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In 2016, Taalim-Forum is involved in realization of the project aimed to strengthening environmental education networks in Tien-Shan and Pamir. The project was supported by Collaborative Snow Leopard Conservation Program of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and The Christensen Fund. The goal of the Collaborative Program is to protect snow leopards from extinction and preserve their habitats in high mountain landscapes of Pamir, Tien-Shan, Altai, and Sayans.

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Taalim-Forum developed and tested on practice educational materials aimed at increasing environmental awareness of people living in mountain regions through improving eco-education at schools and strengthening the potential of school teachers. 

Snow leopard is not just a rare endangered species. Many people living close to them believe that it is a symbol of Snow Mountains and a sacred animal. That is why the educational program was based on the ecosystemic approach and ideas of preserving cultural and spiritual values of mountain people. Through critical analysis of the modern ways of life and economics where culture and practice of holistic co-existence of people and nature is getting destroyed, where nature is controlled and commodified (turned into commodity), we need to recognize our mistakes and find alternative ways of development.     

The educational programs that included training for teachers (ToT) and eco-camp for school-students have been tested in July 2016 in Pamir region. The public association Kukhoi Pomir and its head Kurbon Alamshoev helped us in realizing our activities. This local NGO initiated and established several Clubs of Wildlife Lovers in Pamir region. 

Training of school teachers included following objectives: to show the meaning of snow leopards in preserving mountain ecosystems and importance of preserving their habitats; to disseminate holistic/ecosystemic approach in understanding environmental issues; to discuss the role of traditional ecological knowledge and values in protecting local flora and fauna; to explain the concept of biocultural diversity; and to present some methods of interactive teaching.

School teachers of various subjects from four districts of the Pamir region and researchers from Khorog University, 10 people in total, took part in five-day training called “Nature – Culture – Human”. The training followed by five-day eco-camp organized for 20 schoolchildren arrived from four remote districts of Gorno-Badakhshan region, including Roshtkala, Ishkashim, Rushan, and Murgab.

Schoolchildren participated in eco-games and exercises, watched documentaries about snow leopards, traditions and history of Pamir; discussed problems in economics; walked in the mountains and experienced “Deep time journey” – imaginary journey from the origin of our planet to modern times. Every day there were excursions and meetings with interesting people. Students learned about unique Pamir house (chid) and a water-mill. Local craftsmen demonstrated their products and workshops. With great interest they have learned about traditional tambourine – daph – an ancient music instrument.

Staying at traditional Pamir houses allowed children to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of traditional culture and living. The classes were organized at local school. Participation in the eco-camp allowed children to learn about mountain eco-systems, interconnections and interdependency in nature. Participants practiced in developing plans of economic development of their villages based on the principles of sustainability, using local resources by keeping the balance in nature. Schoolchildren interviewed local experts and made presentations. All these helped them to increase their ecological awareness and understanding of the importance of keeping the balance between nature and human activities. One of the participants reflected on her experience by saying, that at the camp she realized “how important to eat clean food, to breath clean air, to protect and not to destroy the nature”.

In the evenings children and their teachers sang traditional songs and danced. On the last evening according to the old traditions in Pamir, a big bonfire gathered all people of the village – men and women, young and old. Music, dances and songs lasted almost till mid-night. Participants of the camp became friends despite of speaking different languages – Tajik, Pamir, and Kyrgyz.

While discussing the question of snow leopard conservation, the facts of killing of snow leopards by local people have been revealed. This convinced teachers and students in the importance of bringing the issue of snow leopard conservation to people living close to high mountains – the habitat of snow leopards. People should be aware about the rare and majestic animal which is in danger of extinction. The teachers and school-students have learned about importance of snow leopards as indicators of health of mountain ecosystems. They also understood the importance of protecting their habitats and prey species. Schoolchildren realized how important to learn and value the wisdom of their ancestors that honored snow leopards as a totemic and sacred animal. 

Participants of the training for teachers noted that the educational program developed by Taalim-Forum for schools is informative and interesting; it can be successfully used at schools and for local residents of mountain regions. As a continuation of this work, schoolchildren of Pamir will take part in ecological contests organized by the Clubs of Wildlife Lovers. In the future plans of Taalim-Forum is to organize similar educational activities with teachers and schoolchildren of Tien-Shan mountain region.

Almagul Osmonova