A TriGenerational Approach to Environmental Health
Children's Environmental Health Program
San Juan College, Farmington, New Mexico
"Our Elders, Our Teachers," a popular phrase among the Navajo nation, captures the essence of the Children's Environmental Health Program at San Juan College in Farmington, New Mexico. This program is funded by the Environmental Alliance for Senior Involvement (EASI) through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Older adults are trained to teach children, some of whom are their own grandchildren, to understand the importance of environmental health. Native Navajo Elders work with members of an environmental club at Shiprock High School. Recently, under the guidance of EASI Ambassadors and the SEC Project Director, club members developed presentations on air and water pollution or on toxins that exist in their community and how they affect Shiprock's water and air quality. They learned how toxins, such as pesticides and cleaning solvents, and industrial poisons emitted from local the power plant contributed to air pollution. The two generations worked with local elementary school students to identify environmental hazards and develop strategies to improve the environmental health and improved quality of life in Shiprock.
The Children's Environmental Health Program at San Juan College depends heavily upon the time, energy and expertise of tribal Elders. Participating Elders have witnessed marked changes in the environment during their lifetime and are eager to pass share what they have learned to the younger generation. The children, who have great respect for their elders, are eager to become involved in an effort that will make a positive difference in how and where they live. In addition to creating a new appreciation for their health and the environment, the program has greatly enhanced the relationship that exists between the school children and the Elder community spanning three generations. Upon completion of the recent projects, the cross-generational teams enjoyed canoeing together as part of a memorable recognition celebration.
It is this type of community involvement that EPA's Aging Initiative is working to promote through the development of a National Agenda for the Environment and the Aging. Civic engagement is one aspect of the National Agenda which will be released in 2004. Older adults contribute time, energy and expertise to various needs in their communities. Programs like the Children's Environmental Health Program in Farmington demonstrate how an intergenerational approach can unite generations and educate the entire community about the importance of environmental health. As tribal Elder David Patterson said, "What I like about...(the program) was that it was very important for young people and the elderly. It all relates to every day lives and it is especially good for Navajo people and Natives to know of this day of living, especially for the young people."
For more information about the Children's Environmental Health Program at San Juan College, you can contact: Ryan Downey at firstname.lastname@example.org. To get more information about the EPA Aging Initiative, visit http://www.epa.gov/aging/ or email email@example.com.