Amy Lipman-Avizohar, FoEME’s CGIS & Education Coordinator in the Tel Aviv office, reflects on her experiences at the 11th meeting about Youth and the Mediterranean Sea in France.
At the beginning of October I was proud to represent FoEME as the Israeli education coordinator at the “11th meeting about Youth and the Mediterranean Sea”, organized by the French organization of the “Centre de Decouverte du Monde Marin” (Discovery Center of Marine World). The conference took place in the beautiful setting of Villefranche-sur-mer in the French Riviera, bringing together representatives from environmental organizations around the Mediterranean: Algeria (which was the country of honor), Tunisia, Lebanon, Albania, Croatia, Greece, Spain, France and more.
The big map of the Mediterranean welcomed us at the entrance to the conference with little flags pinned in for each country represented there. It gave a good overview of the environmental network that exists. FoEME’s tag was unique, however, holding 3 flags – Israel, Palestine and Jordan. The multiple flag issue repeated itself also in the group photo, when I was appointed to fly 3 huge flags, managing to hold them high together and wondering if this could ever happen beyond the environmental world.
The presentations at the conference varied: from school children presenting their school project or field research about the marine ecosystem, to learning about different educational activities taking place in the representative countries and the environmental challenges they deal with.
Especially interesting were the presentations from Albania and Lebanon. Dr. Sajmir Beqiraj, presented the long process of identifying and declaring the 1st marine nature reserve in Albania. In contrast, a Lebanese Environmental Education team presented the consequences and activities that took place following a massive oil leak into the sea due to bombing during the 2006 war. On the one hand it was distressing to learn up close of yet another example of prices people and nature pay on both sides of the border for political conflict. On the other hand, meeting these wonderful women from Lebanon allowed us both to see a caring and intelligent face behind the barrier of the unknown neighbor.
In my presentation about FoEME’s “Good Water Neighbors Project“, I highlighted how, even during an ongoing conflict, the environment can serve both as a tool and as a goal for a better future. The shared interest and responsibility for protecting the environment, specifically priceless water resources, is a tool for connecting and building a trusting relationship between sides that are otherwise in dispute. Finding sustainable solutions is a goal in itself for promising the well-being of the population, the biodiversity of nature in the region, and securing health and livelihood which depends on the halt of environmental degradation. Finally, I demonstrated how we take the philosophy down to ground level and educate youth on both sides of the border to be good water neighbors.
In response to the presentation, participants expressed the great hope this model of work gave them and suggested such a model be adopted for the network of environmental organizations around the whole Mediterranean Sea.
The organizers prepared a grand finale and fulfilled the French reputation by surprising us on the last evening with a dinner at an impressive Chateau, in honor of the Algerian delegation. On that evening we danced and toasted together sante! to a better future.