This past summer, our education team spent five days in Chiapas, Mexico, introducing a group of 57 high school teachers to the Rainforest Alliance’s climate and conservation curricula. The workshop—designed to address the widespread lack of climate education in the region—is part of a global Rainforest Alliance education strategy that directly engaged 1,200 teachers and 16,800 students across the United States, Guatemala and Mexico during the 2012-2013 academic year.
Most of the teachers who attended the workshop came from telebachilleratos, a subsection of the Chiapas school system that includes many rural schools serving underrepresented populations. Though these schools lack financial resources, they live in close connection with surrounding forests and coffee farms. We spoke with Brenda Zitlali Cruz González, a 29-year-old teacher at a local telebachillerato, about her experience engaging with the Rainforest Alliance’s education resources.
How would you describe your students’ previous attitudes toward the forests that surround their homes?
Because of the seeming abundance of these resources, they have an attitude of using resources to survive. In their view, the wealth of these natural areas is used just to build houses and furniture or to sell wood.
What do your community’s forests mean to you, personally?
The forests represent a national heritage and a wealth of biodiversity. They are also spaces for the release of oxygen and they provide a system for capturing carbon dioxide. From my perspective, the task of mitigating climate change begins with the community’s responsibility of caring for the forests and reforesting them.
How much did you know about climate change before participating in the Rainforest Alliance training?
I knew that climate change was caused by burning, car pollution, misuse of energy and that our irresponsible actions were causing changes in the climate. After the training, I realized that climate change endangers the Earth’s very survival.
What else did you learn?
We learned the difference between climate and weather. We learned that climate change is a normal process but with the abundance of heat and the excessive release of carbon dioxide the climate has changed more, causing changes in the poles, damage to indigenous communities and so much more. We also learned about the carbon cycle, as well as the content of biomass in trees in order to approximate the concentration of carbon dioxide in a specific area. Later, we reviewed forest coverage data from Chiapas and saw how some countries have worked to reforest depleted forest areas and take advantage of natural resources to create ecological tourism and help the planet.
What did you think of the experience?
It was academically enriching but the most valuable part was that my students learned the human value of caring for their own spaces. The content was selected carefully, and we were all taught that knowing the causes and effects of climate change empowers us to help to mitigate the problem.
Why is it important that your students learn about climate change?
Because it is a danger to [our country], biodiversity and ultimately all mankind.
What’s next for your community’s forests?
[There is] hope because people can be educated about the effects of climate change, forests can be replanted and great things can be done in our communities with everyone’s commitment.