“What is Earth Day?” That is the question that was heard over and over again as U.S. Embassy Vientiane was in the planning phase of its Earth Day celebration. On Monday April 28, 2014, over 100 local high school students from 4 high schools institutions in Vientiane found out about Earth Day, and much more.
The U.S. Embassy, in cooperation with Seeds of Hope Laos and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), organized a fun-filled day of educational activities at the American Corner in Vientiane. Public Affairs Officer Pam DeVolder discussed the history of Earth Day and highlighted the important role that we all serve in protecting the environment. We should not celebrate Earth Day just once a year, she said, but rather remember the earth every day and take action to keep the earth clean and healthy.
Economic Officer Matthew Kustel spoke with the students about U.S. involvement in environmental issues, both globally and in Laos. The discussion touched on broad topics such as climate change, and water scarcity issues, but the main focus was on pressing environmental issues in Laos, such as illegal wildlife trafficking, the protection of indigenous biodiversity, and the impact of natural resources development. Following an active discussion, students watched a special documentary film on wildlife trafficking in Laos that WCS produced with support from USAID. This powerful film focuses both on the lives of people and animals in the lower Mekong, and how they and their habitats are being affected by commercial wildlife hunting.
The students then broke into groups, each of which developed an Environmental Action Plan for their community. The individual groups presented their plans to the audience, and the 4 top groups received prizes.
The program was very productive, and it was clear that the students were eager to learn, and share their ideas on environmental issues, particularly their ideas for addressing challenges in their own communities.