Magazine article E Magazine

Bridging the Cultural Divide

Magazine article E Magazine

Bridging the Cultural Divide

Article excerpt

Despite the breathtaking vistas of its unique, semi-arid mountain-desert, the Namaqualand region of northwestern South Africa is woefully impoverished. But a handful of progressive Connecticut educators are working with African communities to build a foundation for global sustainability.

"The Namaqualand has the highest biodiversity of any habitat like it in the world," says Jonathan Kingwill of Eco-Africa, a South African environmental consulting firm. The region's spectacular Richtersveld National Park protects threatened wildlife like Hartmann's mountain zebra, leopards and klipspringer, and it supports one of the world's highest concentrations of succulent plants--more than 50 percent of which may be endemic, according to South Africa National Parks.

Social and environmental problems have intensified in the Namaqualand as local diamond mines are becoming depleted. Many towns have endured unemployment rates as high as 70 percent, according to Kingwill, and severe water shortages have compounded the suffering. Under apartheid, the indigenous Nama culture had been forcibly and effectively suppressed, leaving the deeply fractured communities with scarce resources.

For the past few years, Jerry Birdsall of Southbury, Connecticut has been working to empower the Nama people to solve their own ecological and economic problems. The non-profit, grassroots organization he founded--Connected Cultures--provides invaluable information and resources to communities in need. Birdsall, who has a master's in environmental education, uses the Internet to teach topics such as renewable energy, while Connecticut teachers and parents collect used and donated educational materials. …

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