June 8, 2001

PROBEA: Successful Binational and Bioregional Environmental Education

by Greg Bloom

The Proyecto Bio-regional de Educación Ambiental (Bioregional Environmental Education Project, PROBEA) teaches educators how to teach their Baja California students about the environment. Based on the notion that the environment offers an integrated context for learning, PROBEA centers its programming on the watershed in which its students live, according to Doretta Winkelman, one of the organization's directors. This focus on watershed means that PROBEA is a bioregional organization as much as it is a binational one since Tecate, Ensenada, Tijuana and San Diego share the same watershed.



Organized between 1991 and 1993, and offering its first training sessions in Tijuana and Ensenada in mid-1993, PROBEA has worked with over 450 teachers throughout Baja California. More than just an environmental program where teachers are taught what it means to recycle or compost, PROBEA tries to get instructors to think about how people learn and tries to link learning with an outdoor experience, says Dolores Monterrubio, another of PROBEA's directors.

The main course that PROBEA offers is a six-day program that focuses on the area watershed and water issues in general. The course always includes a day spent in the region's estuary, the area where the Tijuana River and Pacific Ocean tide meet. A second, two-day course instructs teachers to become estuary guides and a third course, three or four days long, shows instructors ways they can help the Mexican government rather than criticize it on water and environment issues.

In 1999 PROBEA began its teaching program in Tecate where it received its first Mexican funding from Fundación La Puerta. A city of approximately 77,000, Tijuana is located in the mountains between Tijuana and Méxicali in a setting of hills, grass, and boulders with a river running through the area. Tecate is also home to the spa Rancho de la Puerta and its foundation, Fundación La Puerta.

Interested in preserving the region's environment, Funda-ción La Puerta built an education center in the city. Complete with classrooms built to be indistinguishable from the the large boulders that are scattered throughout the area, the Tecate education facility offers a moving setting for environmental education. Winkelman says that the center is "an ideal showcase for PROBEA" because the person hired to run it is a graduate of all three PROBEA courses. The director of the program also brings groups of students to the environmental center and coordinates teacher instruction in the area.

Having worked successfully in Tijuana, Ensenada, Tecate and Méxicali, PROBEA was invited to adapt its programs to the needs and bioregion of Baja California Sur (BCS). According to Winkelman, PROBEA will share its educational model, values and definition of environmental education with the state. Next year PROBEA will carry out a demonstration program there and will hire trainers to instruct teachers throughout BCS. Winkelman is excited about the program because the state government has mandated that environmental education be taught in the elementary schools.

PROBEA's work in BCS has been financed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service Office of International Affairs.


Member organizations

The diversity of PROBEA's member organizations is one of its strengths as its different groups prepare educational material in their own areas of expertise. With half of its participants from Mexico and the other half from the US, PROBEA is a collaboration of the following organizations: Daedalus Alliance for Environmental Education (PROBEA initiator in 1990—merged with the San Diego Natural History Museum in 1997), Grass Roots Educators, Los Niños, Olas Limpias, Parque Morelos, Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental, Pro Esteros, San Diego County Water Authority, Department of Education, San Diego Natural History Museum, Sistema Educativo Estatal SEBS-ISEP, SiBiEs - Sistemas Bilingües Especializados, and the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve.

An example of the part-nership's strength is that Los Niños prepared PROBEA's educational packet on com-posting, another organization created its material on domestic water use and a third member assembled information on how to perform water-quality tests.

PROBEA is funded by the North American Fund for Environmental Cooperation, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Fundación La Puerta, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the San Diego Natural History Museum.


Reasons for binational success

As successful as it has been in the field of environmental education PROBEA may be just as important as a model of binational success. Looking at the US-Mexico border environmental and NGO scene there are few examples of international cooperation and still fewer examples of programs where numerous groups from both sides of the border stay together long enough to accomplish worthy goals.

Monterrubio, an educator who lives in Tijuana, says that when the US members of PROBEA first appeared in Mexico offering to teach and give away educational material, Mexicans were suspicious—for two years. At the beginning of their contact, Monterrubio said that the Americans were "molestos"—bothersome.

Winkelman confirmed this initial lack of trust from the Mexican side and said that getting PROBEA off the ground as a truly binational organization was due to patience, persistence and the willingness of both sides to just show up. PROBEA succeeded in its later stages she says because it was "created together and designed together." Monterrubio attributed the group's achievements to everyone's willingness to learn and develop a clear mission and their ability to remain flexible and keep an open mind.

PROBEA's past successes in education and organization building should serve it well in the future. Winkelman said that the Baja California Sur people interested in environmental education for that state brought together more than 60 people in mid-May of this year to attend a five-hour, capacity-building workshop given by Merida Rodríguez of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Coming from all over BCS the attendees wanted to learn about grant writing and organization building. Taking the success of that meeting with her back to Baja California Norte, Win-kelman now wants to organize a similar workshop in Tijuana saying that finally, after eight years, PROBEA is at a point where it can build quickly across the region from the base of its past accomplishments.

Dolores Monterrubio may be reached at dmonte@telnor.net

Doretta Winkelman may be contacted at dwinkelman@sdnhm.org

Bloom is editor of Frontera NorteSur an outreach program of the Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico. Email address: frontera@nmsu.edu

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