Raising public consciousness of protecting Vietnam’s flora and fauna
Gaia nature conservation, a non-profit organization dedicated to environmental conservation efforts in Vietnam, is opening a new educational program in cooperation with World Wildlife Fund and HSBC Bank. The program is focused on changing negative behavior towards nature through education and communication programs, and will take place in Tram Chim National Park in Dong Thap Province.
Established in August of 2016, Gaia Nature Conservation is a relatively new organization started by Huyen Do, a person with over 18 years in wildlife education. After years as a member of Wildlife At Risk, another non-profit dedicated to conservation efforts, Huyen branched off and created Gaia. “We set up Gaia to try to empower people to be more harmonious with Mother Earth. What I really want is to empower people, because in Gaia we believe that the people who have created the problem have to be the ones to solve the problem. We cannot follow them everywhere and tell them to protect the environment, we have to empower them, to give them the motivation to change.”
In the past Gaia worked with fisherman on Phu Quoc and Con Dao islands to education them on some of the issues regarding marine life, and what steps they can take to help protect the environment that provides their living. Currently, however, much of their effort is centered on educational programs that protect Vietnam’s national forest. According to Huyen, “Right now we are focused on education, on bringing secondary school kids, aged 12 to 15, to nature. We bring them to national parks to show them the beauty of nature and how to behave toward nature. For example, if you see a beautiful flower, don’t pick it. If you see a wild animal, don’t kill it.” Huyen teaches the children that a healthy alternative would be to take a photo instead, so that these plants and animals can live, grow and regenerate.
At Dong Nai Culture & Nature Reserve, the destination of many of the current field trips, busloads of students are brought from Ho Chi Minh City area schools, where they first visit a nursery and learn how to plant seeds, grow the plants, and transfer the healthy plants to the woodland area. The students then go into the forest where they, using guidebooks on local flora and fauna, work in groups to identify various plants and animals. It’s a great sensory experience for the children: touching tree bark or ferns, smelling flowers, listening to the birds. And students receive health benefits as well. According to a study by the University of Minnesota, while spending time in nature, “What you are seeing, hearing, experiencing at any moment is changing not only your mood, but how your nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are working.”
Not only does Gaia work with schools, they also work with community groups, university students and companies. Teaching adults to behave appropriately toward nature can be a challenge, as Huyen attests. “For example, a lot of people who go to Can Gio nature reserve, where they have a lot of monkeys, a lot of Vietnamese people feed the monkeys because they enjoy it, but that is not a good thing because the monkeys come to depend on this food, so we have to teach them the harm this behavior causes the wild.”
Another group Gaia works with are the residents who live near national parks that do not always understand the benefits of having protected national parks. “They think that the government has tried to steal the land from their ancestors. They set up the park, and don’t let the people take the wood or the animals, so we focus a lot on why the park is important.” She describes how when locals need money they are still in the practice of going into the national parks to collect honey or to illegally log the forests for wood to build their houses.
Even the people in charge of the national parks often require education on how to sustain the forests. Often national park staff, being governmental employees, are assigned to their post, but are not necessarily educated about the environmental issues impacting the parks, like how to work with the local people to reduce poaching or illegal logging.
Within many of the stakeholder groups, from future generations, to the management of the parks, to the local residents, there is still a lot of instruction needed to help conserve the natural environment of Vietnam. If you’re interested in any of Gaia’s programs or to volunteer, you can learn more at gaiavn.org.
Images by Vy Lam and Gaia