Yoga, Litter, and Urban Parks



CoalitionWILD and #NatureForAll Select Three Finalists for the Greenhouse

What do yoga, litter, and urban parks have in common? In most cases, not much. However, in the case of the IUCN World Conservation Congress (#IUCNCongress), they are the topics of the three finalists chosen for the CoalitionWILD #NatureForAll Greenhouse program.

Earlier this year, the #NatureForAll Greenhouse was accepting applicants from around the world who are leading new and innovative projects that connect people to nature. Out of 107 applications, three finalists were chosen and will be pitching their projects at the #IUCNCongress, where one winner will be awarded a Grand Prize by a panel of experts. In the meantime, here is how they got to where they are:

LITTERATI - By Jeff Kirschner

Litterati is a community that is “crowdsource-cleaning” the planet. We have designed a mobile application that anyone can use to photograph, identify, map, and catalog each piece of the world’s litter. Through that process, our community is collaboratively building a global database of litter.

It started with a hike in the Oakland woods, my four year-old daughter noticed a plastic tub of cat litter in a creek. “Daddeeeeee, that doesn’t go there,” she said. Sure I’d seen litter before, but seeing it through her eyes opened mine. I saw litter everywhere, and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place that prides itself on being environmentally friendly. Then I remembered a lesson I learned as a kid at summer camp. On visiting day, our director would ask us each to pick up five pieces of litter. {200 kids x 5 pieces per kid = a cleaner camp}

So I applied that same crowdsourced model to the entire planet, and began using technology to do it. That’s when Litterati was born. Next I photographed a cigarette butt using Instagram. I noticed that Instagram’s artistic element made finding litter enjoyable. The photos were beautiful. Plus, I was keeping a record of my impact on the earth. Others began participating and Litterati started to spread. And then there was the data. With GPS, we designed a global map displaying where each piece was picked up. The Litterati community started tagging the brands they found, helping us understand what gets littered most. That first cigarette butt has turned into 200,000+ pieces in 100+ countries, and a global community connecting through mobile technology to clean the planet. Today, we’ve built on an iOS app that’s collecting data and bringing the community together.

ACROTERRA - By Maria Nieves

AcroTerra is an initiative that was born in the previous months to the World Parks Congress in Sydney, 2014, under the stream 'Healthy parks, healthy people'. At that time, we felt the urgent need to reconnect human societies into nature, but we felt that the ‘traditional’ nature campaigns were missing at least three key components: a) experiencing nature, b) experiencing the inner benefits of preserving nature, and c) create communities under common values such as respect, trust and fun. We felt that a strong connection could only be built under a deep understanding and fun experience of nature.

Taking this into account, we created AcroTerra. AcroTerra are workshops carried out in natural spaces (protected areas, botanical gardens, urban parks) designed to promote the development of healthier (physically, mentally and spiritually) persons, as well as nature educated human societies. AcroTerra combines the practice and benefits of yoga, the community-building tools of acroyoga, together with the co-learning and experience of nature. Each workshop combines physical practices (yoga/acroyoga), meditation and community dialogues guided under a specific nature thematic. At the end of each workshop, the participants feel better (physical and emotional), have learned and experienced something new about nature, and have created a community that is aware of nature and how they can help to protect it.

The workshops engage mainly society sectors outside the conservation field (young people, yoga practitioners, students, Down Syndrome people, etc.). Most of which live in cities and have little contact with nature.\nThe workshops are designed and guided by the international yoga and acroyoga certified teacher Maria Nieves (applicant), and the conservationist and scientist Alan Monroy. Together we have created this approach to nature, because we also believe that healthy parks need and deserve healthier people.

The practice of acroyoga sensitizes the people, meditation brings awareness to the present moment and the shared learnings brings nature specific thematic into discussion. Having a pleasant, often challenging physical activities into nature, creates a deeper experience and connection.

Additionally, most of the participants are urban related people. In general, these people have little nature experiences and even if they have the will to help, they lack the proper information to make a difference. Acroterra workshops give them a ‘touching’ experience, valuable information to promote positive changes as well as the accompaniment that the newly created community gives them.

ORGANIZATION EARTH - By Constantinos Macharias

The “Center of the Earth” opened its gates to the urban population of Athens in 2012 and it is operated by the Greek NGO “Organization Earth”. Organization Earth is a mission led non-profit endeavor based in Athens. Its core philosophy is the development of the concept of Environmental & Social Intelligence, i.e. a collective and experiential approach to the 17 Global Goals of Sustainable Development, through hands-on learning activities for all ages. These in turn impact behavior, transform thinking and can create a new economic, environmental and societal model for a more fulfilling world for us and future generations as well. Organization Earth collaborates with and implements programs in schools, corporations, governmental agencies, civil society, grass roots groups, volunteers, other NGOs and of course at the “Center of the Earth”! In almost 4 years since it opened, the Center has welcomed almost 100,000 visitors -school groups during the week, families on the weekends, when there are free workshops on cooking and foraging, environmental games and guided tours through the farm. Adjacent an acting as the gateway to the capital's biggest urban park and just a 20 minutes public bus ride (7 km) from downtown Athens, the moment you enter the Center of the Earth, you encounter a bucolic estate that belongs to another era. “Exhibits” include natural showcases inhabited by the “mini-beasts” that have colonized the area, the insects, frogs, and creepy crawlies that are so beguiling to kids; a stable with horses; organic vegetable patches, colorfully guarded by floppy scarecrows; a collection of old farming equipment; composting; and three experimental plots. Formerly polluted by heavy metals and filled with rubble, they were cleaned and given different soil or compost but never seeded, watered, or weeded. Now the plots are ongoing examples of how Nature heals itself and they are home to some 200 species and growing.

Building on positive connections with nature, our programs encourage people of all ages through their personal interests to experience, enjoy, and value nature. All together we try to define the path to a sustainable future and we encourage people to rethink which path will choose to follow. Through exploration of our farm, fun and informative programs, volunteerism and education, we seek to provide opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to be inspired by and learn from nature. During our programs people challenge their perception and rethink their relationship with nature, humanity and themselves. The connection between people and nature in the Center of the Earth is a great example of bridging hearts, opening minds and being united for a sustainable world. Connecting with nature means more than simply getting a little fresh air. Rather, it entails reconsidering our individuality, and re-calibrating our wider human and ecological relationships.

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