SELAL II: An Overview
Puerto Jimenez, Golfito Canton, Costa Rica.
On Friday July 17, 2015, 12 local students from Puerto Jimenez Technical High School (Colegio Técnico Profesional [CTP], in Spanish) graduated from a two-week intensive environmental leadership and English language program. They stood smiling and proud before their family and community members in the school library, ready to receive their certificate of completion after committing their school vacation to the Environmental Leadership and Language (SELAL) program. Among the 12 graduates were three returning students from SELAL I, which took place January 2015.
Students participated in SELAL with a range of expectations. Some were drawn in by the opportunity to practice and improve their foreign language skills (English). Others looked forward to participating in activities with local businesses and organizations, and have the opportunity to network with local entrepreneurs and leaders in sustainability and eco-tourism. Fieldtrips and hikes into the nearby forests to learn about biodiversity and conservation also excited the students.
For many of the SELAL II students, this program was more than they anticipated. For them, it was about re-connecting with and re-discovering the importance of home: the Osa region, a place where neighbors, the community, and the environment can and do work together. “After this program,” students often said, “I really want to start my own business or work with nature. It’s work I believe I can do and live with here. There are so many options.”
In particular, SELAL II exposed the diversity not only of plants and animals to the students, but the diversity found in their neighbors and the types of rural community ecotourism offered. “Before, I didn’t know anything about plants, but now I know a lot! I learned so much from all the tours, speakers, and ecolodges we visited who talked about the ecosystem, the environment and its challenges, and about sustainability.”
As for many of us, we tend to overlook the value of what is close by, at home, even if your home is a tropical rainforest with 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity. “Puerto Jimenez is different because we have so much biodiversity, and before I didn’t see this. Our town is beautiful, and after the course I understand why.”
We believe one of the greatest strengths of the SELAL program is its ability to bring leaders together: bringing students under the same roof as local leaders from businesses, organizations, and the public sector. Everyday during the program, after a few hours of morning classroom instruction, students met and participated with a different leader from their community. These leaders included El Remanso Lodge, SINAC-ACOSA, Alberto Herrera, Reinaldo Aguilar (Osa botanist), Ifigenia Garita and Veronica Flores from OsaWild, RBA, Iguana Lodge, Lapa Rios Ecolodge, Luna Lodge, Osa Birds, Danta Corcovado Lodge, Cacao Monkeys, and Finca Kobo.
One initial result of the two SELAL programs (January and July) is that two participating students were offered employment at the completion of the program. This is only one measurement of the program’s positive impact on participants. The INOGO team is currently analyzing additional program data, and results will be shared with the Puerto Jimenez Technical High School, our leading local partners and champions for this program. Without the support of the P.J. Technical High School, we would not have been able to accomplish so much in such little time with the students. Here and elsewhere, we would like to continue to share our deepest gratitude toward the Technical Administration at the CTP for being an invaluable community asset in youth environmental leadership.
Looking forward, our next steps for future SELAL programs include improving upon past programs and curricula in Puerto Jimenez, while also exploring the possibility of collaborating with the Technical High School of Golfito in a similar program. While details and dates are still under review, we ideally would like to continue offering SELAL as a supplemental youth environmental leadership program in both Osa and Golfito cantons.