Environmental educators win 2004 Tyler Prize

04/21/04

Two educational organizations that train and empower scientists and citizens to be environmental stewards of their respective regions will share the 2004 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement.

The award, which includes a $200,000 cash prize and solid 10- karat gold medals, will go to Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India, and Red Latinoamericana de Botanica, a consortium of six graduate training centers located in Mexico, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile and Argentina.

The honors will be accepted by Bunker Roy, founder and director of Barefoot College, and Osvaldo Sala, president of Red Latinoamericana de Botanica.

On April 29, at 2 p.m., the recipients will give public lectures at the Davidson Conference Center of the University of Southern California, which administers the prize.

On April 30, at 7 p.m., they will be honored by the Tyler Prize Executive Committee and the international environmental community during a banquet and ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills.

Since it was founded in 1972, Barefoot College has protected and improved the environment by enhancing the quality of life for the rural poor of India through efforts such as rainwater harvesting, wasteland regeneration, solar energy usage and health-care education.

The college has particularly addressed the problems of women and children in India's northwest region by providing night classes in animal husbandry, reading and math for thousands of children who must tend cattle during the day, as well as development programs for Rajput women who want better wages, legal rights and access to information about family planning.

Barefoot College - which serves a population of more than 500,000 people - has harnessed the powers of the sun and the rain, lighting and powering facilities and villages with solar energy systems and installing hand pumps to give people easy access to drinking water.

Eleven villages with roughly 13,000 people now benefit from piped water supply systems that were designed and implemented entirely by villagers. Nearly 400 underground water tanks have been built for rainwater collection, providing jobs for 7,800 people.

Villagers previously considered unemployable have attended the college and now work in their communities as "barefoot" teachers, doctors and engineers.

"The Barefoot College is a place of learning and unlearning," according to its Web site. "It's a place where the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher. It's a place where no degrees and certificates are given because in development there are no experts - only resource persons. It's a place ... where all are treated as equals, and there is no hierarchy."

Red Latinoamericana de Botanica - also known as the Latin American Plant Sciences Network - uses a broader, but similar, spirit of regional empowerment to provide graduate-level training in the plant sciences to students from Latin American countries, thereby enhancing environmental sustainability.

Through a consortium of six graduate training centers and 27 institutions, RLB is increasing the number of qualified Latin American botanists who can effectively conserve and manage the Neotropics, a region in Central and South America that harbors one-third of the world's plant species.

RLB also aims to improve communication between scientists and countries in Latin America; promote regional pride; and enhance self-sufficiency through scientific meetings, collaborative research projects, workshops and the regular publication of a bulletin.

Since its start in 1988, Red Latinoamericana de Botanica has trained more than 170 graduate-level researchers from 17 Latin American countries. To date, the consortium has offered 47 graduate courses, more than 80 scientific events and 156 small grants for research in Latin America.

"It is the Network's firm belief that promoting knowledge- gathering and training in an indigenous context are essential ingredients for influencing scientific priorities, ecological policy and decision-making in Latin America," the group's Web site states.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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