What We Do

CHILDREN ARE THE HOPE

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It is a fact that in the right formation, the lifting power of many wings can
achieve twice the distance of any bird flying alone.  ~Author Unknown

 

paper cranesGlobally, cranes are cultural symbols of peace, friendship, wisdom, long life, and happiness. Many species, because of their population declines and, in some cases, recovery have also P1170478come to serve as ambassadors for conservation challenges and a central optimism that drives recovery efforts for countless other species throughout the world. As such, they are a unique instrument in developing cross-cultural connections between humans and the natural world. Because of their charismatic stature and cultural significance they serve as an important link as diverse peoples come together to learn about and address larger conservation challenges and responsibilities, such as habitat destruction, pollution, global warming and declining animal and plant populations.

In Wisconsin, Greater Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis tabida) depend upon healthy wetlands and open grasslands for nesting, sufficient food sources, water, and protection.  Since the beginning of European settlement in Wisconsin, our state has lost nearly 50% of its total acreage of wetland ecosystems (www.wisconsinwetlands.org) and only approximately 0.015% of native prairie still exists in the Upper Midwest (www.theprairieenthusiasts.org). These biologically unique systems support significant plant and animal species, many of them endangered or threatened. With the great migration and settlement of European immigrants to the sand counties and fertile soils of Wisconsin in the mid-1800s, the crane’s wetland and grassland ecosystems became central to a systematic process of filling and tilling the ground to make way for new agricultural practices and to support a growing human population. Sandhill Crane in FlightSimultaneously, the Greater Sandhill Crane population in Wisconsin declined. In the 1930s and 1940s, the great observer of nature and father of the Land Ethic, Aldo Leopold, lamented at the vanishing cranes from the south central sand counties of Wisconsin, and predicted that the Greater Sandhills would disappear from our state forever (Erickson, 1988). With approximately 50 breeding pairs in Wisconsin in Leopold’s time, Greater Sandhill Crane populations were nearly extirpated in great part due to unfettered habitat changes, but also in part to the unregulated market hunting activities of the early 1900s (Meine and Archibald, 1996). With the advent of crane hunting regulations and protection of critical habitat areas, Sandhill Crane populations have recovered significantly in Wisconsin, with nearly 10,000 individual birds reported during the International Crane Foundation’s 2011 Annual Midwest Crane Count (www. http://www.savingcranes.org/past-results-andhistory. html).

Cuba, the partner country of the Children Are The Hope project, is unique in its ecological biodiversity. The largest island in the Caribbean, it hosts one of the most significant cubabiodiversity banks, particularly avian, in the world. Approximately 354 known bird species make use of the island, with twenty-one endemic species found only within its primary borders and the neighboring municipality, the Isle of Youth. Thirty species are recognized internationally as vulnerable to or threatened with extinction or endangered according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as CITES (Garrido and Kirkconnell, 2000).

39635_16Cuba faces important and complex threats to its biodiversity bank. Political complexities and attitudes between Cuba and the United States offer a unique and timely opportunity to actively engage in long-term conservation partnerships. On the tails of notable changes in Cuba’s political leadership and the advent of the arguably inevitable opening of Cuba’s borders to significant outside influence, endemic species such as the Cuban Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis nesiotes) and the ecosystems on which they depend face a momentous crossroads. The cranes, as symbols of friendship, peace, and cooperation, can become the common denominator to not only connect like-minded educators and conservationists in Wisconsin and Cuba, but to influence the development of an environmentally sensitive, knowledgeable, and action-oriented population of future leaders.

P1170344Children Are The Hope activities currently target regions of the El Venero Reserve of Ciego de Avila province in central Cuba. El Venero is one unit of the larger Gran Humedal del Norte (Grand Wetland of the North –GHN) reserve system, a 226,778 ha area in northern Ciego de Avila province in central Cuba. The GHN was established in 2004 to protect the extensive wetlands, marine coastal areas, and diverse forested habitats both on the mainland and adjacent keys of Ciego de Avila province. The GHN, portions of which are designated a RAMSAR site – or wetland of international importance – supports 47.7% of Cuba’s registered bird species, with 28 of those endemic and at least 15 of them considered threatened or endangered (Cuba Naturaleza, 2012). The critically endangered Cuban Sandhill Crane is a non-migratory subspecies of the Sandhill Crane that is found only on the main island of Cuba and the neighboring municipality, the Isle of Youth. With a population of just over 650 birds, these cranes are threatened by the disappearance of critical habitat (dry, open grasslands and savannahs and wetlands) and changes in the landscape due to water diversions for agricultural purposes and invasive species such as Marabu (Dichrostachys cinerea). The El Venero.korie 3country’s largest bird species, Cuban Sandhills are found in approximately 12 small and distinct populations throughout Cuba and the Isle of Youth. The GHN is home to the third largest population of Cuban cranes, numbering approximately 170.

Children Are The Hope aims to use the Greater and Cuban Sandhill Cranes as a tool through which the larger need for children in grades 4-6 to experience nature in Wisconsin and central Cuba can be addressed. CATH provides interactive environmental education and art-based experiences through which personal connections to the environment, animals and natural systems can be nurtured.  CATH’s academic year-long program includes in-classroom experiences that integrate art, social studies, language arts, mathematics, science, environmental education, global education, and cultural exploration in a fun, engaging, and empowering way.  Each individual student becomes a member of a team…a family whose goal of working together creates an opportunity to become an active member of the global community.cropped for table top

Children Are The Hope programming consists of approximately 6 in-classroom experiences.  The experience begins with an introduction to cranes… their biology and ecology.  As the year progresses, we discover the significance of cranes in cultures around the world, and then transition into learning about the colorful Cuban culture.  All activities in Wisconsin are synchronized with those of teachers and CATH educators in Cuba, enhancing the feeling of teamwork between participating students and teachers.  As children continue to learn about cranes, culture, nature, and teamwork, they are challenged to transform their knowledge, observations, feelings, and opinions into a creative expression.  These drawings, paintings, sketches, and visual creations are known as “messages”.  No matter if we speak the same language or share the same cultural traditions, we can all communicate through the international language of art.  As one CATH participant said, “You can learn about people when you see art. You can see their life, their past, their present and everything in between…”

hawthorneAs the CATH year progresses, students realize that the story they are writing together is not just about cranes anymore… while they are a central character in the book, the story has grown to be much bigger.  It is a story about people.  About working together for a common cause.  About learning that while we have identified and observed many differences between our two cultures, at our essence we are very much the same.  About believing that even though our cultures – at one significant level – don’t easily understand each other, we have been given a gift of friendship and cooperations.  About becoming a model for humanity.  About working together to make the world a better place.  About becoming the HOPE.

The CATH journey is a magical exploration of self and community that includes cognitive and non-cognitive connections.  All activities are correlated to acadmic standards, and compliment existing classroom curriculum.  We would embrace the opportunity to share more… if you would like more information about becoming involved in our programming, please contact us at any time!P1170437

   

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