Thursday, May 10, 2007

Lazovsky’s Annual Children’s Conference (April 20)

On my last day at Lazovsky I got to attend Lazovsky’s annual scientific conference for children living in the Lazovsky district, planned intentionally a few days before Earth Day. (Lazovsky Zapovednik sponsors a week-long celebration of Earth Day in district schools.) This conference has been going on for 12 years straight now. This year it brought together children from the towns of Lazo, Preobrazheniye, Kievka and Venevskoye. The zapovednik received about 50 papers from students in these towns and invited the authors of the best (probably about 25) to present aloud at the conference.

In the morning three types of work were presented: very short information pieces (usually an investigation of one species and usually by younger kids; the youngest kid there was 9); results of research; and papers. Some of the kids were really quite excellent speakers, and all of them listened to each other with very admirable attention. Although they rarely asked questions, when they did, they were very good ones! I found myself thinking that many adults would not be so attentive, interested and respectful. One girl gave a report on interviews she had done with local residents who had encountered an Amur tiger. Another girl had done research on different types of cedar trees. There were topics ranging from ancient peoples’ relationship with nature to rare butterflies to the importance of cedar trees. (WWF has involved many of these schools in a campaign called “Cedars are the tree of life!” – ultimately aimed at stopping logging of the species in the Far East.) In the afternoon there were creative presentations with songs and skits about nature (and especially about tigers!).

There were four judges of all presentations: one teacher each from Kievka, Preobrazheniye and Venevskoye, plus Galina Aleksandrovna from Lazovsky Zapovednik as the judge from Lazo. A first, second and third prize winner for each of the 3 types of morning presentations, plus the creative presentations, were selected, with the first prize winner winning an automatic ticket to spend three days at a camp for kids on Petrov Island in August. (Kids participating in this camp are all winners in contests that run year-long in Lazovsky District schools.) I thought the whole thing was great, but the environmental education department staff was a little disappointed with the results – a lot of the kids this year were younger and less experienced, and the best presenters had graduated last year. But that only means that each year these kids are going to grow and get better!

After the conference Galina Aleksandrovna, Olga, Sveta and Nadya invited me to go have a drink with them in the restaurant across the street. They were celebrating finishing the conference and the fact that it was payday. It was amazing to listen to them all talk. It seems like they know every kid in the Lazovsky District by name and personally. They also talked about how much they love Petrov Island and were anticipating the season on Petrov this year, which was to start in just a week. I asked if it is like a sacred place for them, like many say that Lake Baikal is, for example. “It’s more than that,” said Olga. “It is home.” I also asked them how they came to work at the zapovednik, a place where the average employee makes just 5000 rubles ($200) a month. (The average salary in Russia is about $400/month.) Galina and Sveta knew they wanted to come here, but Olga and Nadya noted that they came to the zapovednik because there was nowhere else to find work – and that most of the staff today are there for the same reason. Yet now Olga and Nadya have been there for 10 or 20 years already, and it certainly seemed to me that if they perhaps came to the reserve because there was nowhere else to go, they obviously found something they love there, because their enthusiasm for their job and attachment to this place is noticeable almost right away.

Pictures: 1. “Nature through the eyes of a child”: Sculptures made of shells made by kids living in an orphanage in Preobrazheniye (Zhenya works with them); 2. Kids listen to an informational report in the morning at the children’s scientific conference; 3. Kids doing a dance about the Amur tiger in the creative contest in the afternoon. These kids were rocking out!

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