Conservation Education in Sichuan Province: Reaching Kids through Educators

The Conservation Education Department of the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding, Sichuan Normal University Graduate students, and me at a three-day Conservation Education Workshop

Hello this is Jocelyn and I’m in the middle of my third week in Sichaun province, China.  I’ve returned to city from traveling for a while and I’ve gotten situated in my apartment, including… unpacking for the first time!!  This week I’ve gotten to shadow several members of the Conservation Education Department at the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding, including Professor Sarah Bexell.  Sarah and three other members of the department have just completed a training for graduate students at Sichaun Normal University.  I participated in the training as both a learner and a presenter.

The Conservation Education team worked with the Psychology and Education Department (a graduate-level-only department) at the regions premier university for teacher education.  The philosophy behind this training is to work with future teachers and crafters of education policy to ultimately reach the young students who will inherit the conservation movement.  While the majority of students studied psychology they were interested in working with young people and designing educational programming- and proved to be responsive and eager students.

The workshop gave me a chance to examine what graduate education could be from another perspective than GSSW.  Initially the students all quietly entered the classroom on the first day, whispering to each other in hushed voices.  They sat upright when the workshop began and did not ask questions unless prompted to at the end.  It was a far cry from the experiences I’ve had with chatty and boisterous GSSW students (except before 8 am classes).  We broke into icebreakers quickly though and the differences between our cultures quickly faded.

The workshop lasted three days, including many sessions such as: information on the principles of conservation education (please see my first post China, Pandas, and Global Social Work Practice); teaching techniques in this field; the importance of biodiversity and its loss in China; the global, illegal wildlife trade; animal habitats and behavior; the importance of nature in child development; healthy pet practices; food safety; relating conservation education to kids; and problem-based education techniques.  Personally I gained the most from two workshops.  While I was familiar with the importance of nature in child development from Professor Bexell’s International Social Development class, concepts like Nature Deficit Disorder seem strikingly relevant when living in a city of 14 million people.  An NPR interview with Richard Louv details this recognized psychological concept.  I also found problem-based learning to be a useful empowerment tool.  Problem-based education, as outlined in the workshop, begins with children or youth identifying macro-level problems that concern them (pollution, endangered species loss, etc.) and selecting an issue that they would like to address.  Students identify what knowledge must be gained in order to successfully address this challenge and then the teacher will work to incorporate these concepts into reading, math, science, and social studies lessons.  Students ultimately will make small changes in their lives, behavior, and school community to create change around this problem.  I found this approach to be relevant to the social work theories of a solution-focused approach as youth are given the tools to successfully enact change in their lives.

Presenting to Sichuan Normal Graduate students one successful model of Conservation Education in the United States: my field practicum site, GreenLeaf

While I found these concepts very interesting, ultimately the most exciting moments were when I had to the opportunity to present.  While much of the workshop created education around conflicts, losses, and problems several examples of conservation work with youth were presented—including my work with my foundation year internship.  This past year, my placement was with GreenLeaf, a youth-led urban farm in northeast Denver.  GreenLeaf is an excellent example of social work’s principles.  Youth (mostly of color, refuges/immigrants, or lower socio-economic status) are hired onto the organization’s team to help produce healthy, affordable, organic produce on formerly abandoned lots.  Food is taken home as an alternative currency to the youth crew, donated to hunger-relief organizations, and sold at flexible but fair prices in the community.  The organization is largely youth-led with the students holding responsibility over curriculum projects, community education, crops, and hiring.  I was so pleased to have the opportunity to share all this with the other participants (and trainers) and we had a very productive dialogue afterwards about whether this would be possible in China.  One major difference that the students highlighted is that GreenLeaf farms on vacant urban lots while there are no vacant lots in Chinese cities- land is too valuable.  I also had the opportunity to lead a game on the effects of human population growth on wildlife.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to attend this workshop- it really was an exchange for me and I gained a lot of knowledge from the other students and presenters.

Leading graduate students in a game demonstrating the affects of human population growth on animal habitats (they’re representing wild pandas)

Videos: Chinese Organic Farming and Community Mobilization

Hello!  With the help of the GSSW tech team, I was able to upload several videos of my visit to Anlong Village co-operative farming community (see post below).  Enjoy!

Chinese Organic Farming and Community Mobilization

My host grandmother and my colleague weeding on the Quan family farm

Hello!  This is Jocelyn Durkay, concentration year, community track student at GSSW.  I’m spending 6 weeks this summer in southwestern China studying global social work practice with Visiting Professor Sarah Bexell.  I’m blogging about my experiences this summer- this is post number 2.  During this past week I had the amazing opportunity to visit a co-operative farming community in Anlong county outside Chengdu, Sichuan province.  I’ve always had a penchant for gardening and growing produce and held my foundation year internship with GreenLeaf, a youth-led urban farming program in northeast Denver.  I found this week to be a valuable social work experience, as well as a valuable farming experience.

The co-op community of Anlong Village was launched in 2006 with the help of Chengdu Urban Rivers Association (CURA) and other NGOs.  The project involved collaborating with farmers, who lived upstream of a major river that feeds into Chengdu, to switch from chemical farming (using of pesticides and herbicides) to eco-farming.  Eco-farming in China refers to a number of different practices including organic farming and high land productivity in order to avoid pollution and environmental degradation, to conserve resources, and to create healthy food.  In practice this means creating almost zero waste, growing organic produce, and selling the food to urban residents while educating them about the importance of chemical-free produce.  Even human and livestock waste is converted into clean-burning methane gas and organic fertilizer!  One of the larger farms in the village offers eco-tourism opportunities where visitors can stay at the farm in order to work, explore, or play on the nearby river’s beach.

Anlong Village is a pilot project that many organizations hope to duplicate.  I learned a great deal about Anlong and its farmers during my stay there from Monday – Saturday of last week.  I stayed with the Quan family (pronounced Chen): a grandfather, grandmother, and their teenage granddaughter.  It was a fantastic homestay experience where I was able to enjoy local, fresh, organic food at every meal and had some opportunities to work on the farm.

Me with my hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Quan

As I mentioned earlier, this was not just an opportunity to experience nature, culture, and agriculture but also a social work learning experience.  I had the opportunity to speak with four heads of households about their switch to eco-farming, through the translation assistance of a colleague.  These farmers had spent all (or most) of their lives as farming– initially participating in traditional farming techniques, then chemical farming, and now eco-farming.  Chemical farming rose to popularity in the 1980s because of the high demand for food to combat mass starvation from a population boom.  Chinese colleagues informed me that with the rapid rise in China’s urban development and modernization, farming has become somewhat synonymous with peasantry.  These farmers are reclaiming the occupation, however, through technical knowledge and concerns for public health.   Young people in Anlong are remaining on their family farms instead of moving to cities, helping slow the loss of a generation of Chinese farmers.   As mentioned, the initial impetus for the formation of Anlong Village stemmed from river pollution.  This river is used for laundry and for swimming by residents and guests alike.  The river water is also diverted to water the fields and has a direct connection to human and animal consumption.

Health benefits extend to farmers’ daily lives as well.  One farmer spoke of the positive health his mother has experienced since switching to organic farming.  Previously, she’d needed daily medication and had poor reactions to breathing pesticide-ridden air.  Now her health has improved enough that she does not need medication.  Another farmer spoke of how he made the decision to protect his family’s health, helping feed others healthy food was a secondary consequence.  That same farmer spoke of the concern he now felt for others who consumed chemically treated produce.  He’d seen farmers spray food with pesticide in the morning and sell the same produce later that day.  All four farmers spoke of feelings of pride they’d developed for their produce and their customers.  Previously they’d sold their produce to wholesalers while now they know their CSA customers by name and feel a concern for their health.  Farmers also spoke of their connection to their land, wildlife, and the act of farming—aspects they did not speak of when explaining their previous use of chemicals.  Several of them spoke of new responsibility they felt to the larger environment, demonstrating feelings of empowerment.  Farmers discussed the sense of community they felt with other eco-farmers, recognizing they had collective power and strength.  Additionally, all four farmers spoke of how they enjoyed their lifestyle and would not choose another occupation than eco-farming.  After completing my Research Methods & Design assignments on horticulture therapy, I found this last point particularly interesting and wondered if this supported research on positive mental health affects of horticulture experiences.

The Anlong Village co-operative was incredibly inspiring but they are currently fighting a losing battle against hyper-industrialization and urbanization.  The Chinese government is attempting to buy farmer’s homes in order to demolish them and relocate families to urban high rises (requiring a long commute to their farmlands).  Additionally, I could not see the sun through Chengdu’s smog clouds until my fifth day on the farm.  When showing my hosts’ granddaughter photos of Denver, she commented on how blue the sky looked and how she’s never seen sky like that in her hometown.


CURA’s official site,

An article about the community, featuring the eco-tourism farm,



Dammon Loyalka, M. (2012). Eating bitterness: Stories from the front lines of China’s great urban migration. Berekely, CA: University of California Oress.

Wang, H., Qin, L, Huang, L, & Zhang, L. (2007). Ecological agriculture in China: Principles and applications. Advances in Agronomy, 47(10): pp. 181-208. DOI: 10.1016/S0065-2113(06)94004-8.

My host preparing lunch on a traditional Chinese stove while I feed the fire underneath to cook the food

China, Pandas, and Global Social Work Practice

An image of a Red Panda in the wild

My name is Jocelyn Durkay and I’m a community track student at GSSW- and I have the amazing opportunity this summer to attend a GSSW internship in China with Visiting Professor Sarah Bexell.  As a participant in Professor Sarah Bexell’s International Social Development course (co-facilitated by PhD student Eric DesMarais) I had the opportunity to learn of her work at the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding.  Professor’s Bexell’s expertise is wildlife conservation but she also focuses on education.  Conservation education is vital because if residents near a protected area or urban residents (in Chengdu or in the United States) do not know their role in wildlife and habitat loss, they cannot mitigate or prevent further loss.  Her course also gave me the opportunity to design a development project on conservation and community development training for staff in Myanmar’s protected areas.

This research opportunity aligned with my first internship experience in China: shortly after my arrival, I joined Prof. Bexell in Beijing for Red Panda Population and Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA), a red panda conservation planning meeting.  Red pandas are smaller than giant pandas, resembling more of a raccoon than a panda although they share the same habitat and food (see attached picture).  I was able to observe two sessions of the event, which involved 26 individuals from China, several Western nations, and Myanmar.  (Myanmar and the Chinese Yunnan province share red panda habitats.)  After designing a vision for red panda conservation, the group broke into two focus groups to explore red panda population dynamics and threats to the population.

I attended the threat breakout group sessions, which identified bamboo collection practices, poaching, road and dam construction, mining, ecotourism, and timbering as leading sources for population loss.  Attending these sessions was helpful in learning the direct implications of rapid industrial development on ecosystems and animals.  I found myself also examining the United States’ role in this habitat and wildlife loss, as China produces so many of the products that our country consumes.  Even though I live far from China, my lifestyle and consumption has a direct impact on Chinese ecosystems.  Not only am I responsible for loss that has already occurred but by continuing to live the way I do now, I am responsible for future loss that will result as the country works to satisfy global product demands.  I have already seen this in person through my initial visit to Chengdu, the industrial capital of southwest China, where visibility is measured in hundreds of feet, not miles, due to smog and pollution.  (In fact the city is constantly congested, placing into perspective the smog cloud I have seen over Denver when returning from the front range.)  Relatively young buildings are stained by pollution and the rain is acidic.  This is a city of 14 million people and I can only imagine the health consequences this generates for residents.

On a more positive note, I also had the opportunity to explore several areas of Beijing.  Our hotel was located near the 2008 Summer Olympic complex.  I visited Tian’namen Square, the Forbidden City, the summer palace, the Great Wall, and one of the Ming dynasty tombs.  While these experiences were breathtaking and enjoyable, they also provided me with historical knowledge and an understanding of current cultural perspectives.  For example, despite the large number of foreign tourists visiting the Great Wall many Chinese citizens still have limited contact with foreigners.  This is especially true as foreign visitors were restricted during the Community Revolution and subsequent years.  I had Chinese tourists ask to take their picture with me, including entire families, which was a very surprising experience.

I am excited to experience what this internship has to offer.  Next week I will be visiting a rural area outside Chengdu where 8 families have began an organic farming cooperative to attain greater control over their food and health!


GSSW 2012 Award Recipient Announcement

2012 GSSW Awards Recipient Announcement

Edith Davis Award

Sara Nord’s submission, Professional Development for Teachers Working with Refugees, was selected as the recipient for the Edith Davis Award, which is given for the best paper/project on a person or persons of color or multicultural topic.  Sara’s submission was a 32-page program proposal and training curriculum for public school teachers in Denver and Aurora, regarding effective practice with refugees from a variety of cultural and national groups.  The training curriculum was well written and researched, and provided specific resources for teachers, addressing underserved populations.

Tommi Frank Memorial Award

Ryan Holmes’s submission, Box Project, was selected as the recipient for the Tommi Frank Memorial Award, which is given for the most creative and imaginative social work paper/project.  Ryan developed an intervention approach with high-risk youth in which a hand-crafted wooden box is built as part of a mentoring relationship between an adult mentor and an individual youth.  The box is designed with a variety of symbols, images, and photos, portraying a youth’s life stories and experiences.   The submission included both a completed box as well as a detailed manual, describing the theoretical concepts underlying his approach, which drew upon cognitive and developmental psychology, social learning theory, mentoring theory, narrative therapy, and Jungian and psychoanalytic interpretation of symbols.

Dorothea Spellmann Award

Katie Lykin’s submission, Adult Female Sexual Offenders PowerPoint presentation and accompanying presentation notes, was selected as the recipient for the Dorothea Spellmann Award, given for the best paper or project demonstrating understanding, creativity, and competence in working with groups. Katie’s presentation reviewed the literature on group work with sexual offenders, most of which had focused on male offenders, and critically examined what group work approaches were appropriate for female offenders.  She utilized video clips in her presentation, along with clear explanations of group principles and processes.