YEREVAN--Armenia Tree Project’s goal has been to educate future environmental stewards who will make Armenia a place where people and nature co-exist in harmony.
The program was supported by the Ohanian Family of Belmont/Boston from the beginning. Virginia Ohanian made a leadership gift to establish ATP’s first education center in Karin Village in the name of her late husband Michael. Several years ago, she donated again to establish a second center in Margahovit Village.
These centers are a beacon of success. In 2016, more than 4,000 students and adults participated in lessons at the Ohanian education centers in Karin and Margahovit. Students from 160 schools all over the country came on class trips to enjoy unique and fun hands-on learning experiences. Some of the adult lessons were conducted by ATP for corporate retreats at the center, and eco-tourists who were cycling across Armenia.
"As ATP grows, the education program grows with it," notes ATP trainer Nvard Gevorgyan. "We are encouraging young people to take action to protect the environment and to be the change for sustainability in their community. It starts in the classroom, expands to the school and fosters change in the community."
"ATP has always believed that the environment and responsible management of natural resources are essential to Armenia’s survival and are key elements for the well-being of the next generation," explains Country Director Lucineh Kassarjian. "That’s the reason environmental education is so important."
ATP’s "Plant an Idea, Plant a Tree" manual, which was approved by Armenia’s National Institute of Education, provides a framework for teachers to integrate sustainability principles in their schools. It offers tools to analyze environmental challenges and develop solutions. Using this manual, schools can introduce sustainable development themes and work collaboratively with students to develop practical projects.
Gayane Margaryan, a trainer at ATP’s Michael and Virginia Ohanian Center for Environmental Studies, runs an eco-club for 32 students in Margahovit. "Our manual is a guide for the eco-club. We do activities like composting and vegetable gardening. We also teach about recycling and reducing waste," Margaryan says.
One student explained how the eco-club is changing his behavior and day-to-day actions. "At home, I put into practice what I have learned from Gayane. My parents don't know much about environmental issues. Therefore, I teach them the importance of protecting the environment. I have introduced them to ideas like sorting our household waste and composting," explains young eco-club member Davit Kharatyan.
ATP is recognized as a leader in environmental education. For the past two years, ATP led the Environmental Education Network funded by the European Union through the UNDP’s Global Environment Facility. It established a Formal Network of Environmental Education Organizations to prepare proposals for Armenia’s "2016-2025 State Program for Education Development."
"Trainings of Trainers" is another way ATP expands the reach of environmental education. ATP has conducted trainings with Teach for Armenia, Children of Armenia Fund, National Institute of Education, Jinishian Memorial Foundation, World Bank, NGO Center, Eco-lab, Initiative of Active Young Citizens NGO, Ghoghanj NGO, Ayb School, Avedisian School, and the Armenian Missionary Association of America.
In the diaspora, ATP has a hugely successful program called Building Bridges. The program has expanded from a few schools in Glendale and Watertown to more than 75 schools throughout the US, and schools in several other countries have expressed interest. In 2016 students from six schools in the diaspora visited ATP in Armenia to meet their peers and plant trees together.
"One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals focuses on education, ensuring inclusive and equitable education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities. That's what we have been aiming at with trainings and participation in eco-festivals, eco-camps, trash cleanups and environmental meet-ups," says Kassarjian.
"The future is not carved in stone. We create it for ourselves, every day, with every individual and collective action. And we have proof in viable, positive and empowering solutions, weaving the fabric of entire communities through ATP's tree planting and education programs," concludes Kassarjian.