Environmental education is about transformation.
The transformation of trepidation into empowerment by helping people tap into new skills they never thought they had. The transformation of isolation into connection by bringing people together through a collective effort. The transformation of blank walls into a work of art that conveys love for the local environment and its diverse flora and fauna.
“If these walls could talk…” jokes Carla Azofeifa, who coordinates FCEA’s environmental education initiatives, including the Mujeres Comprometidas con la Tierra (MCT) group of women that collaboratively created an environmentally themed mural* on the Finca Cántaros Environmental Association (FCEA) abonera** walls.
Among the countless things the walls might tell us about the months they were turning from white into colourful birds, butterflies, bats and more, was that the women themselves were simultaneously changing. At our recent wine and cheese inauguration to celebrate the completion of the project, participants shared how they—the transformers of the wall—were also the transformed.
Yolanda Morales, coordinator of FCEA’s second Annual Environmental Education Festival this past Saturday, said that “the Yolanda at the end of the mural project is different from the Yolanda at the beginning.” She referred to the walls as the witnesses to her process of becoming more empowered.
Roni Chernin, a local artist who guided the group on learning to mix mosaic and painting techniques, described how some women had never painted before and therefore believed they couldn’t contribute meaningfully. But with everyone’s support, these participants were pushed out of their comfort zone and discovered capabilities they didn’t believe they had.
The women also discovered new details about the local animal and plant species they were painting, explained Sofía Altamura Gamboa, one of the most active participants in MCT since the very first day of its launch in September 2020. Art allows the time and space for this attention, which is why FCEA is using art in its environmental education programs to help connect different audiences to the natural world.
Finally, a universal sentiment was that having the opportunity to share stories and experiences around the mural walls—and throughout all of MCT’s activities in general, from creating organic composts to talking over meals—has been especially significant in the context of the pandemic. During a time when so many have felt isolated and hopeless, this project created a safe solace of connection for women of all ages in the community.
As Robin Pascoe, FCEA’s Communication Advisor (and my wonderful mother!) observed at the inauguration: “Where there is art, there is hope.”
And environmental education is about the transformation of hopelessness into hope.
*Finca Cántaros Environmental Association would like to express its sincere gratitude to all those who donated materials to this project, including Grupo Materiales de San Vito, Kathy Bauer and Steve Crisp.
**The abonera is a space we built for the purpose of creating organic composts and materials for use in our forest restoration and agroecology efforts.