is also a good point to introduce my colleague who is also here, Deepti. Do you want to briefly introduce yourself maybe still to the audience and then say a few words about this project and what you know about it? Or if you have any comments on what you've heard so far about it?
Deepti Bora: Yeah, I can just briefly share first about myself. Yeah, I am right now working as a project coordinator at GINTL. Other than that, with regard to the comments that Mirjami shared about the project in Odisha, I don't have any specific comments, but it was just one thing that really stood out for me was how just having a first-hand experience of the place gives you so much more perspective. And I was kind of wondering to ask her, did something change in the team's approach towards the work that they're doing? Because I'm sure with respect to developing content, developing learning materials, there's so many more nuances to it. And it's like you're getting to know the people better and their context better. So was there any shift in the approach towards the content development work?
Mirjami Jeskanen: Yes, that's a good question. I think first of all, as you know, we got COVID and everything. So being able to meet face to face the people we are working with was difficult in the beginning. So we joined the program in 2021. It was 2022 that we visited the Odisha area. So just seeing the people where they work, just saying, hey, we have only meet on Zoom and now we are here together. It was one big step forward in terms of collaboration, understanding their needs and how they operate in there.
And we were able to hear from themselves, like the teachers themselves, what they are in need of. And that was especially some of the topics in math that were very difficult for them to approach or teach to the kids as they were very abstract for them also. So, yeah, I think as we were just in Finland, you know, producing the material, it didn't really touch the Indian, how would I say? Maybe we didn't here understand how or what kind of examples we should use in those, like example, the tasks for the kids, what kind of equipment they have in the schools or can we talk about this or that kind of food or something? Do they understand if I talk about this?
And it has been very helpful to work together with the Thousand Schools team members as they have been really helpful in terms of explaining, OK, the kids in these areas have never heard about this kind of concept or never seen this kind of playground or something like that. So, we have been able to develop and change our way to approach certain topics, if you understand what I mean.
Deepti Bora: Yes.
Yeah. And then, of course, it's always a bit slow and difficult to start working together if you don't see the people face to face and you are far away from each other. And we had agreed on like teacher training and material production, but we were kind of stuck in just producing material. And it might wasn't the best in the beginning because we didn't have the understanding of these tribal villages. And when we saw those in action and I was able to take some pictures from the schools and their work that the kids were already had done.
And it helped the people here in Finland to see and understand, OK, the schools look like that. They had something total different in their mind before we actually explained. And after we came back to Finland from our travels, the collaboration just started going forward very quickly. And we started the teacher trainings as we understood, hey, these are the things they will actually need. So, it helped a lot.
Luna Erica: So, that's the part of the project that you're at right now, right, that you're doing the teacher trainings?
Mirjami Jeskanen: Yes. Then we started after just beginning of this year, we started training the teachers online.
Luna Erica: So good. You mentioned before also that the collaboration with the Tata School Foundation has been so valuable. I heard you're also working with the ViLLE learning platform. Could you say a few words about what that collaboration entails?
Mirjami Jeskanen: Yes, we have been collaborating with them from the beginning that we started collaborating with Tata still. So, we started also working with them. And the goal of using the ViLLE platform, it's an online platform to teach math and science topics are there also, as those were the ones the Indian teachers asked for, kind of.
Luna Erica: So, it's really based on their needs or the needs of the children.
Mirjami Jeskanen: Yes. So, the ViLLE platform actually already has a very rich learning materials, all like so many different kind of activities to do. Digital materials having games also in it. So, it's kind of a fun way to also learn maths, like playing games. And maybe it's a bit different than what the schools are used to. So, yeah.
Luna Erica: But it works well, even though it's different from what they're used to or so far.
Mirjami Jeskanen: Of course, it means that the local teachers in India have to learn to use the platform. So, we are working together with the Research Institute for Learning Analytics that has the ViLLE platform and they have an Indian partner who is training currently the Indian teachers how to use ViLLE platform and like in everyday use. And they are using this in some of the schools.
So, this is something that actually also was very good to visit the area because we had agreed that we will produce learning and teaching material and putting it to ViLLE also. And the schools would be utilizing ViLLE there. But when we were in India, we saw that not all of the schools had computers. They were not able to access digital tools. So, the ViLLE team members, they identified those schools inside the Thousand Schools program, which had computers in their schools. They started working together with those ones. They chose a few of them. As I have now understood that it's not any more Thousand Schools. It's actually 6,600 schools that the whole project has already impacted. So, you can understand that we are not able to use the ViLLE in all of those schools or even we are not able to train all of the teachers at the moment because, you know, you start somewhere.
So, ViLLE is working with those schools that actually are able to use digital tools.
But we started working in the way that the team in India and the teachers in India, they were giving us a list of topics that they would need the material of. And that's based on the Indian Curriculum and it was given us by Tata Steel and we started developing material for those topics.
And ViLLE team is producing material for some of those topics and putting them, uploading them to ViLLE platform. And we have another team here in the Department of Teacher Education that is producing material that doesn't need digital tools or doesn't need computers.
Maybe, you know, almost everywhere in the world, someone has a smartphone. So, at least the teachers in these schools have a smartphone to use, but not the kids. Maybe they're like from a poor family and are not able to access such things. So, they don't have their own mobile phones, but the teacher can show some videos example for them.
Luna Erica: Yeah. So, it's like a matter of kind of learning how to do it better with the resources you have, I guess.
Mirjami Jeskanen: Yes, that is true. So, we are doing some material that includes maybe a links to video or like something like go and Google this and the kids will do that if that is possible. But yeah, so that's how we operate with the ViLLE platform. And as it has already a lot of different materials for teaching and learning and doing activities in ViLLE about maths and those games and everything. And one very positive aspect of that is that the exercises they have in there are very easily tailored to meet the individual needs of the children.
Because what we understood is that in one classroom, the teacher can have children from very different backgrounds and with different level of skills. So, using ViLLE and those exercises, they can maybe make some easier exercises or easier games, or then they can do the a bit difficult ones based on what they are able to do. And the teacher doesn't have to, you know, plan everything themselves, but using the ViLLE. So, it's very nice wherever it works. So, yes.
Luna Erica: Yeah, it is just, you know, like adapting to the situation at hand. So, what has been the most rewarding or inspiring element of this project for you?
Mirjami Jeskanen: I have to say that it's a really joy to work with the Indian partners, as I just told you that I was able to visit there in Odisha and seeing the kids, their joy and their smiles and how openly they, you know, took us to dance with them and they were showing their work and they wanted to discuss about future and everything.
So, it was very, like, touching moment to see the kids that we are working for their future. So, it was very touching moment for me to be there and meet them. And of course, the teachers, I really enjoyed the online sessions that I just mentioned that we trained them online.
And of course, first, it was very nervous for all of us. I think we were kind of, you know, we didn't know how to work together or how the online sessions will work. But now that we have done those a few times already and we know each other, so it's very, like, warm atmosphere that we have in there. And it feels like we are really in this together. We are colleagues and we are working towards the education or better education. So, I really enjoy those.
And I'm always waiting, OK, we have teaching next week. So, I'm not teaching there. I'm just setting up the meetings and participating in the trainings.And we have a teacher there, training the local teachers. So, it's a very joyful thing to do.
Luna Erica: Yeah, it must be even nicer now that you've been there in person and you've seen how well it's going.
Mirjami Jeskanen: Yes. And now we know each other already and we're waiting for each other through the cameras and everything. So, it's a very friendly atmosphere and I really enjoy that. It gives me, you know, so much energy. And they are so motivated. They really want to learn about these things. They are asking, like, can you train this and that topic? And now that we are doing this, they ask so many questions, so good questions. They are so engaged.
Luna Erica: And there's, like, mutual learning. You also learn from them.
Mirjami Jeskanen: Yes, I have learned so much. I'm like, OK, I'm so full of energy after those meetings. I'm like, OK, you know, I'm becoming a better person. Of course, there's somewhere I'm also learning about math and science, which is wonderful for me also. But yeah.
Luna Erica: From here on out, how do you think the project would create change in the future based on all of this that you've learned from it, you know?
Mirjami Jeskanen: Well, I believe this project has done great impact already in the areas where it operates. As the data still is bringing awareness to the communities, example, like children rights and ending child labor and ending child marriages and things like this.
So the whole villages are engaged to the education part now. They now understand how important it is for the children to go to school. And we are making sure that they get a good quality education also, like by training the teachers and so on.
And I know that all the colleagues in India, they really have a passion in creating, like, better life for the kids, better life for the villages, better schools, better communities and future.
And I know it started the whole project in two states, like Odisha and Jharkhand. And now it has already started in a couple of other states already. So it's also like expanding in that level.
So I think that tells that it's truly has been impactful.
Luna Erica: Yeah, it sounds like it's been hands on and impactful. With that said as well, I'm going to wrap up the session and summarize some of the main takeaways as to why it's so impactful.
So in this session, we talked about the project that is partly led by Mirjami Jeskanen. We learned about the Tata Steel Foundation and how much impact it has in India at this moment already and how much more it's hoping to have in educating out of school children and working together with ASPIRE and their experts in India.
At this moment, Mirjami 's project is training the teachers also together with the Vila platform. And the project has also seen the great value of visiting the places that you work with and seeing what kind of impact is already happening, because sometimes it's hard to see from far away. So change has already been made, but more is coming now that everybody's engaged. And that's really great to hear.
Mirjami, thank you so much for having this discussion with us today. I definitely learned a lot and I'm sure our listeners did as well.
Mirjami Jeskanen: Thank you for inviting me.
Luna Erica: Yeah, no, of course. It was really, really nice to have you here and Deepti as well. Thank you for your contribution.
Deepti Bora: Thank you. Yeah, I learned a lot as well. Thank you, Mirjami.
Luna Erica: In this episode, I was joined by Mirjami Jeskanen and Deepti Bora to discuss Mirjami 's education-based, gentle-funded project on developing new teaching and learning methods in India. If you would like to read more about this project, you can reach out to Mirjami via email.
We'll add her email address to the description section of this podcast, so you can see it down below.
Mirjami, Deepti, thank you very much again for joining me today to have this super interesting conversation. It's been really great hearing more about the project and about the implications. And I'm very, very curious to see what will happen next.
To wrap it up, my name is Luna Erika. Thank you for joining the Hopeful Globe Podcast, showcasing inspiring initiatives by institutes of higher education across the globe.
You have been listening to the Hopeful Globe Podcast.
You are listening to the Hopeful Globe podcast, coordinated by the University of Turku in Finland.
Pilvi Posio : Welcome to the Hopeful Globe podcast, a collaboration between institutes of higher education, sharing inspiring stories across the globe.
I'm Pilvi Posio from the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Turku, Finland, and the coordinator of the project Finnish ASEAN Academic Platform for Sustainable Development by the Finnish University Network of Asian Studies.
In this episode, we will discuss urban biodiversity and citizen science with Abigail Favis, one of our project's collaborators from Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. Abby is an assistant professor at the Department of Environmental Science and has been involved in environmental management and sustainability work for the Ateneo de Manila since 2009.
She is currently the program manager for campus sustainability at the Ateneo Institute of Sustainability, and her research interests include sustainable consumption, as well as urban biodiversity and green spaces.
Abigail Favis: Hi, Pilvi. Thank you for having me on the podcast.
Pilvi Posio: Yes, thank you for joining us.
Last year, our project had the pleasure of visiting you at Ateneo de Manila campus in Metro Manila area, and you introduced your activities relating to the promotion of biodiversity at the campus area, including the Ateneo Wild Project you co-founded together with Trinket Constantino. How did you get interested in urban biodiversity in the first place, and how the Ateneo Wild Project started?
Abigail Favis: Well, my interest in biodiversity started very young. I had the privilege of growing up surrounded by nature spaces, and my grandmother and my parents encouraged spending time outdoors and exploring.
So when I got to the Ateneo, I was very happy to meet Trinket as a co-faculty member because she shares the same interests, and we started organizing campus birdwatching activities way back in 2011. And back then, we were doing it just for fun, because for us, it was a form of self-care, a sort of stress relief from work, and we enjoyed bringing other people around our campus nature spaces.
Then in 2017, we had the opportunity to establish more formally the Ateneo Wild through a grant from the university, and this gave us the resources to buy equipment like binoculars and implement other nature-based activities like exhibits and the creation of nature education materials. And so our goals evolved.
Now we want to involve more community members to observe campus biodiversity and to help us document it through citizen science, and in doing so, spend more time outdoors, which is one of our main advocacies. And since we wanted more young people involved in our work, we thought of using social media as a platform. And our first post on Facebook and Instagram was on August 31st, 2018. So we've been doing this for almost five years.
Pilvi Posio: Well, that sounds really an intriguing project that sprouts from your own interest and must serve your own wellbeing, as you said.
But you mentioned also involving community members and that citizen science is central in your project. So what is citizen science and how do you practice it in your project?
Abigail Favis: So collecting data on urban biodiversity is exciting, but also daunting, even for a limited space like our campus. Our campus is 86 hectares big, and only 40% of that is built up space. So there is a lot of ground to cover in terms of biodiversity monitoring. Also because Trinket and I do this in our spare time, we need help to document campus wildlife at all hours of the day so we can gather observations not just across space, but also in time. So we thought this would be an excellent opportunity to collaborate as a community in gathering important information.
So this engagement of non-scientists or the general public in the scientific process of collecting biodiversity information is called citizen science. So the community documents the wildlife they see and they report it to us so we can add it to our biodiversity inventory. And we like this approach a lot because this is not just an advantage for the scientific endeavor, it's also a good way to encourage more people to spend time outdoors, to be more observant, and to learn more about the wonderful natural world that can exist even in cities.
So for the Ateneo Wild, our citizen scientists have made many valuable contributions. Most of our most popular posts on social media are contributions from the community. They help us observe species that we don't normally see even during the day. For example, one of the faculty members sent in his documentation of a 10-foot-long reticulated python that he came across after doing overtime at work and going home almost at midnight. So obviously Trinket and I weren't on campus anymore at that time and we wouldn't have had the chance to see that creature if this co-faculty did not send us his documentation. More importantly, especially during the quarantine when the campus was on lockdown, so Trinket and I couldn't be on campus all the time.
So the people who were left on campus, we have some residents on campus, even the Jesuit priest would send us their documentation of wildlife so they helped us monitor even during the quarantine.
And by the way, while Trinket and I are from the Department of Biology and the Department of Environmental Science, we ourselves do not have formal training in botany, zoology or taxonomy. So Trinket's background is in molecular biology and mine is in environmental sanitation. So we ourselves are citizen scientists in terms of biodiversity conservation.
Pilvi Posio: That's a wonderful collaborative effort to embrace kind of the nature surrounding you at the Ateneo, the campus that was indeed very green in comparison to many other urban areas that we encountered in the Metro Manila area.
When moving more generally in the Metro Manila area or in the Philippines, the urban areas, what do you think are the most challenging issues related to urban biodiversity?
Abigail Favis : We're very privileged to work and study in our campus, which is one of the last remaining green corridors in the city. But elsewhere in Metro Manila, the biggest challenge, of course, is urbanization and the urban sprawl. So the development of land and land use change, removing existing natural ecosystems. In fact, in Metro Manila, only 20% or less of the total land area remains unbuilt. So this is one of the biggest challenges, of course, how do you balance development with protecting ecosystems and the wildlife that they contain?
So we're very lucky that Quezon City, where our campus is located, is where most of Metro Manila's green spaces are. And because we live so close together with urban biodiversity, our activities also pose a threat or a risk to them. So our infrastructure, like roads and buildings, encroach on their natural habitats, the resulting air and water pollution, solid waste, even light and noise pollution from our activities will also affect these ecosystems and the creatures living within them.
And something that's not talked about often, but is also a very big concern is, of course, conflicts with domesticated animals or the pets that we have. Because pets, especially cats, if they're not cared for properly, are also predators of other wildlife in the city. So these are just some examples of the challenges that we have for urban biodiversity.
But more fundamentally, I think it's also the lack of appreciation for the ecosystem services provided by urban nature spaces. For example, urban nature spaces add life and beauty to the city and contribute greatly to human health and wellbeing by filtering air pollution, regulating microclimate, and even providing spaces for recreation and community building.
But for some people, urban biodiversity and green spaces are purely ornamental, so they don't embrace the real value of these spaces. That's one of the more fundamental challenges that we face.
Pilvi Posio: Yes, indeed. You put it quite well, like how to balance urban biodiversity and appreciation of green spaces, as well as the necessary development, which I understood that in the Metro Manila area, the urban development is not well planned, or at least it doesn't include appreciation for these green spaces.
But you, nevertheless, have managed to create many positive impacts despite of these challenges. So what are the main outcomes of your activities and how do you feel that the community has responded to the Ateneo Wild?
Abigail Favis: Well, Trinket and I would like to think that the response has been very good and actually we're quite surprised and we're very inspired by the enthusiasm showed by the Ateneo community to our work. And since we started the Ateneo Wild, our campus biodiversity inventory has grown. We have lists for birds on campus, 41 of them are resident non-endemics, 21 are endemics, 21 are migrants, and we have records also of escaped pets that come to the campus. We have over 86 native tree species and the list just keeps on growing.
And this data is very important in crafting effective and evidence-based policies and management approaches for urban biodiversity and conservation on campus. Our goal is to influence policies on how our campus grounds are managed and what decisions are being made.
And we're very encouraged by some outcomes, for example, wildlife welfare is now part of decision-making. For example, if in the past when there would be a beehive or a wasp's nest, the reaction would be to remove it immediately, which is not very good for our pollinators. But now we've been able to influence a different approach. So instead of removing the beehive or the wasp's nest, now we have signs that we post in the area warning the people, oh, there's a beehive in this area, please do not come too close, or please do not aggravate the bees or the wasps, because if we leave them alone, they will leave us alone as well.
Another example in having wildlife welfare as part of decision-making is in one of the buildings on campus, we have already been able to attach decals on the glass windows, so stickers on the glass windows, because in Ateneo, we're fond of big glass windows, which unfortunately reflect the trees and the sky so well that birds sometimes fly into them thinking they're flying into open space.
So the attachment of these decals will break up the reflection and help inform the birds that over here, you have to avoid this area.
Another nice thing that we really appreciate in our staff is there is now a quick response to wildlife issues, like for example, if we find traps for monitor lizards, as soon as we report it, there's immediately a response to remove the traps and to launch an investigation and to communicate with whomever was responsible that the wildlife on campus is protected and trapping them or hunting them is not allowed.
And there's also now a bigger appreciation for protecting wild spaces, as opposed to converting them into manicured lawns and gardens, because sometimes wildlife need these wild areas.
This is where their habitat is, they are protected by all this undergrowth and all the vines and the grasses that are in the area. But in the past, the administration would prefer cleaner, more controlled green spaces. But now there are areas that we really set aside to stay overgrown and not manicured.
And there's also a stronger advocacy for protecting native species. So now on campus, we can only plant native tree species. We cannot plant any more invasive or alien species.
One of the biggest wins that Trinket and I continue to celebrate is now there's more integration of nature-based activities in our curriculum, especially for young students. So they're using the campus as a laboratory for nature-based education, like nature walks or gardening or looking for wildlife.
Our social media accounts have also remained active. On Facebook, we have over 13,000 followers, and on Instagram, we have over 3,700 followers. And we're so lucky to have a supportive network of friends, even in other universities. For example, the University of the Philippines also created their own social media account called the UP Wild, and the University of Santo Tomas also now has the USP Wild.
So our network of wild campuses is growing as well.
Pilvi Posio: Wow, these are really great examples on how this sort of very practical measures from the stickers, window stickers, to biodiversity education kind of resonates also in kind of greater context. So, well, I really congratulate you on this.
And as I said, it was really refreshing to visit your campus area. But I'd say that biodiversity is not an issue in Metro Manila or in the Philippines alone, but it touches all urban environments and is also a topical issue in Finland as well. So what do you think are the main lessons to learn from your project? And what are the future prospects of urban biodiversity promotion in general?
Abigail Favis: Well, one of the insights that Trinket and I love so much is discovering that there really is a lot of interest in urban biodiversity, especially in young people. So we thought it would just be the two of us enjoying what we do, but we're happily encouraged by the response that we've gotten from the community.
In Metro Manila, like in many urban areas all over the world, our kids are growing up in highly developed environments, but showing them that there is so much diversity, so much nature even in the city is always met with awe and wonder. And it's a favorite of ours when we take groups on our campus nature walks to hear their expressions of, oh, that's great, or wow, or I never knew we had that on campus. That's very encouraging, and we'd like to think that this encourages them to, even in other places in the city, keep an eye out for nature and the wildlife that live beside us and with us.
And another insight is citizen science has been proven to be a great method, not just for data collection, but also for community engagement. It's a great way to encourage people to spend time outdoors and form a stronger bond with nature because literature shows that this bond is an important predictor for the formation of sustainable behavior. So we're trying to bring the biophilia back that has been lost in some of our urban children.
And after the pandemic, I was surprised at the growing interest in protecting remaining green spaces in the city and the growing recognition of the importance of sustainable and livable environments. Now we have a better appreciation for the outdoors. We used to take it for granted, but once the lockdown started, we were all raring to go outside and be outside.
So we want to be in the presence of nature and now we recognize how positively it affects not just our physical health, but also our well-being.
Pilvi Posio: Yes.
And so it seems that awareness building and engagement seem to be the central means to promote this sort of biodiversity in urban areas. I think that's something that can be kind of applied also to many various other contexts.
So it's really inspiring to the listeners, I hope. But well, the future is ahead.
So how do you plan to continue the Ateneo the Wild?
Abigail Favis : Well, we don't think about stopping. So we're continuing the Ateneo Wild and we hope to be able to continue it for many more years.
And we, of course, want to enhance our activities. So right now, after the quarantine, we just come back to our regular schedule of having monthly nature walks.
But we also want to branch out into other activities like preparing, maybe writing more books and other materials on nature education and also providing more activities, more fun activities and more creative activities and collaborating with other departments. So we're trying to collaborate with the humanities on more creative outputs, for example, more drawing, more visual arts, even photography. And we want to incorporate that into the experience because we want each of these nature experiences to be unique and to be different so we can maintain the interest and have them be more excited about spending time outdoors.
Even in our little corner of the city, our campus is very small compared to the rest of the city, but we cannot take it for granted. So we're just so lucky to have this campus and to be working in it.
Pilvi Posio: Well, that's certainly something that I hope all the best for your future work as it's important to appreciate these urban green areas that are not self-evident spaces.
And it's also really great to hear that there is a rising interest in urban biodiversity in Manila and of course elsewhere as well. And your project is indeed a wonderful contribution to that, that will hopefully also provide inspiration to our listeners, who I also invite to take a look on the project's social media that is linked in the introduction of this episode.
So to wrap up, I would like to warmly thank you, Abby, for sharing these insights and I really wish successful continuation for your work also in the future.
Abigail Favis: Thank you very much for having me, Pilvi. Have a great day.
Pilvi Posio: Thank you.
And also for our listeners, thank you for joining the Hopeful Globe podcast, showcasing inspiring initiatives by institutes of higher education across the globe.
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