By Education Program Manager Ciera DeSilva
I am thrilled to join Sierra Club BC as the new Education Program Manager and to work alongside our passionate Environmental Educators, Kirsten and Amira. The previous Education Program Manager, James Davis, was patient and thorough in training me and will remain in the Victoria area working on projects related to music and community, often fueled by bicycle power!
My path towards this environmental position was long and curvy.
Like all pre-schoolers in my native Bermuda, I learned not to waste water, as all drinking water is rainwater collected on one’s roof and stored in a big tank under their house. Starting at age five, I had a passion for monarch butterflies. I learned about local plant species with my grandfather, whose home was surrounded by bright flowers, aloe vera plants, a small banana patch and a papaya tree. My school created an edible plant garden and encouraged entry in the national agricultural exhibition.
Year round, I retreated to my favourite hangout spots in trees near where I lived. Summers included day camps—that had us outside sketching nature and collecting beach glass for art projects—but mostly, beach time. This included boogie boarding, building sand castles, exploring tide pools ecosystems and collecting garbage. I also adored visiting green turtles at the local aquarium, all rescued after boats collided with them. My ‘factual’ knowledge of coral reef ecosystems was enhanced by snorkeling among coral reefs that, luckily, my government and many non-profit organizations were working to protect.
My family moved to unceded Cowichan territories when I was 11. Joining Grade 7 Canadian students full of questions about my origins made me think about who I was in a new way. I enjoyed fieldtrips, but felt disadvantaged as I didn’t know about plants, animals or ecosystems on Vancouver Island. Though I hated the long rainy days and (relative) cold, I soon felt happy among friendly classmates and art class became my favourite.
Spending my formative years in the Cowichan Valley permitted me ample nature time. I swapped my tropical tree friends in Bermuda for sturdy Douglas firs and colourful maples trees. I learned to compost, hike, camp, kayak and build a campfire. I was thankful to never be far from the smell of salty waters and marine life of Cowichan and Maple Bay.
At school there was, tragically, little to no mention of the First Nations whose unceded land we lived, worked and played on. I first thought about this difference while living and attending public school on unceded Mayan territory in southeastern Mexico following Grade 12. My interdisciplinary studies (International Relations, Spanish and French) allowed me to pursue my interests, and launched me towards an internship in northern Peru. My non-profit team offered programs that included literacy, environmental sustainability (reducing plastic consumption, recycling and tree-planting) and teaching advocacy and leadership skills to youth and parents in marginalized communities.
Peruvians inspired me to dedicate my life to education. I moved to Vancouver for a Bachelor of Education program and stayed for my first teaching contracts. For me, joining the teacher profession in 2016 meant internalizing the importance of reconciliation. Our communities, schools, politicians, families and our own individual selves are at different places and moving at different paces in their journeys towards reconciliation. I aim to bring the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning more authentically into Sierra Club BC Education Programs.
Your presence reading this blog shows your interest in environmental education. Perhaps this fascination is rooted in memories of time that you, like me, were fortunate to spend outdoors while growing up. Regardless of how you got here, thank you for forming part of this learning community, for your openness to growth and to try new activities with your students and education community members.
I would love to hear your education suggestions, ideas, success stories and challenges via phone or email. Je parle français, yo hablo español e eu falo português (I speak French, Spanish and Portuguese), so don’t hesitate to contact me in one of those languages if it is more comfortable for you.
Best wishes for a beautiful Summer Solstice and season of peace, warmth, and refreshing ties with your communities.
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