Reaching Out With Respect

Heath Packard directed me to “Reaching out with Respect: Environmental Education with Underserved Co
mmunities
” by Bonnie Sachatello-Sawyer and Shamu Fenyvesi. In in, they off
er 15 tips for working with diverse communities, and their advice is applicable
far beyond the relatively narrow domain of environmental education — this is
solid advice for organizers of all stripes.

**1. Its All About Relationships**
Break down barriers through rapport. EE programs need to be planned with the co
mmunity you want to serve, not for them. Start the process by listening and ask
ing questions about where people are at: What do they care about? What do they
see in their community?

**2. The Process is More Important Than The Programs**
When developing collaborative programs with underserved communities, the proces
s of collaboration, trust building and teamwork is often as important as the pr
ograms themselves.

**3. Do Your Homework**
Understand the value systems and social norms in the community that you serve.
For example, when working with water in tribal communities, it is inherently un
derstood that water is animate and has a spirit, and that there is significance
to each natural place because each place reflects the whole order of nature.

**4. Bring Meat**
When creating programs in a community that is not your own, always ask question
s, listen and adapt to the social norms. If it is customary for guests to bring
meat…bring meat. Doughnuts? Bring doughnuts.

**5. Unsaddle Your Horse**
Trust and relationships have to be established over long periods of time. Spend
time getting to know people, beyond scheduled meetings and programs. Make time
for community or cultural events.

**6. Create Chaos Conscientiously**
Consider facilitating a series of planning meetings in your key community, cons
cientiously seeding ideas, and then let community members decide how to sow the
se ideas based on their dreams, community needs and values. Always remember, it
s not your program.

**6. Build Bridges**
Talking openly about cultural differences may help develop cross-cultural under
standing. Provide cultural bridges between the dominant culture and the culture
with which you are working. You can use one blackboard for traditional cultura
l knowledge and another for Western science and help partici- pants translate b
etween the two.

**7. Collectively Dream for Children**
Everyone has hopes and dreams for their children. They are our future. The shar
ing of our dreams for them can offer a chance for everyone involved in program
planning process to find common ground.

**8. Tear Up The Templates**
Every community has a different culture or set of shared agreements from which
they live, work, and understand nature. Assumptions, or applying a little progr
amming experience from another similar underserved community, can have unintend
ed consequences. Wherever possible, start from scratch.

**9. Team Teach Early and Often**
In every community, there are already great educational programs in place. Coop
eratively teach with local education leaders, fully participate in their activi
ties, and always demonstrate respect for work that is already going on.

**10. Can You Get There?**
Think about access issues and comfort level with outdoor activities. What to yo
u may be recreation, is to someone else difficult work, or just plain scary.

**11. Wilderness or Asthma**
Think of broader content connections for EE that are relevant to those communit
ies such as EE and health, EE and literacy. Be conscious about your assumptions
about nature and EE.

**12. There are Many Trails**
Allow your students different ways of expressing what they know.

**13. Sit Down and Deliver**
Underserved communities are used to broken promises. By never promising anythin
g that you cant deliver, you can be a respectful agent for positive change.

**14. Honor Diversity**
Few people are overt racists, but all of us can choose to actively dismantle in
equities. Educate yourself and colleagues on race issues, white privilege, and
environmental justice issues. Remember that these categories (race, gender, cla
ss) are fluid.

**15. Do Not Abandon Us**
Working with underserved communities is a long-term commitment. Make a consciou
s choice before the grant ends to continue the partnerships and relationships t
hat you have worked so hard to form.