How can the work of local NGOs be organized? What are the forms and methods of conducting their campaigns? What is a good way to establish cooperation with local authorities and with the press?
I was one of a group of representatives of Russian NGOs gathered by fate in Scranton, Pennsylvania in October/November 1994. We travelled traveled to the United States at the invitation of the American Government, for a month-long practical study tour organized by ECOLOGIA. Besides the joint experience of work, one of the principles of activity of all public organizations, we developed a sense of friendship and mutual understanding. This mutual understanding encouraged us, living in different parts of our small planet, to continue
to do everything possible for its preservation. It is impossible to forget new American and Russian friends, endless frank talks about every topic, long trips along this wonderful friendly country, the sorrow of farewell, and the parting words: "This is a beginning, and not an end. A beginning of work." And as for the work, we had a lot of it accumulated at our places when we returned home.
Two main water symbols of Russia took roots long ago and rather firmly in the minds of our people: the river Volga is "Mother Volga" in the part, and Lake Baikal is "Father Baikal" in Siberia. Their condition determines the quality of life of people who live in the adjacent regions and has a great influence on the ecosystem of the world. Lake Baikal holds twenty percent of the fresh water on Earth, and harbors far more endemic species of plants and animals than any other lake in the world.
The Lake Baikal Region is rather large (its area is 1/9 of that of the continental USA). It is located on the territory of two Oblasts (Irkutsk and Chita) and the Buryat Republic. Absolutely different ecological problems appear at each of Baikal Region's different parts. These differences come not only from physical distance from each other but also from different histories, cultural traditions, and economic conditions. At present, our Baikal Center for Ecological and Citizen Initiatives is the only NGO which works at all the major centers of the Baikal region: Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude and Chita. The Baikal Center has a good working system of communication with other inter-regional organizations and great experience of work with local activists. It is the Russian branch of Earth Island Institute which is based in San Francisco.
One of our most important objects is to encourage people who live in the Lake Baikal Region in their understanding of the fact that our future is up to us, that everybody has a chance to show an initiative and to realize his or her ability and right to determine the future. We feel that encouragement of the sense of proprietorship and the value of the independent individual personality in each human being is as important as preservation of the environment. To develop these ideas into reality, our Baikal Center with the other NGOs held workshops on two key subjects: ecological law and ecological education.
Our workshop on ecological law focused on legal regulation for nature preservation programs in the Lake Baikal Region. This workshop had a far-reaching impact. Participants from Irkutsk, Chita and Khabarovsk followed up by creating three new NGOs which specialize in environmental legislation, one for each city.
The ecological education workshop was held in Chita in December 1994. About 50 teachers from Zabaikalje and the Far East gathered in spite of Siberian frost and -36 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures. In organizing this workshop, we were very influenced by the experiences at PEEC (Pocono Environmental Education Center) in Bushkilll Falls, Pennsylvania, which our tour had visited.
(Editor's note: PEEC is a private residential environmental educational center which operates a variety of workshops, field trips and science education programs on its 38 acre (70 hectare) campus and in the surrounding Delaware Water Gap National Park. PEEC's staff of scientific educators and naturalists design "hands-on" programs for many different groups, such as schoolchildren from ghetto areas of large cities, elderly people, people with disabilities, and science teachers. PEEC also operates an International Classroom through a partnership program with Vodlozerksy National Park, Russia, and has an on-going exchange program with schoolchildren and teachers from Karelia.)
We felt that it is very efficient to organize such Environmental Centers in natural conditions, for example in the forest, near lakes or rivers. I was impressed by some forms of environmental education which I experienced at PEEC, such as ecological games, walks in the night forest, and learning about water fauna in the natural setting. During our workshop in environmental education we discussed PEEC activities. We decided to unite the efforts of several NGOs to organize a similar center in the Arachley Lakes area.
Topics included: school and university programs on ecology, ecological ethics, ecological paleontology, and the religious aspect of ecological training. The discussion of this issue was held at a Buddhist Temple 120 miles from Chita. A key subject of the workshop was the problem of pure water in ecological education. The experience of establishment of independent public monitoring of the condition of freshwater body with the help of simple tests held by pupils is well-known in the USA as Green Project. It interested all the participants and they decided to discuss it at the next workshop in June, and then to begin the implementation of Green Project in Zabaikalje.
It's significant that there is a unique place near Chita which is the watershed of three huge water basins: Lake Baikal, Pacific Ocean and Arctic Ocean. We live near the sources of three seas and we are the first who are responsible for their purity. Clarification of this fact for the inhabitants is the main goal of several forthcoming projects. These projects will be implemented by the Center with the other regional and international NGOs. The final results will depend on coordination and desire for cooperation between them.
And let's remember Longfellow: