What is SEGNI conceptually, its origin and purpose? SEGNI in Oromiffa, one of the widely spoken languages of Ethiopia, means seed. Also, as an acronym, it stands for Social Empowerment through Nature and Group Interaction. The experience was taken from a similar environmental practice called ‘Imbewu’ in South Africa, which also means seed in the country’s Zulu language. Fundamentally, SEGNI Programme is a combination of three initiatives: the Cultural Biodiversity Programme (previously started in Ethiopia); the Imbewu Programme from South Africa; and the traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) experience from Botswana which involves a deeper cultural exploration. It also benefited from relevant concepts and practices drawn from the literary sources.
MELCA initiated and introduced SEGNI programme to Ethiopia cognizant of the ongoing massive environmental degradation and cultural erosion in the preservation of eco-systems or natural resources. It was convinced that SEGNI approach would be instrumental to sensitize and mobilize young people to play an active role in reversing these alarming trends.
If done properly, SEGNI is a mind-expanding and soul-enriching practice about nature for the young generation and for others as well. It is in recognition of this promising reality that UNESCO has selected SEGNI in 2011 as one of the best learning experiences in its ‘Education for Sustainable Development’ motto.
SEGNI programme is designed to:
– serve as a platform where mainly children and youth get in touch with, deeply feel about and understand nature and local traditional values, inspiring them to be the future guardians of ecological and cultural diversity and connectivity;
– motivate the young generation for natural resource conservation and to respect cultural heritages; and
– facilitate lively interaction between the young and the natural environment through learning from and promoting ancestral ecological knowledge.
Strategically, if they are properly motivated and supported, young people are the most crucial part of the society to become future environmental protectors or eco-advocates (defenders of nature) no matter what career path they may follow in the course of their future. Moreover, the youth, if well equipped with the knowledge of preserving natural resources and related cultural assets of their communities, can develop a holistic outlook about their surrounding environment and eventually have a peaceful and harmonious relationship and co-existence with it. Hence, they would always stand up to question or say “NO” to any move that may threaten the local natural resources and eco-cultures.
How is SEGNI Practiced?
SEGNI is learned upholding and applying the following key approaches and principles:
– Children and youth empowerment, which emphasizes the need for working on the young generation
to ensure the future of the currently increasingly at-risk or vulnerable
– Realignment and mobilization of the school communities (students and teachers)
towards the goal of environmental protection and echo-cultural promotion;
– Understanding and respect for traditional wisdom, as well as the local ecology; and
– Intergenerational cultural knowledge transfer from the elders to the youngsters.
In practice, SEGNI involves taking young people, mostly students, numbering up to 20, into a forest on a voluntary basis through a process accompanied or facilitated by local elders in order to help the students connect themselves with nature and culture. Subsequently, the young forest ‘visitors’ disseminate what they saw, felt and learned (physically, naturally, emotionally, and spiritually) from their stay in the forest to their fellow students; they also form SEGNI clubs and carry out a range of awareness creation activities related to nature, the environment and culture in their respective schools.
Specific SEGNI Cases
This sub-section outlines SEGNI activities at three selected schools in Bale Zone as case stories. These are: Dinsho Primary School (Dinsho town), Ali Bira Primary School (Robe town) and Urgi Berissa Elementary School (Goba town).
The clubs have been performing the following important tasks:
– Carrying out environmental awareness creation and sensitization activities using different techniques including dramas, songs and poems at major public events and annual school days;
– Conducting regular mini-media programmes in the school to keep the wider students abreast of environmental and other related issues;
– Participation in seasonal local tree/seedling plantation campaigns and in related environmental commemorations, e.g. ‘Bio-diversity Day’, ‘Nayala Day’, etc.;
– Undertaking occasional environmental sanitation activities which involve cleaning plastic and other harmful wastes in the surrounding urban centers (Dinsho, Robe, and Goba towns);
– Collection of indigenous tree seeds from old trees with the aim of preserving endangered plant species and biodiversity in their capacity;
– Collection and preservation of local traditional antiques in the schools symbolically for demonstration to the students and to other visitors as well; and
– Participation in fighting wild fires which occasionally erupt inside the surrounding forest reserves.
The students said that, through SEGNI exercise, they have all the more learned that elders are human libraries or archives of past records and oral traditions to be carried on from generation to generation. They also explained that self-understanding and admiring/ loving nature are one of the legacies of the 2 to 4 day ‘adventurous’/educational tours they made into the surrounding ecosystems (notably Dinsho, Harenna, Sanetti). All of them emphasized the eternal memories they have been left with especially during their nights in the forests.
They said that they have acquired unforgettable and lasting lessons about Mother Nature and created strong communication and attachment with her. They have felt, among other things, the immensity of the power of nature in providing peace of mind and tranquility to humankind. During the visits, each student was encouraged to write a memoir or diary about their stay inside the forests, which are compiled and kept as a record in SEGNI club room set up inside their schools for the collection and display of local cultural items.
Moreover, when asked about the sustainability status of SEGNI, the participants of the three meetings, mainly the teachers and officials who are coordinating SEGNI in the respective schools invariably explained that SEGNI is already planted on a strong foundation and rooted into the society and, therefore, it is unlikely for it to backslide; instead, it will sustain even without much external support. And, they claimed self-responsibility to ensure the continuation of the initiative as it has already showed immense impact in positively changing and shaping the outlooks and behaviors of the students towards nature, culture, social relationship, and the environment. To this effect, the officials disclosed that they are incorporating SEGNI activities into their annual plans, like all other regular activities of the schools. This is indicative of a gradual move towards the incorporation or mainstreaming of SEGNI initiative in the school curriculums and programmes.
On the other hand, the school officials met also indicated that they are well aware that the SEGNI programme cannot always exist relying on external supports; hence, they are making all efforts for the programme to stand on its own feet ultimately. However, although this is generally the case, they still reiterated the importance of continuing occasional supervisory visits on SEGNI clubs by concerned actors (including MELCA) as it would further motivate them to perform even better and show more results in the future.
MELCA provided basic supports for the establishment of the clubs. These include a set of mini-media equipment and related supplies, computers, hand tools used for seedling production and planting.