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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Deansmorg Park, Bangkok, Thailand

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Deansmorg Park, Bangkok, Thailand
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Registered: December 2018
City/Town/Province: Bangkok
Posts: 1
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If you were to enter my house address on Google maps, you would get a fuzzy spot of green surrounded by gray buildings. Unlike our Thai neighbors, we are not afraid to let our trees grow tall. I spent my childhood on the moss-covered bricks of our garden, climbing the trees to see over neighbor's fences, peering under rotting logs and chasing squirrels. Nothing gave me more happiness than to sit in the tropical sunshine with my feet in the fishpond and guppies nibbling at my toes. While I live in the sunny concrete jungle of Bangkok, Thailand, exploring the natural world has always given me joy.

Eight months ago I realized that I could spread this joy to others. Our family is good friends and financial supporters of a family of urban Pakistani asylum seekers. This family of five lives in a tiny, four-story townhouse with two other families. They came to Bangkok fleeing religious persecution in Pakistan, and overstayed their visa before they could find work. Now it is dangerous for them to spend time outside, because they could be caught by the Thai Immigration Police and sent to the Immigration Detention Center. As a result, the children are kept inside nearly all the time, and almost never get contact with the natural world.

I was researching nature-deficit disorder for a school project, when I realized that the disorder described in Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods, matched our friend's situation. Detachment from nature causes the "symptoms" of nature deficit disorder - anxiety, moodiness, insomnia, extreme sleepiness, and appetite problems. Many of these come from lack of sunlight, which is necessary for the production of vitamin D and the regulation of the circadian rhythm.

The situation of our asylum seeker friends struck me, and so I decided to focus my nature deficit-disorder project on the eight children from the three families in the townhouse. (Only after it was completed did I realize that this endeavor made a perfect Apprentice Ecologist Project) From the results of several surveys conducted with the families, I found that the children were greatly lacking in connection to nature. For example, 70 percent of respondents said their outside time was spent on the street, and the majority reported feelings of loneliness, depression, and boredom. To amend this, I organized weekly trips to a local park, Deansmorg Park, during the summer. These trips were designed to help the children increase their health through exercise and exposure to sunlight and deepen their understanding of nature. They would also teach the children the importance of preserving wetlands.
Around the outskirts of Bangkok it is common to bulldoze the wetlands to make room for new condominiums and shopping malls. Covering them in concrete prevents water runoff from being absorbed naturally, leading to more severe urban floods. Deansmorg park, roughly eight acres of lake, sparse trees, and marshes, provides a small piece of land where wetland creatures - Asian open-billed storks, egrets, catfish, frogs, snakes, lizards, and a multitude of insects - can take refuge. From the satellite view on Google maps, it doesn't look like much, but when I saw it in person for the first time, I knew this park was a winner. By showing the children the beauty of Deansmorg park, I would be planting seeds of knowledge and a desire to protect wildlife. Perhaps one day if their situation changes, the children will become strong environmental activists.

My mom was the adult coordinator of my project, arranging rides and being the supreme authority when necessary. Having grown up in rural Oregon, she is a nature lover herself and often played the "tour guide" on our walks through the park. She drove me and all eight children in the truck (a squished ride, but not a legal issue in Thailand) to the park every Monday, and we spent an hour walking around, feeding fish and pigeons, naming plants, and chasing butterflies. At first, I had to encourage the children to engage in nature, prompting them to observe the flora and fauna rather than complain about the heat. After a few weeks, however, they began to notice things for themselves. Here were some mushrooms in the grass, there was a fence lizard hiding in the bushes. They even taught me the Urdu word for the shy lady plant (Mimosa pudica) that we found everywhere in the park - "chui mui," which is literally translated "touch die." Whenever we came across a patch of it, I would say "Look, chui mui," and they would laugh as we stroked the leaves and watched them curl up. On one occasion, the kids stopped me from climbing a tree, and when I looked up, there was a wasp's nest I hadn't noticed on the lower branches! At the end of the summer, I raised funds to purchase two bicycles so that they would be able to ride to the park any time during the school year. A week after the bikes' purchase and delivery, one family reported spending nearly every evening at the park biking, playing badminton and jump-roping. This was a tremendous increase in outdoor activity from the beginning of the summer.

There were several struggles I had to overcome when executing my project. One particularly tough one was a severe illness that the oldest boy was battling at the time. He was kept at the hospital for four weeks, which was a constant strain on his parents and siblings. Another obstacle was the ever-present threat of Immigration Police. If the parents heard a rumor about police being in the neighborhood, they wouldn't allow their children to go to the park. Despite these difficulties, my mom and I patiently rescheduled park visits and helped to financially support hospital visits. On our last park visit that summer, the boy who had been struggling with the illness was finally able to come with us. We celebrated with a huge treasure hunt with prizes that ranged from juice boxes to sparkly bangles.

Throughout my project, I was constantly reminded of the small beauties of nature and how they can enrich the life of a child beyond their physical well-being. When I asked the children to journal about their first experience in the park, one girl wrote:
"There was fresh air and bird were singing we saw a snake and we also saw a fance lizard it was a realy good day we saw many types of flowers and we saw ants we also exercise there."
(I have not corrected her grammatical errors.) After living inside for so long, she was overwhelmed by the beauties of nature. On our walks through the park, the children would excitedly tell me about their memorable encounters with the natural world, whether they be feeding a pigeon from their hand or watching a snail poke out of its shell. Having grown up in a garden that must have been a "nature heaven" to the children, I sometimes took these natural encounters for granted. Seeing them through the excited eyes of the children reminded me of their value.

My experience of exploring and sharing the joys of nature with the eight children has confirmed my desire to work in Environmental Science. This world is given to humankind as a gift, and I believe in the necessity of showing its wonders to young minds, allowing them to explore it for their own, and reminding them of the need to protect it.
Date: December 28, 2018 Views: 3452 File size: 13.8kb, 324.8kb : 1075 x 1478
Hours Volunteered: 30
Volunteers: 2
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 16 & 47
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