At the end of the day it is hard to tell who was happier with Fundaeco’s first community art competition in July 2013. Perhaps it was Jorge Antonio Diaz, ecological educator with Fundaeco or was it Lucia Amparo López Ramíres, the ten year old girl whose picture of a forest filled with frogs was awarded first place by jury?
For Lucia Amparo, permitting only the slightest of smiles for the camera, there is the prestige of being recognised for her art and her conservationism. For Jorge-Antonio there is the fact that over 150 students, teachers and families from four schools participated in the daylong event. “The turnout was great. But even better is that the message is getting out there. Today we had three radio and television networks come to cover the art competition! The story of why the Sierra Caral is so precious is not just a local issue anymore.”
“Educating children is the key to changing adult behaviours”, Monica Barrientos of Fundaeco explains. “This ecological drawing contest contributes to creating and fostering a culture of respect and protection for the frogs and birds of the Sierra Caral. These are the seeds of a culture that embraces nature conservation as central to our lives, so that as adults they will remember the lessons they learned as children about protecting what we love. “
To make it all happen, Fundaeco teamed up with a local initiative called the Young Entrepreneurs Network in June. The brief was to organise a drawing contest that would capture local children’s imaginations and focus it on the beauty and importance of nature. The Sierra Caral where Fundaeco is working to protect several threatened amphibian species, faces threats to habitat from the expansion of cattle ranching among other man made pressures. Consequently, the project team, supported by an SOS grant, has been working to raise awareness among local communities about the unique value of this landscape.
According to Fundaeco’s project team, the art competition is just one of a number of participatory activities they are using to involve local community members in protecting the area. Involvement is key to the longer-term sustainability of conservation initiatives, explains Jorge Antonio. “Erecting signage and conducting surveys is important work to create awareness and knowledge, but tapping into the hearts and minds of the community through the children is the key to longevity. Now that makes me smile.”