by Pam Arifian
The ministry of the UCC Northeast Environmental Justice Center (EJC) is all about helping people to make and cultivate connections. Through educational and advocacy programs, we help folks connect their decisions and actions with the impacts of those actions on larger environmental and social justice issues, and how we are called by God to be responsible caretakers of Creation.
One of the activities that I enjoy facilitating with summer campers is called the “Web of Creation” and involves participants claiming roles of various species in an ecosystem, from fungus and worm to bee and flowers to fox and hawk. With lengths of string, we learn together what species are linked and how, for example, a berry plant is linked to soil community, pollinators, water and sun, and it is also linked with whatever species it supports. The result is reasonably controlled chaos as the participants get tangled in an interconnected web.
Once we have completed the web, we add an element of disruption to demonstrate the interdependence of all species in the ecosystem. Playing the role of “human” in the web, I explain how I hate mosquitoes, and decide to spray pesticides across the land to make myself more comfortable. Together, the group watches as the pesticides cause the mosquito, but also the bees and butterflies to “die” and drop their links in the web, which causes a ripple effect around the food web. The kids get the message quickly: our human actions make a big impact, because everything is connected, and we humans are an integral part of the ecosystems.
We usually follow this activity with time to explore the organically managed vegetable and pollinator garden, a learning and sanctuary space that is also habitat for a large variety of species. We learn more about ecology and plants and soil science, but I think the greatest impact occurs by just creating the space for the natural awe, wonder and curiosity to bloom.
I watch kids walk with their jaws dropped beneath towering sunflowers buzzing with pollinator activity, witness their sheer joy and squeals when they find a fat earthworm or when they gleefully search for tuber treasures during the potato harvest, or their fascination when they taste edible plants that most people perceive as weeds – that's when I know the real magic of connection is at play. The magic is in connecting their hearts and minds with wonder and beauty of the planet, because in doing so, we are preparing the soil to sow and cultivate in them the seeds of an environmental ethic, a sense of responsibility and knowing that our actions have an impact on others, and that we can make responsible decisions to reduce harm.
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