Nature-Deficit Disorder exists even in some of the most Nature-Rich places on the planet
In this two-part story Heather Kuhlken shares a wonderful conversation she had with Gabriel, a new friend she met in Micronesia, where they discussed “the need for connection to nature can be felt all over the world, from busy cities to nature-rich Pacific Islands.”
Trading Stories With Gabriel!
On a recent trip to Micronesia, I had an unexpected layover on the island of Chuuk. As the sun was setting, I walked out to the fishing pier to enjoy one last look at the ocean before heading home. A new friend, Dr. Gabriel Kulwuam, joined me on the pier. We spent the next hour talking and trading stories. Gabriel lives on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG). He has a PhD from Queensland, Australia and works for The Nature Conservancy.
We spoke about his island home– a coastal village about 50 feet from the beach, within a big lagoon where Gabriel watches seagulls flying, fish jumping, and hears the birds singing. We spoke about how his village has changed over the last few decades.
We both find it amazing that he can now travel to the other side of the world and call his wife at home on a small Pacific Island in a hut made of natural materials where she is cooking dinner over a wood fire, and they can talk to each other by cell phone. Not all changes are bad.
When Gabriel asked me about the work that I do, I told him about the need I saw for families to have time together. I explained that families in the U.S. seem to be less and less connected to each other, as kids and parents are both over-scheduled and busy all the time. There is little time to be together, simply talking, listening and connecting. In addition to feeling less connected to each other, people are also less connected to nature.
Children spend very little time outdoors, spending it instead in front of screens at home and at school. Richard Louv describes this phenomenon as nature-deficit disorder in his book “Last Child in the Woods.”
With three children of my own, I saw the families around us (ours included) struggling to spend time together, and rarely, if ever, spending that time outdoors in nature. This inspired me to create Families in Nature, a nonprofit program whose mission is to connect families to nature and to each other through time spent learning, playing and volunteering outdoors.
In addition to time together with family, children need the opportunity to fall in love with nature and become fascinated by it. That love and fascination can only develop if children experience the natural world. Connection to nature and time spent immersed in nature benefit children (and adults) in many physical and emotional ways, as well as helping create the next generation of conservationists.
Even in Papua New Guinea children need to remain close to nature!
Gabriel was very interested in my program. He even asked me if it was possible to start such a program in PNG. This surprised me. I could not imagine that people in PNG would need help being connected to nature. But Gabriel says that it is becoming more and more difficult to remain close to nature. “We are now faced with pressure from the Western world to have more material goods,” he explained.
More Next Week!
Return next week for the second part of Heather’s extraordinary conversation with Gabriel and their shared hope of bringing nature into the lives of their children. Reprinted from the children & nature network. All photos contributed by Heather Kuhlken.
By Heather Kuhlken, Blue Ocean Contributor
About the Author
Heather Kuhlken incorporated her experience as a teacher and biologist and her passion for nature to found Austin Families in Nature in 2008. Since then, Kuhlken has guided AFiN’s growth into a 501c3 non-profit (Families in Nature). Kuhlken leads nature-rich travel experiences for families in the US and abroad.
Heather also works as a nature photographer, designs natural playscapes, serves on the leadership team for the Children and Nature Collaborative of Austin and volunteers for the Children & Nature Network.
Heather Recommends these additional sources:
THE RIGHT TO A WALK IN THE WOODS: Children’s connection to the natural world should be considered a human right
Children’s connection with nature is influenced by their enjoyment of nature, empathy for creatures, sense of oneness and sense of responsibility
Why We All Need a Dose of Vitamin N: In Our Increasingly Digitally Dependent and Urbanised World, Are We Slowly Losing Touch with Nature?
Heather has authored these Blue Ocean Articles:
How To Get More Ocean-Hearted Intel Delivered To Your Inbox!
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