February 16, 2003

Some of the 23 first-time visitors from developing countries enjoy an outing in the Arava during their three- week course entitled Social, Economic and Political Challenges of Nature Conservation.Israel displayed its ongoing commitment to environmental issues recently as The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies hosted 23 first-time visitors from developing countries for a three-week course entitled Social, Economic and Political Challenges of Nature Conservation.

The participants, from Nepal, Myanmar, Angola, China, Colombia, Sri Lanka, India, Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya, Yugoslavia, PDR Congo, Zimbabwe and South Korea, had at least two years of experience in environmental management and work in a variety of positions in their home country, in Government offices, NGOs and as university lecturers and researchers.

Clive Lipchin, course coordinator and lecturer at the Arava Institute, said that this international group would assist Israel and the Arava Institute in strengthening the international level of our environmental activities while at the same time allowing Israel to contribute to nature conservation throughout the world.

The course took place at the Institute’s campus at Kibbutz Ketura, and was offered and funded by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem Center for International Cooperation (MASHAV) as part of Israel’s assistance
to developing countries.

According to the organizers from the Institute, the participants learned about nature conservation in terms of the relationship between human societies and nature. The course was taught from an interdisciplinary perspective by ecologists, policy experts, educators, natural resource economists and community activists.

The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies is a regional center for environmental leadership. By encouraging environmental cooperation between peoples, the Arava Institute is working towards peace and sustainable development on a regional and global scale. The Institute is situated in Israel’s Arava Valley – a desert in the Syrio-African rift near the Jordanian and Egyptian borders and the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat. The Institute is home to academic programs, research and public involvement.

The course began with a presentation of the three local ecological systems in the Arava (desert, coastal and savanna), with a focus on the important human-caused threats to these systems. Next, the participants took part in a series of lectures introducing them to the range of policy tools available for promoting nature conservation, including laws and legislation, economic tools, educational programming and community activism.

Throughout the program, the participants were exposed to case studies in the field. These
were: sustainable development of the Dead Sea Basin, mariculture in Eilat and national park planning in the Southern Arava region. The course included lectures, field study trips and group discussion for analysis and synthesis of the day’s events.

In addition, participants experienced kibbutz community living. They were hosted by kibbutz families and had opportunities to get to know about Israel through informal education about the kibbutz lifestyle, Jewish holidays(they took part in the Tu B’shvat celebrations and visited Jerusalem), the recent elections in Israel and other current events.

Benny Shalmon, lecturer at the Arava Institute and the southern Arava’s regional scientist for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, led the group through an intensive day of hiking and learning at the nearby Hai Bar Wildlife reserve and the Ein Evrona conservation and archeological site. Shalmon said that most of the participants are people connected to the
earth, to the environment and to nature, and that their level of involvement is excellent. According to Shalmon, nature conservation projects are the only way we can cope with an increasingly technological future.

The course takes place at the Arava Institute in between the regular semesters of the environmental studies program.These are available for one or two semesters of credit and are also part of the Arava Institute’s two-year Ben Gurion University of the Negev masters’ program in desert studies.

On the final Saturday night, participants prepared a presentation of traditional cultures from their home countries. The event includes
traditional costumes, dancing, singing and ethnic artifacts and more and was an excellent opportunity for Arava Institute staff and the Kibbutz Ketura community to learn from them.

Besa – a student from Ghana, related the traditional story of the baobab tree. He explained, “There is a saying in my country that the baobab tree is so very large in its riches that no one person’s arms can encircle it. Now,
the Arava Institute has enabled us to achieve the riches of the knowledge of the baobab tree together by joining arms with people from all over the world to learn together – and together we have fallen in love with Israel.”

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