One Planet and
Sustainability and Environmental Efforts
by Bahá’í Communities Around the World
“ Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”
No one can stop climate change alone. Individuals, communities and institutions must learn to work together in harmony. Today, a community in Vanuatu is doing this—to restore a lagoon ecosystem on which it relies.
Watch the latest film from the Bahá’í International Community.
Directors: Mary Darling, Bre Vader. Camera: Paul Cananzi. Editor: Mary Darling. Sound: Mike Papworth. Post Production: Darryl Kingdon. Production Coordinator: Leo Darling. Music: Baha’i Community of Tanna, Asher Lenz, Epidemic Sound. Stock Footage: Pond 5.
Special thanks to generosity of Tanna’s chiefs, community and individuals
Bahá’í efforts toward environmental sustainability are grounded in the conviction that humanity is organic with the natural world—that the human heart cannot be separated from the environment around it. For Bahá’ís, advancing a materially and spiritually flourishing civilization in harmony with the natural world is central to the human sense of meaning and purpose. “Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world,” Bahá’u’lláh writes. The natural world is a trust for which all members of the human family are responsible.
The period of transition humanity is undergoing can be likened to the passage from a stage of collective childhood to the threshold of maturity. Systems developed in previous ages are showing their limitations and humankind is being challenged to develop arrangements more reflective of the wisdom and responsibility befitting adulthood. This calls not just for addressing current ecological ills, but something much more profound: learning how to build a global civilization in which such challenges do not arise in the first place.
This is the goal toward which Bahá’ís and their collaborators work. Principles underlying this framework were outlined in the statement One Planet, One Habitation: A Baháʼí Perspective on Recasting Humanity’s Relationship With the Natural World. This document aims to share examples of how Bahá’í communities are learning with others how those principles can be translated into reality and action—how growing numbers are striving to learn how to build more sustainable, holistic, and just societies.
CASE STUDY ↓
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Action-research around sustainable agriculture
Promoting approaches to sustainable agriculture can both address environmental degradation and empower local communities. When a collection of Bahá’í-inspired development organizations spanning the continent of Africa assessed experiences among communities they served, a number of challenges were found to be common between them. Many farmers felt powerless against the economic, social, and environmental factors that influenced their production, for example, and forced them to adopt systems promoted by whichever organization would provide needed inputs. Local knowledge related to traditional systems of polyculture, often more sustainable and holistic, was also being lost in many communities.
In response, several of the organizations turned to materials developed by the Foundation for the Application and Teaching of the Sciences (FUNDAEC by its Spanish acronym), a Bahá’í-inspired organization that, among other initiatives, explores approaches to small-scale agriculture that are sustainable, regenerative, and community-directed. The agricultural curriculum addresses technical elements of food production and environmental preservation, but also more socially oriented topics such as community development, social cohesion, and moral integrity. Students are assisted to reflect on the value of hard work and collaboration, the spiritual qualities needed to work effectively in a group, and the nature of land as a living entity that needs to be cared for and protected. The benefits of drawing from the best of both science and religion are emphasized throughout.
This multifaceted approach was central in community-led agricultural initiatives flourishing across the South Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Basics of agricultural science are addressed in the national primary school curriculum there, but teachers often move quickly to other topics, particularly in urban areas where farming can be viewed with a degree of prejudice. When a few secondary schools in the town of Goma received training in FUNDAEC’s agricultural units, however, appreciation for the role of agriculture grew among teachers. Several test plots were established, from which students were able to explore elements of addressing household food security in ways that are self-sufficient and sustainable, that minimize the use of costly inputs while providing stable and maximal yields, and that enhance soil and natural resources.
As a result of this hands-on experience and aided by conversations held in and beyond the classroom, a number of students approached their parents for permission to plant crops in their backyards. Many agreed, and parents often helped obtain seeds, while students tended the crops. Within a year, some 80 backyard gardens had been established. Regularly visiting their students’ gardens, teachers witnessed not only a rise in their capacity to manage crops, but also greater evidence of qualities such as patience, determination, and generosity.
Program coordinators also observed changes in the nature of interactions between families sustaining backyard gardens. Participating households began exchanging planting materials and sharing experience and advice. In one neighborhood, six families began to collaborate closely in production activities, growing medicinal plants together as well as food crops.
As work on the gardens continued and families were able to supplement their income by selling produce in the local market, opportunities to rethink economic arrangements began to open in the community. In response to growing interest in urban farming, two Bahá’í-inspired community schools established seed banks, providing seedlings to five other schools as well as a number of teachers and community members. The number of backyard gardens grew to over 300 and 11 schools established demonstration plots on their property. Agriculture became an essential topic of conversation during parent-teacher meetings at school. And community gatherings focused on production regularly drew over 100 participants.
Notable in such efforts has been a marked increase in the value attached to agriculture, discernible through growing appreciation of its role as a key determinant of ecological health and a vital process of community life. This shift has been particularly evident among young people in the DRC and beyond. One group of youth, for instance, was approached by an organization promoting a maize monoculture system that required heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The group asked the representative numerous questions about the long term economic and environmental implications of the system, and in the end decided not to adopt it—its short-term financial benefits notwithstanding. The youth later told their tutor that they will no longer blindly follow the systems common in the region.
Building capacity for meaningful action
Global environmental agendas, such as the Paris climate agreement or environmental aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals, must be translated into action at the local level. Given the wide diversity of human experience, this is a pragmatic necessity. But for Bahá’ís, empowering grassroots actors to adapt large-scale objectives to local circumstances reflects moral and spiritual imperatives as well: that every population has the right and responsibility to mark out its own path of progress; that every nation and community has a vital contribution to make in building a more sustainable world; that change is not something one people carries out on behalf of another.
Bahá’í contributions to the betterment of society focus on building capacities needed to create constructive social change. These might include the ability to assess the roots of local needs and challenges, to identify resources already present in a population, to build a unified vision of action among diverse stakeholders, or to rally growing numbers in common cause. Such capacities are critical not only in individuals but also in communities and social institutions as well. Building more productive patterns of relationships among these three actors is therefore key to Bahá’í endeavors.
Toward these ends, the worldwide Bahá’í community has established a global process of education, open to all, that tends to the spiritual education of children, facilitates the moral empowerment of young adolescents, and assists youth and adults to explore the application of spiritual teachings and ideals such as justice, unity, and moderation to daily life and to the challenges facing society. The organizing principle of this process is not the acquisition of knowledge but the advancement of society. Its programs seek to enhance participants’ ability to see themselves as agents of change, to undertake needed action, and to invite others into sustained, consequential endeavor. Efforts begin organically at the grassroots, spearheaded by those residing in a locality, while at the same time being connected at the global level through a network of agencies that facilitate systematic processes of learning and assessment.
The patterns of community life cultivated by this educational process catalyze action on a variety of fronts, environmental issues among them. Projects addressing ecological concerns have arisen more readily and proven more sustainable in communities where numerous residents were already sustaining ongoing activities of education and empowerment in their homes, visiting neighbors and acquaintances to discuss matters of community concern, and assisting one another to develop capacities for service. Such activities might initially seem tangential to matters of sustainability or conservation. Yet in Bahá’í experience, a vibrant process of community-building, consciously shaped by spiritual and moral principles, has been one of the foremost characteristics of localities that were able to develop robust environmental initiatives.
CASE STUDY ↓
Building religious infrastructure catalyzes native habitat restoration
The construction of physical facilities, when approached in a spirit of concern for the natural world, can be an important opportunity for environmental stewardship—in religious contexts as much as any other. Bahá’í Houses of Worship represent a physical expression of the spiritual conviction that worship of God and service to humanity are inextricably linked. Each temple, as they are sometimes called, is to be surrounded by subsidiary institutions that provide for the physical, social, and spiritual needs of all area residents. As local communities strive to demonstrate this coherence between the material and the spiritual, growing numbers are learning how religious infrastructure can give impetus to efforts to sustain and restore the natural environment.
One such community can be found in Agua Azul, in the Norte del Cauca region of Colombia. This is an area where sugarcane monoculture has threatened traditional farms, forced residents to lease land to sugar mills, and diminished the productive capacity of the soil and biodiversity of the native ecosystem. These realities, along with the community’s long-standing concern for revival of the natural habitat, were top-of-mind when it was announced that a House of Worship would be built in the area, in collaboration with local residents.
As the community prepared for this development and discussions proliferated about how the proposed temple could reflect and support the aspirations of the population, an idea arose that found great resonance: growing a native forest on the land surrounding the temple site.
An organizing team was formed and through visits to traditional farms in the region, supported by a biologist and area farmers, more than 100 native species were identified. An environmental management plan to begin restoration of the land at the project site was implemented. A greenhouse was built by local volunteers and educational materials were developed.
The project included the formation of environmental action groups. Composed of community members who received training about tropical dry forests, such groups were assisted to share knowledge with other local residents regarding the restoration of native species. Each group was encouraged to take responsibility for a 100 square meter plot at the project site, building experience that could later be used in restoring their own land.
Residents of Agua Azul and neighboring villages donated over 1,000 seedlings from some 20 botanical families, including a number of endangered species. Notable was the significant participation of area communities in land restoration mingas, a traditional practice in which individuals join forces to work towards a common goal. In this can be seen the catalytic effect of patterns of community life that foster collaborative and inclusive local decision making, that prioritize ethical and moral principle over short-term gain, and that value and seek out contributions from those of all backgrounds.
The project also fortified appreciation for connections between the community and its natural environment, as well as between the current generation and those to come. Speaking of a type of tree indigenous to the area, one resident of Agua Azul said, “The Saman is a traditional tree, beautiful and large. When my children go to the land to pray, they will have a place to sit, under that tree. This motivates me every day. This brings me joy.”
Applying capacities gained to ecological challenges
As capacity to foster constructive change is developed, its application to environmental issues quickly becomes apparent. Groups of young adolescents exploring service for the betterment of society, for example, are accompanied to devise and carry out projects in response to conditions in their communities. Such acts of service often have an ecological focus, such as a river clean-up in Sao Sebastiao, Brazil that involved elements of community awareness-raising and social cohesion, or a tree-planting in Okcheay, Cambodia that sought to improve air quality and lower ambient temperatures.
Such projects often begin modestly and focus on the long-term goal of strengthening the capacities and attitudes needed to carry out meaningful acts of service. Yet the immediate impact of such efforts can be significant as well. In the river clean-up, for example, a municipal official learned of the project from the mother of one of the youth, and offered to meet with the group to learn more about the initiative. Inspired by what he heard, the official arranged for city workers and trucks to assist the project, leading to the removal of some 12 tons of trash. Similarly, the tree-planting project attracted the support of not only the local chief, but those of several neighboring villages as well, and the trees planted ended up protecting a stretch of road from severe erosion in subsequent flooding.
A focus on building capacity in adults and youth has not only empowered individuals to undertake simple forms of social action, but also facilitated the emergence of organizations capable of sustaining more complex programming. The Kimanya-Ngeyo Foundation for Science and Education in Uganda, for example, carries out agricultural experiments with a goal of generating knowledge in areas such as soil and water conservation, pest and disease management, and diversification of genetic resources. With its assistance, local farmers, drawing on both traditional farming systems as well as the findings of modern science, have advanced a process of action-research focused on developing diverse, sustainable, high-yielding, and ecologically sound production systems that are appropriate to local realities.
CASE STUDY ↓
Shifting habits of consumption and production in affluent circumstances
High-income areas exert a disproportionate burden on the natural world. Communities in such areas will therefore need to make particularly dramatic changes if a sustainable world is to be built. When residents of the Rochor neighborhood, an affluent area close to the city center of Singapore, studied a course offered by the Bahá’í community on building vibrant communities, their thoughts on applying in practice what they were learning turned to sustainability and food production. Writing to the National Parks Board, the group secured permission to repurpose part of a local park into a community garden of vegetables and fruit trees. The effort aligned with the national “Singapore Green Plan” of meeting 30 percent of nutritional needs from locally produced food.
The resulting “Ridvan Garden” project sought to incorporate a range of sustainable planting practices, including using recycled car tires and bottles as planter bed borders, fallen tree stumps as garden stools, and paper waste and cardboard boxes as mulch. The group was clear, however, that meaningful ecological change requires social and community transformation. A central aim was therefore educating young people on the importance of sustainable consumption and building enthusiasm for growing their own food. Toward this end, the group partnered with a preschool that bordered the park, with the school’s principal eventually becoming a key organizer.
As the project advanced, the coordinating team faced questions not only of ecology but social relationships and moral values as well. The garden had no fence, for example, and the problem of theft arose. In response, the team consciously embraced ideals of understanding, generosity of spirit, and providing for the needs of all—choosing to grow more and share freely, despite the challenges. Some area residents who had not previously been involved with the project were moved by this response and began to take ownership in the garden. One couple designed posters aimed at protecting the garden. Another neighbor explained to a boy who was picking all the chilies from a tree that he was welcome to take what he needed but should leave some for others to enjoy. The child and his mother were later invited to join the group and the boy began helping water plants and attended the community harvesting day.
Central to the project was not only the physical garden, but the vision of a continually growing conversation on sustainability and local production. As a result, the core team of the project grew from four individuals to over 40 during its first nine months, working with some 75 additional collaborators from the surrounding community. Each new member was given an introduction to the purpose of the garden and ways that participants can contribute to unity of thought and common endeavor.
Among the garden’s supporters was a Member of Parliament, who invited the team to join a neighborhood committee when it formed and who sought funding for the project. Upcoming plans include installation of irrigation systems and solar-powered lights, but also the expansion of community gatherings for shared prayer and classes for the spiritual and moral education of young children, which are already taking place in the garden. These moral elements have been central to a growing capacity among community members to consult constructively about challenges facing the area and to overcome feelings of distrust between them, which organizers have identified as some of the project’s most consequential achievements.
The principles outlined in the previous sections also inform Bahá’í contributions to discourse and the development of thought on ecological challenges, including the formulation of public policy. At the simplest levels, this can take the form of individual Bahá’ís introducing topics of environmental importance into daily conversations. Local communities might undertake collective efforts, such as the eco-pledge developed by the Bahá’ís of Glasgow to mark the 26th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in their city. At the national level, Bahá’í institutions engage in ecological discourses through more formal channels, such as representatives of the Bahá’ís of the United Kingdom participating in a national discussion on how religion can inspire unity of thought and action on climate change issues, or a video blog produced by representatives of the Bahá’ís of Austria, that explores issues of national concern, including environmental protection and the future of the planet.
At the global level, the Bahá’í International Community United Nations Office participates in processes associated with environmental bodies such as the United Nations Environmental Program and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It also produces statements related to the natural world, such as Shared Vision, Shared Volition: Choosing Our Global Future Together, developed for the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, and Rising Together: Building the Capacity to Recover from Within, addressing aspects of natural disasters considered at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit.
In all its work, the Bahá’í International Community seeks to learn with others about how moral principles can be applied in practical ways to open new paths in resolving global challenges. It is in this spirit of learning that the case studies in this document are offered. Far from definitive or exhaustive, they are shared merely with the aim of giving a glimpse of the multiplicity of ways that putting noble principles into action can give rise to effective ecological action.
CASE STUDY ↓
Young adolescents spearheading a community-supported marine preserve
The capacity to identify ecological challenges facing a local community and devise appropriate responses is vital to effective environmental action. When a group of eight young adolescents participating in educational programs offered by the Bahá’í community in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu assessed their local realities, it became clear that years of overfishing had depleted the coral reef, making fishing near the shore extremely difficult. These “junior youth” determined that establishing a marine reserve would help restore the reef’s vitality. With the aid of the group’s facilitator, they began making presentations to key stakeholders, including the owner of the land where they envisioned the reserve, the chief of the village, and the community as a whole.
Their proposal was greeted warmly, in part because the group made a point of respecting the customs of their people. For example, they made a ceremonial drink from a particular root, which they brought to the chief when seeking his support. Such consideration allowed the project to align with values already present in the community. The landowner, for example, told the junior youth that a portion of the ocean had traditionally been assigned as a protection area, but that this practice had gradually been neglected over time.
Once support had been built, posts were placed to mark the protected section of the ocean and a noticeboard was erected, prohibiting fishing, swimming, and throwing trash in the area. The villagers began saving food scraps and giving them to the junior youth, who used them to feed fish in the reserve. Residents also took an active role in protecting the project, for example, by explaining the community’s fishing policy to strangers and travelers.
Central to the project were numerous gatherings for education and consciousness-raising that the junior youth held over the course of more than a year. These involved sharing information with community members, but focused as much on shifting habits and behavior. Many residents had to learn new fishing practices and give up techniques that, while common, were harmful to the ecosystem. The junior youth spoke regularly, for example, about the detriments of overfishing and the use of small hooks and traditional poisons. This provoked resistance among some community members. In one meeting, the junior youth were asked if they, themselves, had not used some of these techniques. When challenged, the junior youth did not lie, but admitted that they had and said that it was time for all of them to learn together how to adopt better ways. Community members were touched by the honesty of this response, and many expressed support for the project.
Recognizing that the well-being of their own community was inextricably linked to that of their neighbors, the junior youth constantly encouraged others to take ownership of the aims of the project. When members of two nearby villages reached out, after hearing of the reserve and noticing changes in the marine life off their own shores, the junior youth held educational meetings in those localities as well, and even organized a series of two-week long eco-camps over school holidays for youth from all three villages. Marine reserves were eventually established in all three, each supported by its own community members. And after two years of effort, significant change was seen on all sides. The group’s facilitator wrote:
You can see many large clamshells and plenty of shells even in the reef. Everyone is surprised to see clamshells in places that no one even expected. The community members have never seen anything like this. After two years, everyone is convinced that the ocean is alive… Before, [mothers in the village] had to wait for someone to dive in deep sea to bring fish for them to sell. Now they themselves catch the fish easily, enabling them to gain 2 to 3 dollars a day. Now we see mothers and fathers and even children collect shells.
Key to the project’s success was the spirit of collective ownership that the junior youth were able to build in their village and beyond. The owner of the land where the reserve was located told the junior youth that the national Department of Fisheries had previously initiated a similar project in the same area, but that it was not sustained because the community had not respected and supported it. The unified action the junior youth were able to foster was what allowed such significant change to be achieved.
OTHER CASE STUDIES
Service-oriented education fosters local initiative
Strengthening local communities’ capacity and inclination to initiate effective action in response to local needs is critical to addressing the many forms that environmental challenges can take. The Baha’i-inspired Preparation for Social Action (PSA) program seeks to foster such a spirit of initiative and service to the common good by assisting youth and young adults to serve their regions as “promoters of community well-being.” The program’s 25 units help participants build capabilities in areas ranging from language, mathematics, and science, to agriculture, health, and environmental conservation.
While studying PSA materials related to the environment, one group of young people in the Mwinilunga district of Zambia carried out an analysis of their local area, focusing particularly on ways that stressed ecosystems in the vicinity might be restored. Many ponds in the area, for example, had contained fish in the past but no longer. In response, the group initiated efforts to revitalize the fish ponds and raise consciousness about ways to fish that would not deplete the stocks. Other areas once covered by forest had now been mostly cleared. The group began replanting trees.
The group’s commitment to regularly assessing the needs of their community included but was not limited to conservation projects. When government construction of a new road forced sections of the community to relocate, the group helped rebuild homes in new locations, so community members would have somewhere to go. Group members also took the situation as an opportunity to start conversations in the community about how homes could be built in ways more conducive to the health of families and the environment—for instance, moving away from the common practice of placing latrines or rubbish pits next to a home’s kitchen, in order to improve sanitation.
Extending care and attention to diverse segments of society was a priority for the group. Their efforts ranged from helping the elderly clear grass from around their homes and fetch water and firewood, to offering educational and empowerment programs to young adolescents. This outward-looking orientation attracted others to their efforts—the study group, for example, growing to include some 40 young people. But it also inspired environmental action by many others in their area who had no direct connection to the group. Experiments with backyard vegetable gardens that the group undertook, for example, were taken up by others in the village, improving nutrition in the community.
Perhaps most notably, the group’s endeavors contributed to improving certain aspects of the culture of the community. The shared understanding of the notion of “development”, for example, moved beyond one in which the local community is relegated to being a mere recipient of material services, to one in which people increasingly think of themselves as protagonists of their own progress. In the words of the tutor of one of the groups:
Before, people thought that development could only occur when others with money come in to fund projects. But then they started to see development as something that can come from within the community—that when we work together in unity we can build our community.
Leveraging local resources in responding to natural disasters
When natural disasters strike, local communities can be on their own for days or weeks. Increasing communities’ ability to leverage their own resources and draw on their own capacities is therefore critical in responding to a changing climate. In this regard, Baha’i communities have found that local populations already working to build habits of unity, cooperation, and collective action are better prepared to rebuild the physical environment, respond with agility to acute needs, and strengthen the social fabric.
When the Caribbean island of Dominica was struck by Hurricane Maria, one of the most powerful Category 5 storms on record in the Atlantic, the Kalinago territory, a primarily rural and indigenous region, was particularly hard hit. With aid slow to arrive from the capital city, participants involved in Baha’i community-building activities convened a series of public discussions to consult on what steps could be taken with the resources at hand.
These consultations explored immediate physical needs but many other social and spiritual aspects of the community’s health as well. In one discussion, community members identified a return to a sense of normalcy as a central need. The local school was functioning, for example, but instead of the uniforms customary for the area, students were wearing whatever clothes were available. This was felt to be contributing to a general sense of disorder and instability in the community.
School uniforms were therefore identified as a priority of the community, but one that was not likely to be addressed by external relief agencies. Further discussion on how the community itself might be able to respond revealed that what was truly needed was not uniforms, but rather fabric. Many local residents knew how to sew, and there was a desire for the community as a whole to have ownership in the process of re-establishing the school. As clarity on these points emerged, an official observing the proceedings announced that the Dominican government was seeking means to inject capital into villages affected by the storm. If fabric could be secured, he declared, he would find funding to pay community members to sew the uniforms.
Parallel to these efforts, several communities in the area identified a need to build greenhouses to quickly re-establish food crops that had been destroyed. Using primarily locally available materials and land donated by community members, these efforts responded to near-term shortages. But they also served as key social spaces for community members to gather together, reflect, pray, and study. The greenhouses became collective rallying points. Moral and spiritual education classes for children and young adolescents were held on the sites, augmenting the formal schooling underway, as well as prayer gatherings open to all. These initiatives reinforced and strengthened commitment and initiative across a range of response efforts. An individual who supported these projects reported:
Building the greenhouses brought the community together in a profound way. Neighbors and friends joined together and worked from early morning until evening, bringing whatever materials they could spare or salvage and sawing planks from fallen coconut palms. After finishing their work for the evening, they would gather again for collective prayers. It was very touching.
United States of America, Navajo Nation
Drawing simultaneously on indigenous knowledge and scientific insight
Growing numbers are noting the importance of drawing on both indigenous knowledge and the insights of scientific inquiry, in building more ecologically sustainable societies. This was at the heart of a series of conservation and agricultural initiatives undertaken over the course of four years in the Navajo Nation of the United States. Several groups of middle-school students participating in the Baha’i-inspired Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program were assisted to apply growing capacities of observation, inquiry, and service to the ecological and social realities of the reservation on which they lived, in light of the traditions and culture of the Navajo people.
The first year of activity focused on investigation and observation. Members of the groups and those assisting them spent significant time in the field, observing and cataloging animals, insects, plants, herbs, and rocks present in the local ecology, through each of the four seasons. This observation was augmented by trips to the public library, where group members researched features of the plants, animals, and habitat associated with their climate zone and elevation. The groups’ research efforts also included visits to local elders to capture stories, observations, and recollections they could share about aspects of the natural world and relationships between them. For example, the group observed seasonal star constellations to calculate traditional dates and deadlines for planting and harvesting, then heard storytelling from elders about how the night sky historically guided people's movement, cycles, practical lessons, and ceremonial events. This not only bolstered traditional ways of understanding local realities, but reinforced connections between generations.
Central to these efforts was a commitment to individuals gradually building capacity over time, paired with collective efforts beginning simply and growing in complexity as experience accrued. Reflecting this approach, in the second year, group participants were assisted to choose and purchase seeds and begin growing simple plants in their homes, deepening understanding of the level and consistency of care needed to foster growth. In the third year, participants acquired heirloom bean, squash, and corn seeds from a tribal seeding program, and began planting exterior plots to learn about dry farming. As expected, physical yields were initially low, but learning was plentiful.
By the fourth year, the participants as well as those helping to facilitate the groups—often young people themselves—had grown significantly in capacity, and the groups were drawing on far more sophisticated techniques. That year, crops were started indoors to extend the growing season, using artificial light. Learning from past challenges and building off of principles of permaculture, groups were now using instruments to test the pH value of the soil, and had learned traditional practices of using pine needles or ash to raise or lower levels of acidity and alkalinity. They had also begun to draw on vermiculture (the use of worms to manage the decomposition process) and understood the effect it could have on adjusting levels of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate in the soil.
All of the efforts strove to consider ecological principles not in the abstract but through the arid and often hot conditions of the reservation itself. As a lack of running water was one of the primary reasons that the young people struggled to sustain crops, the group became deeply involved with approaches to water catchment and conservation. They familiarized themselves with drip systems, water reservoirs, and other means of conserving and dispersing water as efficiently as possible. They tested local heirloom seeds that had been developed for the area and bred to be drought resistant. They also discussed various aspects of climate change and how it might be reversed and its effects blunted.
Among the most notable capacities built over the four years was a rise in the middle-schoolers’ ability to think both critically and appreciatively about patterns of culture in their society. The groups sought to examine and gradually differentiate between what was superstition and irrational thought, which needed to be weeded out or left aside, and what was vital tradition and culture, which needed to be embraced, drawn on, and revitalized. As the coordinator of the programme wrote in this regard:
We began to ask our own families, even our own observations, as to reasons why these [environmental changes] were happening. We tried to identify a language to describe what we were doing. And with our spiritual convictions of the Navajo people, we began to answer the question, “What is worth preserving in our own culture as far as the environment and all the qualities and attributes that went along with living in balance with the land and the people and giving back through a reciprocal process.”