Heizhugou Summer Camp

Children playing the habitat game

Children playing the habitat game

The Panda Base offers summer camps for children of the Yi ethnic minority in order to help teach the children about environmental conservation and animal welfare. The camps are offered in four different locations and each lasts for three days. Chinese volunteers from all over China come to help teach at these camps. We trained at the Panda Base for four days prior to the camps in order to learn different activities and games to teach the children. Games such as a

Nature hike scavenger hunt

Nature hike scavenger hunt

camouflage hide n’ seek game and Oh Dear! helped the children to learn about animal behavior and the importance of habitats for all animals. We also decided to play a game about bees since many of the people in the villages collect honey to sell. In this game, the 🐝”bees” tag the 🌺”flowers” and take their cotton balls, or “pollen,” in order to change them into 🍊”fruit.” We must spread awareness of the necessity of preserving our quickly diminishing bees, who provide pollination for up to 70% of the crops we consume.

 

Our first summer camp group

Our first summer camp group

 

The project that I came up with emphasized the importance of the four basic needs of all people and animals. It teaches about the basic needs of food, water, shelter, and space to raise young. I first asked the children to think about their own habitats in their village so that they fully understood that a home was not just a house. One also needs a river for water, a grocery store or garden for food, and space such as a village to raise a family and live. I explained that all living things,

Nature box showing the four basic needs of a habitat

Nature box showing the four basic needs of a habitat

even plants, have the same basic needs. The monarch butterfly, for example, must have milkweed in order to raise its young because of the shelter and food the plant provides; therefore the plant must also have the necessary space to thrive and allow for the survival of the butterflies. Once the children understood that animals also have the same basic needs at humans, they set out to build their own habitat “nature box” for an animal. They each created a diorama in a box by collected materials from nature (only one rule-nothing could be alive such as flowers or bugs) and used clay to create a habitat for an animal. The children were quite creative with this project!

Mountains near Heizhugou

Mountains near Heizhugou

The summer camp I went to was Heizhugou, located in the Liang Shan mountains. Heizhugou is often known as China’s “Bermuda Triangle” and literally means “death valley” due to the people that are lost in the mountains and never found. The Yi minority that live here are very poor and often uneducated. Because they are part of an ethnic minority, the Chinese government allows them to have up to four children per family instead of enforcing the one child policy (*side note–

Stray dogs in the village of Ebian near the Heizhugou Nature Reserve

Stray dogs in the village of Ebian near the Heizhugou Nature Reserve

this policy has recently changed to allow the Han majority to have up to two children, but only if both of the parents came from single child families). It is not uncommon for Yi girls to be married as young as 12 years old. Many of the children finish their education after elementary school because their families cannot afford to pay the cost of board and food, which is equivalent to around $40 dollars a year. The children generally stay in residence halls at the schools during the year and go home during the summer. Most of the children who come to the summer camps have to get up before the sun rises just to make the journey to school in the mornings, which can take hours.

Our daily walk through the village to lunch

Our daily walk through the village to lunch

My experience at the summer camp has been both rewarding and challenging at times. It can be hard not knowing what is going on all the time because the kids and the volunteers have limited English, if any. My favorite part of the day is when I have my turn to teach an English lesson, play games, or do the nature box project. However one of the biggest disappointments is the lack of nature we have been able to experience, despite being in the middle of such amazing scenery and mountains. The school we teach at is in a very small village about 40 minutes from the Heizhugou Nature Reserve, which remains

Yi girls dressed in their traditional clothing

Yi girls dressed in their traditional clothing

uninhabited because of its adverse natural conditions. Due to most of the local villagers using the ground as a garbage can, the village itself is very polluted. In fact, the children in the first summer camp chose “less trash” as their theme for the summer camp. Of course, I wanted to teach the children about recycling and the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle). I was told, however, that the children would not understand what it means to recycle because they first need to learn that trash should be thrown into the garbage can and not on the ground.

Waterfall spotted on the way through the mountains to another village

Waterfall spotted on the way through the mountains to another village

 

 

It was hard for me to comprehend teaching children to appreciate nature when the nature surrounding the village was littered with trash. For our nature hike, we climbed up the side of a small hill in the trees littered in trash, stood for about 10 minutes, and then turned around. To gather the materials for the “nature box” project, the teacher led us through a shed filled with abandoned desks to a small section of bamboo that had been used as a pig pen the year before, also covered in trash. Although these conditions were disheartening, it made me even more aware of how necessary it is to help educate those who live in these mountains. Heizhugou is one of the only places left in China where giant pandas live and the little remaining area that they have left is disappearing at an alarming

Last day of the second summer camp, hard to say goodbye to these kids!

Last day of the second summer camp, hard to say goodbye to these kids!

rate. We hope that what we teach the kids about the environment sticks with them and enables them to share what they have learned with their families to create intergeneration learning. Even if we are able to just get through to a few children, it can make so much of a difference for the future of the environment and all who live in it. Teaching the Yi children in the remote reaches of these beautiful mountains has been an experience I will never forget.

2 thoughts on “Heizhugou Summer Camp

  1. Karen Bensen

    I’m sure you have made some impact, Caroline. It seems you have made the most of your experience!

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