Where Waters Meet
What I did there
In November last year I participated in the “Where Waters Meet” Conference, the culminating event of the WASTE Film Project (1). This project was an initiative founded by the Ladies of the Lake organisation (2) in partnership with the Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority (3) and the Windfall Ecology Centre (4), where 64 teenagers from four communities around Lake Simcoe produced a series of short films exploring ideas about the 'environment'.
Inspired by these films, the participants of the conference, which included representatives of different generations and various sectors of the Lake Simcoe watershed as well as international representatives, were engaged in a number of brainstorming and visualisation exercises to come up with three ideas for community environmental projects that would give continuity to the work so far developed by the WASTE project founders.
As an international representative, I had the opportunity to share my own personal community experience, as well as all the learning I accumulated as a masters student of IWRM.
Why I wanted to go
I have been involved with different environmental NGOs in the past and in several occasions I had the opportunity to go to schools and community events to talk about environmental issues. Through these experiences I gained a special interest for community engagement in environmental protection. However, I also realised that to create meaningful change, this engagement had to be more than just having people picking up litter or recycling, or classroom discussions about issues like climate change or rainforest destruction. It had to somehow provide people with opportunities to reflect on their daily behaviours, and as a result generate the will to develop deep personal relationships with the earth's natural systems and communities. Therefore, it was with great enthusiasm that I read about the WASTE project and decided to apply to go to the “Where Waters Meet” Conference. I think the films produced by the WASTE project explore the heart of the question of communities' behaviours towards the environment, in this case the Lake Simcoe watershed, so I was quite excited to learn more about this project. Moreover, it was a great opportunity to meet the 2009 Riverprize winners and get know a bit more of their exemplary work.
What I learned
The conference provided the participants with lots of dialogue opportunities to share experiences in water management, so it gave me some good practical ideas of how community environmental stewardship can be created. During my stay I also had the opportunity to hear about the main problems of Lake Simcoe and how the Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority is working to solve them.
One of the main things I learned from this is the importance of partnerships in watershed protection, such as the one between the Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority and the Ladies of the Lake, a community-based organisation. In many cases, communities are reluctant to work with government agencies in watershed protection projects, so having a partner which is well respected by the community and is able to connect and engage with its members makes it easier to spread the message and increases the success of watershed protection projects.
There I had the opportunity to see in loco how this type of partnership can work and how both organisations can share strengths and compensate for weaknesses.
I am now in the third semester of my master’s course where I will have the chance to develop a research project with a small community in East Timor. This will give me the opportunity to gain some experience in community engagement methods and techniques. The experience I had at Lake Simcoe definitely helped to strengthen my knowledge in this area.