Aiming for a garbage-free urban and rural Uttarakhand

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Aiming for a garbage-free urban and rural Uttarakhand

It is a truism that Westerners arrive in India expecting to cut a bold swath through it, and that when after some time they leave, India is exactly the same but they have changed [...]. India flattens you — the lushness, the dizzying dispersal of power, the human suffering. I am surprised, constantly, at how stubbornly hopeful the young Indians I write about are, the way they persist in seeing a way up through the muck of caste and poverty, and the reckless courage they display trying to get there.
— Ellen Barry, New York Times South Asia Bureau Chief

As Ellen Barry left India after 10 years of reporting for the New York Times, she noted "it is painful to cover, and it is painful to leave". Her powerful words capture all too well the contrasted feelings we too experienced. One has no choice but to accept the sheer magnitude of the challenges, most of all environmental, that the country is facing. But one can also choose to focus on the optimism and the energy of the people who are willing to tackle these challenges. This is what we did.

Last December, Slow Motion Projects started its last Asian mission for 2016 in Dehradun, the capital city of the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. The goal of this project: tackle the unprecedented Indian garbage crisis.

This problem is complex but can be traced down to two major causes: the lack of awareness about the health impact of dumping and burning dry waste, and the absence of infrastructure for collecting and managing solid waste. India is among the largest producers and consumers worldwide of plastics for food and goods packaging. The Indian plastic frenzy has dramatic consequences on public health, as toxic substances contained in plastic leak into soil and water before coming back up the food chain… What goes around comes around. In rural areas, plastic ingestion kills hundreds of thousands of cows every year, a huge toll taken on the income of farmers. The volume of unsegregated garbage, in which organic and dry waste are mixed, is increasing alarmingly around popular tourist destinations. Edible matter in garbage constitutes an attractive food resource for wild animals, but when no segregation is done they end up consuming toxic plastic waste.

Based in Dehradun, our partner NGO Nature Science Initiative (NSI) is working to increase awareness and bring solutions to the garbage issue in the rural and urban Uttarakhand. Working together for 3 months, Slow Motion Projects and NSI developed an action plan comprising school programs to sensitise children, awareness campaigns in rural villages, tourist destinations and urban areas of Uttarakhand, and the development of partnerships with other organisations ensuring the collection and management of waste. This action plan will be rolled out in 2017, in 20 villages and 2 major Himalayan tourist spots.

Thanks to the support of our donors, we hired a young and dynamic communication team who will create short movies for social media, posters, flyers, and promotional stickers to be displayed in stores participating in the garbage-free programme. We also supported the work of a skilled education coordinator tasked with enrolling schools into the programme; he already presented and discussed the garbage issue in 3 village schools of Uttarakhand, last December. Interventions in 40 schools are already planned for 2017. In Dehradun, NSI started to organise public walks in different areas of the city where residents can learn about waste, and how to reduce and manage it. With this plan, we expect to see clear steps towards the reduction of garbage pollution in Uttarakhand.

Reducing garbage pollution in Uttarakhand will lay the ground for the development of a responsible and competitive agriculture. It will also help preserve wildlife and nature, thereby allowing for tourism to further develop in a responsible way, and it will give the opportunity for Dehradun to become a pioneering clean city in India. We believe this is possible, because we have observed first-hand the relentless drive and optimism that characterises the local environmental actors. The die is cast; you help it roll. As always, thanks for your support.

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Averting an environmental disaster: the plight of Ladakh, the world's highest cold desert

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Averting an environmental disaster: the plight of Ladakh, the world's highest cold desert

You may know Ladakh as a remote Himalayan region, famed for its wildlife and trekking routes. For a thousand years, the land was ruled by Buddhist kings under Tibetan influence, who built formidable monasteries perched atop isolated scrags of rock, very popular nowadays with tourists. It was only in the mid-19th century that the (Hindu) Maharaja Gulab Singh invaded the region, which became part of Jammu & Kasmir, a princely state of British India. Despite its assimilation into the Indian republic, the two modern districts of Ladakh (Leh and Kargil) enjoy relative political autonomy nowadays, due to their cultural and religious differences with the rest of the state.

Beyond its cultural and historical interest, what brought Slow Motion Projects to Ladakh is its ecological significance. As a high mountain region (most villages are situated above 3500m), Ladakh is a harsh and unforgiving place; its climate is classified as "cold desert", with temperatures reaching over 30°C in summer and under -40°C in winter. Crucially, extremely low precipitation levels mean that people depend on glacial meltwater to sustain their agricultural activity, traditionally centered around barley cultivation (in the world's highest fields) and livestock breeding (in particular yaks, very well adapted to the high altitude and harsh climate).

For thousands of years, a regular pattern of glacial melt coupled with meagre summer rains allowed a stable population to thrive. Sadly, today's changing climate threatens the very existence of the Ladakhi people. Flash floods, such as the 2010 one that claimed 255 lives, destroy crops and settlements. Receding glaciers yield ever smaller quantities of water every year, further jeopardising the survival of crops and livestock. Alarmingly, we now understand the role of "black carbon", coming in large part from the burning of biomass in the northern plains of India, in creating a vicious cycle of global warming: black carbon particles deposit onto snow and ice, reducing surface albedo and increasing temperatures; in turn, higher surface temperatures lead to lower glacial cover and further decreased albedo. And if all this wasn't enough, the region is now at the heart of a tripartite geopolitical standoff involving India, Pakistan, and China, among the stakes of which is access to the rarefying waters of the Indus river, irrigating the largest land area of any river system in the world.

Ironically, the people of Ladakh are among the first victims of a global change they did not create... Yet in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, they are proving incredibly resourceful. The first public announcement of the creation of Slow Motion Projects, at TEDxGateway 2015 in Mumbai, was also an occasion for us to meet famed innovator Sonam Wangchuck. Sonam is a Ladakhi visionary determined, through education and innovation, to save his people from an environmental catastrophe. In the early winter of 2016, we spent a month working with Sonam's Ice Stupa team, whose aim is nothing less than to build artificial glaciers to solve the water crisis in the Himalayas. Similarly to our projects in Bhutan, the focus of this stay for Slow Motion Projects was skill-building and knowledge transfer, to help the local team in achieving their goals of environmental innovation.

Using data science to grow artificial glaciers

 Early growth stages of an ice stupa

Early growth stages of an ice stupa

While stationed at the Ice Stupa camp in Phyang, a large chunk of our work had to do with data analysis and modelling, with a view to training the local staff.

Identifying the environmental factors contributing to the growth and melt of the ice structure

Fundamentally, an ice stupa is nothing but a big cone of ice that holds frozen water during the winter and releases it slowly during the spring and early summer, before the summer rains start. In order to optimise the growth of the ice formation throughout the winter and its melt in the spring and summer, it is crucial to understand how various environmental parameters influence the freeze and melt dynamics.

Growth and melt of the ice stupa as a function of temperature; multivariate analyses are presented in the full report.

We created a data processing pipeline to elucidate the effect of the different parameters measured by the Ice Stupa weather station: temperature, UV index, relative humidity, atmospheric pressure. Using machine learning algorithms (multivariate linear regression with elastic net regularisation), we matched these parameters to changes in the height of the stupa, measured from images snapped automatically at regular intervals. This allowed us to uncover informative correlations, but most importantly train the Ice Stupa staff in data analysis and modelling, so they can replicate the study on their own with data from the winter 2017 and beyond. To know more about this project, check out the details in our full report.

Enabling offline data collection from the Ice Stupa weather station

A significant obstacle in the implementation of the techniques described above was the lack of data collected by the local weather station, due in large part to intermittent Internet connectivity (as is unfortunately the rule in Ladakh).

We developed a set of tools to enable offline weather data collection at the Ice Stupa project, by fooling the weather station into thinking that it is online even when it isn't. This involved reverse-engineering the communication protocol, creating a proxy server, and setting up a fake backend server to communicate with the station. As a result, weather data can now be continuously collected, whether there is Internet connectivity in the region or not. Full details and a walkthrough of our solution are provided on the GitHub project page.

Modelling the pattern of donations supporting the Ice Stupa project

Like Slow Motion Projects, the Ice Stupa project is supported mostly by donations. As Sonam Wangchuk started a large crowdfunding campaign to create an alternative university in Ladakh, an outstanding question was where the bulk of the donations came from. Are many small donations more important for the project than a few large ones, or the other way around? The answer to this question has to do with the shape of the statistical distribution of donations, which we analysed to conclude that a few donors contributed disproportionately large amounts to the first Ice Stupa crowdfunding campaign, thus influencing the fundraising strategy for the next phase. This study is also detailed in our full activity report.

Teaching activities

True to the core mission of Slow Motion Projects, we prepared an introductory course to climate change for the students of the neighbouring SECMOL school, divided into 5 units:

  1. Weather and climate
  2. Atmosphere and greenhouse effect
  3. Effects of climate change on Earth and in Ladakh
  4. The role of the diverse greenhouse gases
  5. Sustainable solutions to fight climate change.

We also taught evening "science classes" for the hands-on engineers of the Ice Stupa Project, covering topics such as the history of life, evolution, animal behaviour, complexity, and of course climate change.

Looking ahead: enabling ecotourism and environmental action in Ladakh

We were so taken with the region and the plight of the Ladakhis that we decided Slow Motion Projects could do more to support long-term sustainable development in the region. Enter Mingyur...

Mingyur Rigzen

Mingyur Rigzen is a young Ladakhi who, after completing his studies at the SECMOL alternative school, realised that the last thing he wanted was to see his native land dry up, wither, and die. Aged 25 only, he has already become a successful eco-entrepreneur by growing and selling organic peas which no one thought capable of striving above 4000 metres. Leading the Ice Stupa field team in the winter and wildlife tourist groups in the summer, Mingyur slowly saved money and built, with his own hands, an ecotourism lodge in his small hamlet of Rumtse, on the road from Leh to Manali. But perhaps his most significant environmental achievement is the creation, with former school mates, of the "Youth Association of Gya", a small independent organisation whose mission is to empower other young Ladakhis in building a sustainable economy. The YAG encourages the development of ecotourism by training local youth, and educates the villagers on the importance of wildlife conservation.

Just like Sonam Wangchuk, whose dream of a sustainably prosperous Ladakh might be slowly coming true, Mingyur Rigzen is sowing the seeds of the region's future through the most important empowerment vector of all: education. We have decided that Slow Motion Projects will further enable his action by supporting the organisation of a sustainability winter school at the end of 2017, allowing 50 local students to gather and incubate ideas about sustainable development for Ladakh... Watch this space for more information in the near future!

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Behind the smog, we saw the light

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Behind the smog, we saw the light

New Delhi on November 5th; the Air Quality Index on that morning was over 750, with anything above 250-300 considered "very unhealthy" to "hazardous". For the 20 million people living in the metropolis, especially the most impoverished ones living on the streets, life must go on just the same.

A few weeks ago, Slow Motion Projects spent a few days in New Delhi; there is no doubt that what we saw there will remain etched in our memories for a very long time. When you hear that Delhi is extremely polluted, and that you see extreme poverty at every street corner, well: this is true. We stayed in Delhi right after Diwali, one of the biggest celebrations in India during which people light crackers in the streets. In addition, during the winter months in India, the farmers in the northern part of the country burn their crop fields to fertilise the soil for the next harvest. These events, combined with the constant traffic, resulted in air pollution levels far above the maximum of any established scale to measure the concentration of toxic particles in the air. The air was so dangerous indeed that schools remained closed for several days. 

Behind the smog cloud, however, we saw rays of sun. Our local partner in Delhi, the NGO Pardarshita, battles to facilitate the implementation of the 25% clause regarding admission of underprivileged children in private schools, according to the Right To Education Act enacted by the Indian parliament in 2009 (more information on our project page). Pardarshita welcomed us in one of their centres for school support, located in a very poor area of the city. The NGO runs several centres, where needy children get free help with their school homework. The kids can also come to the centres anytime to read the books available there. Their mothers are often women facing difficult life situations: they are abused by their husbands, victims of violence (often linked to addiction problems), or when they decide to leave, they become isolated and alone with their children. Pardarshita supports those women through the enrolment process of their children into private schools, providing them access to computers and help with the procedures. 

During those days of extreme pollution, it became clear that Slow Motion Projects needs to play a bigger role in empowering the children to change the future of their city. Those kids face the reality of poverty and poor health linked with air pollution, and we want to allow them to dream of their future life, better and cleaner. For the next step of our action with Pardarshita, Slow Motion Projects will supply the school centres with nature education books. In particular, we will bridge our two current Indian projects by acquiring and distributing in the centres the nature book "The Secret Garden",  and further publications of our partner NGO in Uttarakhand, Nature Science Initiative.

Before we went away, the kids left with us their very special way of saying thank you to all the generous donors who contributed to supporting the project... Keep an eye on your mailbox! We join them in expressing gratitude for your donations, and constant support and attention towards our actions.

 

 

 

 

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On the wings of the Thunder Dragon: Slow Motion Projects' science adventures in Bhutan

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On the wings of the Thunder Dragon: Slow Motion Projects' science adventures in Bhutan

Before we left Switzerland, one piece of advice we repeatedly received from advisors and friends who had spent time in Asia was: "don't overthink it; sometimes, you'll just have to go with the flow".

Looking back on the past 8 months, we have applied this nugget of wisdom time and time again; among the first times was last spring, when our post-China plans to travel across Nepal and work along the way were vague at best. One day in Mongolia, our paths crossed Martin Wikelski's, a renowned animal migration specialist, all-round explorer, and generally genial person. One thing led to another, and soon we received an invitation to visit Martin's collaborators in Bhutan, to do quantitative ecology & science communication work at the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE), in the remote valley of Bumthang.

"Go with the flow"... We didn't hesitate very long before swapping Nepal for Bhutan on the Slow Motion journey from China to India; and we haven't regretted it for a minute.

Bhutan is a very unique country; a tiny landlocked Himalayan kingdom squeezed between two enemy giants (India and China), it wasn't connected to the rest of the world (no television or Internet) until 1999. Even today, the government levies a heavy tax on foreign tourists (as we were on a governmental mission, we were lucky to have this tax waived), effectively restricting the access to a fortunate few, and preserving the country's sacred and pristine character.

The wild beauty of the Thunder Dragon Kingdom (as the country is known), and the kindness of its people, would amply justify a blog post; but Slow Motion Projects is not a travel blog, and our main goal wasn't to explore Bhutan's mountains and culture. We came to UWICE to work during a short four-week stay at the 3000m-high Lamay Goempa campus in Bumthang, and this post is a summary of our actions.

 

The UWICE campus, nestled in the greenery above Jakar, in the Bumthang valley

Science outreach: supporting UWICE's online communication strategy

We teamed up with the UWICE communication and media department to critically assess the structure, content, and visualisation of the institute's website. We wrote a detailed report containing clear recommendations for the team to increase and improve the online reach of the institute's work, through their website and on social media. The full report can be read here.

Dhur Tsachu (hot spring) in Bumthang.

In addition, following a request from the same department, we focussed on a book recently published by UWICE on the Tshachu and Menchu (hot springs and mineral springs) of Bhutan. We wrote a set of recommendations to create an interactive online version of the book, so the results of the hot spring census can reach a much larger audience than the paper version. The report on this project can be downloaded here.

 

Science consulting: bringing modern data analysis and visualisation techniques to UWICE

Himalayan griffon vulture carrying a telemetry backpack. Picture courtesy of Ugyen Tenzin & Max Planck Institute for Ornithology.

Himalayan griffon vultures (Gyps himalayensis) are migratory birds who travel annually thousands of kilometres from North- to South-Asia between breeding and wintering sites, and in doing so fly over the Himalayas at heights above 6500 metres. The behavioural and physiological adaptations required to fly in such thin air are poorly known. To elucidate these mechanisms, and shed light on the migratory behaviour of this threatened species, UWICE researchers have equipped a dozen of these birds with telemetry backpacks comprising a GPS receiver, 3D accelerometer, and a number of environmental sensors. At UWICE's request, we applied machine learning techniques to automatically characterise the behavioural states of these birds (flying, resting, feeding, etc.) from telemetry data, in order to reconstruct their migratory strategy. Even in a short time span, we were able to outperform a previous research benchmark, and more importantly train the institute's staff on the application of machine learning in ecology. The full report on our study, as well as the associated research code, can be found here.

Analysis of phenological (related to ecological cycles) data collected by Bhutanese schoolchildren.

UWICE is also leading the HEROES (Himalayan Environmental Rhythms Observation and Evaluation System) initiative, a citizen science project through which children from all over Bhutan collect environmental data to monitor the impact of climate change on local wildlife and plant ecosystems. We trained the institute's staff on modern data analysis and visualisation techniques; this will allow them to update their online platform, so the children can explore by themselves the data they have collected, and understand among others the delaying effect of global warming on country-wide blooming patterns. Our visualisation work can be found here.

Environmental education, environmental science: two sides of the same coin

Towards the end of our stay, we held a seminar at UWICE to describe our results, and present Slow Motion Project's mission. As you know, this mission is an educational one: we aim to bring environmental teachings to as wide an audience as possible. Sometimes, this means simply taking children to a national park and telling them about the wonders of nature. Other times, we leverage our scientific and communication background to directly support the action of environmental researchers. Though they answer different needs, we believe that these actions are equally important. Across the breadth of our initiatives, and the diversity of the places we work in, there is one constant: your continued support. Thank you!

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DIY: how we built an exhibition on a shoestring

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DIY: how we built an exhibition on a shoestring

When Slow Motion Projects set out to renovate the Green Education Center (see
our previous blog post for the full story) and create a whole new exhibition nearly from scratch, our ambitions were big and our budget was small. We wanted to create engaging and interactive content around environmental challenges and sustainable solutions in China, but we could not afford to buy ready-made sophisticated models and digital interfaces like you see in most modern museums.

In addition to building most things ourselves (ever put up plywood walls to create many small rooms inside a large one? Now we did!), upcycling old material (sofas made out of wooden pallets? Sure thing!) and benefiting from the generosity of GEC's partners (the biogas generator model was donated by Kunming Normal University), we had to find innovative solutions to get the effects we wanted without breaking the bank. This post illustrates, with two examples, how we got there.

Making a programmable high-voltage light array for under $50

For the oppressive dark room, illustrating the impacts of environmental degradation on human health, we wanted a lighting system that would allow for the whole room to be pitch black, with photo frames lit one at a time, in a programmable fashion. A quick online search revealed there were very few programmable lighting circuits available for purchase (even in China!), and that their price would fetch in the high hundreds of USD (equivalent). Not an option for us.

We settled on building a simple Arduino-controlled relay board to toggle individual high-voltage LED lights on and off. To reinforce the immersion in the dark room, we wanted the sound environment to convey a sense of environmental urgency: we used a ticking mechanical clock, and electromagnetic relays emitting a satisfyingly loud click every time the light would switch from one frame to the next. Connecting 8 independent high-voltage lights in addition to the low-voltage circuit (controlled by the Arduino) meant that we had to do a lot of wiring, however we used a trick to minimise the number of wires: by connecting each COM terminal (moving part of the switch) of a relay to the NC (normally closed) terminal of the next relay, we created cascading circuits. The ground wire of each light was connected to the NO (normally open) terminal of the corresponding light, so that only one light could be lit at once. The pictures below illustrate the assembly process.

The Arduino control code is very simple: a repeating cycle of two loops (one slow, and then one fast), activating the relays one at a time.

Total budget (in USD equivalent):

  • Arduino UNO development board, $20
  • 9V 1A power supply, $5
  • JBtek 8 Channel DC 5V Relay Module, $5
  • 8 3W LED lights, $2 each ($16)
  • Arduino wiring, $2
  • Other wiring and case (scrap), $0

Total: $48; not bad!

Building a giant interactive map for $300

When it came to showing visitors the scale of environmental degradation in their country, we had a very clear idea: we wanted a giant, high-resolution, interactive map displaying a number of critical sites across China, with a description of the problem for each site. Our goal was to allow visitors to interactively explore some of the biggest environmental challenges China is facing, and reflect/discuss based on this exploration.

Of course, the best way of showing such an interactive map is on a screen, or projected image. But the cost of a 3-4m² screen was absolutely prohibitive, and there wasn't enough throw distance in the room to set up a projector (which would have been too low-res anyway). Instead, we opted to get a high-resolution topographic map printed on glossy paper, build a casing for the map, and embed a small computer and 27" screen inside the casing. With carefully calibrated brightness and color settings, it looks to visitors as if the screen were part of the map.

The map features 20 numbered stickers corresponding to crucial environmental challenges, and the associated description and pictures can be accessed by using a selection wheel on the screen. Inside the casing, a small computer (Intel NUC) is running a browser in full-screen mode, displaying an HTML document containing static and animated elements: the JavaScript selection wheel and pop-up description box, with images and text in Mandarin and English. After two minutes of inactivity, most elements disappear from the screen, and the next visitor sees only a large map and a selection interface, inviting interaction with the map. The image and short clip below demonstrate the map interactivity, and give an idea of its scale (2m by 1.70m).

The list and description of the challenges can be easily updated or edited by moving the stickers on the map, and editing the description in the corresponding asset file. The full project code is available on GitHub.

Total budget (in USD equivalent):

  • Intel NUC mini-computer, $110
  • 27" screen, $100
  • Printed 3.5m² map, $60
  • Aluminium casing assembled on-site from scrap parts, $30

Total: around $300

Doing much, with little

By thinking outside the box, tinkering a little, and using off-the-shelf parts, we were able to reach a high level of immersion and interactivity on a very small budget, achieving effects typically found in much larger exhibitions. Lesson learned: you do not need to spend big to build big!

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Welcome! The Slow Motion Projects exhibition at the Green Education Center is open

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Welcome! The Slow Motion Projects exhibition at the Green Education Center is open

Did you know...

That the biggest touristic attraction of China is not the Great Wall. It is in fact the city of Lijiang, with its UNESCO World Heritage old town, and neighbouring Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Year after year, millions of Chinese tourists travel from afar to walk in the snow of this iconic mountain; and year after year, its glaciers shrink as a result of global warming (driven my, among other factors, the development of tourism in China and elsewhere). Along with the disappearing snows, the whole ecosystem of plants and animals found around Lijiang is also disrupted. There is a sad, disconcerting paradox there. What pushes those masses of people to continue visiting the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, knowing that this slowly kills the landscape they cherish? Simply the fact that they are actually not aware of it.

Yongsong Chen, creator of the Green Education Center (GEC), understood this lack of awareness about environmental issues in China a long time ago. For him, education and values are the key to an environmentally sustainable development for the country. His mission and strong dedication resonated with Slow Motion Projects' goals. We spent three months renovating the environmental museum that is part of GEC. Thanks to the generous support of our donors, we radically transformed the museum and turned it into what we hope will become a must-see for the tourists visiting the Lijiang region. 

This is the story of our action at GEC. Don't miss the virtual visit of the exhibition at the end! Enjoy!

When entering a museum, people want to embark on a journey from which they will return with their head full of impressions; they want to hear a flowing story. Creating this story was our first task.

For the next step, we redesigned the rooms of the museum in order to fit our story in there. Among other fun activities, we built wooden walls, replaced the whole electrical wiring, installed a new lighting system, cut and sewed curtains, and built the furniture. None of this would have worked without the outstanding involvement of Xuanyang (he allows "Yan" for those who might stumble pronouncing his name), a member of the local team at GEC, a key collaborator for our future projects in Asia and someone we now call a good friend. Slow Motion Projects also welcomed volunteers who gave a precious hand for this challenging phase of the project.

In parallel with the renovations, we had to create the content for the exhibition. During two very intense months, we searched through scientific references, read, learned and processed information, wrote texts, designed posters, programmed computers to play movies and display interactive digital information, and even recorded sounds. We wanted the exhibition to make people think and react with their emotions, by stimulating their minds but also all their senses. In the end, we finished installing our last posters and plugging the last screen on the evening before the opening event. The whole team was exhausted, but really happy with the outcome.

For the inauguration event, Yongsong Chen invited to GEC a selected crowd of representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, academics, renewable energy professionals, and press. The local TV was there and interviewed us on the Slow Motion Projects actions. The first feedback we've received since then has been very positive, and it looks like GEC is drawing significantly more visitors now (we'll have definitive numbers in the months to come)! It is now your turn to discover the exhibition but first, from the bottom of our heart:

Thank you to all the Slow Motion Projects supporters and friends for entrusting us with this wonderful project! It was an incredible challenge, and we loved it all the way.

Note: the virtual visit below uses Microsoft Photosynth technology, which was discontinued in February 2017. We currently do not have an alternative way to display the interactive visit, and apologise for the inconvenience.

Enter the visit

Look around you: local flora and fauna of the Lashi lake region

The Green Education Center museum is located right on the shores of Lashihai (Lashi lake). This beautiful lake reflecting the nearby mountains is home to hundreds of bird and plants species. Due to intensive human activities, the Lashi lake and wetland is fragilised and endangered. Discover the local nature and wildlife, and learn how human activities such as agriculture, tourism, or industrial production are putting the region at risk of losing its beauty. Understand how critical it is to preserve the Lashi lake to continue providing the booming Lijiang region with clean water.

Threatened ecosystems and species of the Yunnan province

Visiting this room, immerse yourself in the lush forests of Yunnan. Spot some of its most fascinating animals and learn about the key role they have played in the story of life. Understand how many of those species are now endangered, and humans, whose survival relies on a complex web of interdependent species, could also soon disappear.

 

National ecological challenges in China

In this next section, learn in an interactive way about some of the most pressing ecological challenges in China. Use the controller to select one of the 20 locations referenced on the giant map of the country. For each location, a striking story shows an example of human abuse on nature, and ultimately on our own species. 

Health risks from environmental issues: the "dark room"

Finally, feel the oppression of this small room where you cannot see anything. Suddenly, light shines on a framed picture, then goes off and lights up the next one. In total, eight pictures show striking examples of humans directly affected by environmental issues in China. The last picture portrays a young woman suffering in her bed, two days before she died from cancer due to industrial pollution.

Sustainable lifestyles for a cleaner, healthier future in China

It's time to act! Walking up to the next space, hear messages encouraging you to be part of the change towards a more sustainable future. Learn about the environmental footprint of China, carbon emissions and the greenhouse effect. Enter the large playground room and have fun with the different activities there: weigh food products on the CO2 smart scale and understand their environmental impact, segregate garbage items and see how you can reduce garbage pollution, and take the quiz on sustainable practices at home.

Renewable energies and clean technologies to shape China's future

In this last part of the exhibition, discover how renewable energies and clean technologies can help China to reduce its environmental footprint, all the while boosting the Chinese economy. Pictures, movies and models help you discover and understand how to collect energy from sun, wind, water or organic wastes, and how to make those technologies widely accessible in China.

Before you leave, don't forget to take a look at the educative organic garden, biogas toilets and solar house!

Visiting the organic garden, get introduced to sustainable agriculture practice. Whether or not you need to go to the loo, take the chance to have a look at the biogas installation. End up the visit drinking tea in the solar house. 

Thank you for visiting! You're welcome any time in Lijiang.

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Life at the Green Education Center

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Life at the Green Education Center

For the past two months, we have been working at the Green Education Center: the headquarters of our partner NGO Yunnan EcoNetwork, and a place of environmental learning and discovery for thousands of students and visitors every year.

In the context of our project to encourage socially and environmentally sustainable behaviours in China, we are working to renovate the exhibition rooms of the centre, and create a whole new exhibition tailored to the Chinese public, with the following aims:

  • instill a sense of national and global environmental urgency in the visitors of the Green Education Center
  • show these visitors, through interactive demonstrations and practical examples, that their individual actions can make a change
  • inspire them to think of environmental issues as challenges to overcome, rather than a plight to endure.

When the exhibition is ready, in four weeks from now, we promise to give you a virtual tour. For now, we thought it would be nice to give you a glimpse in pictures of the daily life at the Green Education Center, and perhaps motivate future Slow Motion Projects volunteers to spend a few months here too!

Location and surroundings of the Green Education Center

The centre is located on the shores of Lashihai ("Lashi Lake"), in a quiet and rural neighbourhood a few kilometres away from the bustling city of Lijiang, China's number one tourist destination (seriously. It's not the Great Wall, it's the historic old town of Lijiang), with millions of visitors every year.

Daily life and work at the centre

The students staying at the GEC: the future "global leaders" of Asia's grassroots environmental movement

The GEC is constantly hosting students from all over China and beyond, for periods ranging from a few hours to a few weeks. Yongsong Chen, founder and director of Yunnan EcoNetwork and the GEC, shows remarkable patience in teaching them environmental awareness and individual values of sustainability; these complement (and sometimes supplant) the Communist Party's collectivist values that the children are constantly exposed to.

The Slow Motion Projects volunteers at work

For much of the past two months, GEC welcomed other visitors from Europe: the first Slow Motion Projects volunteers! Their help was precious in a variety of tasks.

Have we piqued your interest yet? Perhaps you would like to spend a "useful" vacation in a quiet place far from your everyday concerns, and get immersed in Chinese culture? We're always looking for volunteers! Email us at contact@slowmotionprojects.org.

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Facts & figures: summary in pictures of our actions in Mongolia

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Facts & figures: summary in pictures of our actions in Mongolia

You know a picture is worth a thousand words... So what better way to communicate the results of our project to bring Mongolian children closer to nature, than to summarise a few thousand words in a lot less pictures? Read the captions to find out about the numbers behind the actions of Slow Motion Projects! 

Four excursions of one to three days in the nature around Ulaanbaatar, for over 100 children aged 3 to 19

Environmental education at the Bayasgalant day care centre

Solar education for 40 families

As of this writing, the solar energy part of the project has not yet started. The board of Bayasgalant is currently discussing the best way to use solar energy to provide heating and electricity to a number of families of the ger district. Once this is decided, Bayasgalant will use the funds donated by Slow Motion Projects to buy the necessary equipment, distribute it, and organise information workshops for the families.

Thank you!

And to you, our donators and supporters, heartfelt thanks from us, the children in Ulaanbaatar, and the Bayasgalant staff for making all this possible! This was the first Slow Motion project and the start of our collaboration with Bayasgalant. Both organisations will continue working together in the future to allow children from poor families to build their future in a sustainable way, and learn how to preserve the nature of Mongolia.

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Fast-Forward across Mongolia

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Fast-Forward across Mongolia

Over the past two months, our Slow Motion journey took us across the incredible landscapes of Siberia and Mongolia. We thought that timelapse video would be an oddly appropriate way to document these adventures... In fast-forward!

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Accelerating sustainable tourism in Mongolia

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Accelerating sustainable tourism in Mongolia

Travelling across Ömnögovi, the southernmost province of Mongolia, in the Gobi desert, means experiencing a deep dive into the reality of climate change in the country. Rising temperatures in recent years have made this arid region an even more challenging place for nomads to thrive.

It is almost a surprise then, when walking through the dusty, wind-blown streets of the province's capital Dalanzadgad, one suddenly stumbles upon the entrance to Global Passport, a community-based social enterprise and state-of-the-art learning centre.

Global Passport is a Bookbridge affiliate, primarily offering local people English classes and practice. Battuul, former tourist guide and English teacher in a secondary school, now the head of the Dalanzadgad’s Bookbridge center, remembers:

"When I was still working in tourism in the region, a few years ago, the land was much more humid. The unpaved roads were softer and one could easily travel. Small rivers would flow across the desert, offering the nomads and travellers numerous oases."

 

Like many Mongolians, Battuul is strongly attached to the nature in her country. She sees in sustainable tourism a unique opportunity to avoid damaging it further.

Travelling around Mongolia after we met Battuul, we could only agree with her. Through a few pictures portraying places and people, we have tried to illustrate the incredible potential of sustainable tourism in Mongolia for preserving the environment, all the while boosting the economy and preserving the strong cultural identity of the country.

Tourism is primarily about the meeting of two cultures willing to benefit from each other.

 During daily lunch-time speaking clubs, adult students can train and improve their spoken English skills.

During daily lunch-time speaking clubs, adult students can train and improve their spoken English skills.

This is also what Bookbridge offers: future social entrepreneurs from western countries strengthen their business skills by working together with entrepreneurs from developing countries. The goal is the creation of new independent social entreprises in rural places, such as Global Passport. In Mongolia, the Bookbridge program has already given birth to 11 learning centers, 4 out of them being established as social enterprises.

Places like the Bookbridge centres in Mongolia offer a very interesting setting for nurturing the development of sustainable tourism. Besides providing English education, the centres could offer a curriculum covering the large palette of skills needed for responsible tourists guides: basic environmental sciences and conservation education, sustainable tourism practices applied to transport, housing, eating, etc.

A new Slow Motion Project... Why not?
We are currently exploring the possibility of partnering with Bookbridge Mongolia to combine the high potential of their students, their established network of learning centres, and our love for sustainability and nature education into the perfect balance of responsible social and economic development for all.

Stay tuned!
Your Slow Mo team

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Seeding nature education at the Bayasgalant day care centre

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Seeding nature education at the Bayasgalant day care centre

Driving through the muddy streets leading to the Bayasgalant day care centre, one will see precarious housing, stray dogs and strewn garbage. This vision echoes what Boogii, one of the social workers at the centre, told us: in families of the Ulan Bator ger (yurt) districts, parents are often unemployed or earning too little money to offer their children adequate living conditions and send them to school.
All of a sudden though, as the front door of the centre opens, another world of light, colours, warmth and joy appears. Welcome to Bayasgalant! 

Outside, a group of pre-teenage boys is playing basketball, shouting at each other and laughing loud. Near them, younger kids are leaping across old tyres, the oldest with agility and the youngest imitating them, clumsy and cute at the same time. Meanwhile, Mickey Mouse and his painted friends are watching them from the walls with large smiles. 
At the entrance, each child has his own bag and pair of house shoes. Woe betide the one who will forget to change shoes, the house is kept immaculate!

10am! It is breakfast time: a bowl of warm porridge and milk tea is served to everyone to start the day with energy. The children who are there will start school in the afternoon, while others will come back from classes. 
Upstairs, some children are supervised as they do their homework. Some others are reading books or chatting impishly. In the adjacent house, 20 actors aged 80 between all of them are rehearsing for the theatre play to come, directed by their patient kindergartener. So is the Bayasgalant daycare centre: a place where kids receive what they need to be healthy and happy, in the present and the future.  

Soon, the older kids will be able to grow vegetables and flowers we seeded together. The most patient of them also learned how to take care of small tomato plants. Water fights were the reward for their focussed and dedicated work. To bring nature education to the very little ones too, the kindergarden teachers came up with the brilliant idea of building a whole corner dedicated to environmental biology where the kids will be able to put their hands in soil, rocks, grass, surrounded by poster showing Mongolian landscapes, and even witness how ants build galleries. Ferried about from one DIY store to the next by the energetic team, we have already gathered the equipment to renovate the greenhouse and build the biology corner.

Now though, between the Bayasgalant team, us, you or the kids, who is the most impatient to see all of this finished?

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To Moscow in 4 sleeps

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To Moscow in 4 sleeps

There we go! We finally left Switzerland on the fourth of April, and exactly one week later, we were in Moscow. In the mean time...

  • we had a delicious lunch in our favourite vegetarian restaurant in Prague 
  • we discovered Warsaw for 3 days and were offered by our fantastic hosts to fly above the city in their Piper Cherokee Arrow from 1970 - yes, no flying we said, but we could not say no to such an invitation
  • we spent two days in Minsk, slowly getting familiar with post-Soviet culture.

We, lucky Europeans, benefit from the largest and best developed railway network in the world. Using night trains, we can hop from one capital city to the next and get to discover them.

Now, to make it clear once for all: no, night trains do not mean sleepless nights and low comfort. Those trains offer 2-bed compartments, most of them equipped with your own washing corner, towels and soap, a small closet to hang your clothes, drinking water, and even breakfast with hot coffee in the morning. In each corridor, you will find a shower in most trains, and they also offer a bar and restaurant where meals are served at the table.

Depending on the booking, travelling in 2-bed compartments in night trains can be more expensive than travelling with the plane. However you will save money on accommodation as you are sleeping on the train. Also, the railway stations of capital cities are always located within or close to the city centre. You will not waste any time travelling to the airport, waiting there for two hours before boarding and you will be able to bring back anything you want in your luggage.

Enjoy your next train ride and stay tuned for our Slow Motion stories in Russia!

Your Slow Mo's

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How to pack for one year?

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How to pack for one year?

Travelling as much as possible on foot is central to the idea of Slow Motion Projects. This means that the weight we will carry on our backs should be absolutely minimised. In the last couple of weeks we have been asking ourselves: what do we REALLY need? What could we do without?

Here is a breakdown of what will follow us from the bitter cold of the Siberian taiga to the tropical heat of the Yunnan summer. We hope the list will prove useful to other Slow Motion travellers!

For each of us

  • large (70-90L), waterproof rucksack
  • set of ultralight packing sacks to store and separate stuff in the rucksack
  • small foldable bag to use as daypack
  • 1 pair of trail running/hiking shoes
  • 1 pair of sandals
  • 4 pairs of underwear
  • 4 pairs of socks: 2 light cotton, 2 heavier wool
  • 1 pair of thermal underwear/yoga tights
  • 4 light short-sleeve T-shirts in synthetic fabric/Merino wool
  • 2 long-sleeve T-shirts in stretchable/breathable fabric
  • 1 pair of breathable, fast drying shorts
  • 1 pair of convertible pants/shorts
  • 1 pair of mountaineering/waterproof pants
  • stretchable belt
  • waterproof hardshell jacket (3-layer Gore-Tex)
  • down jacket
  • thin gloves
  • warm down mittens/gloves
  • multifunctional headwear (scarf/hat/balaclava)
  • warm woolen hat
  • set of toe and hand warmers
  • warm but lightweight synthetic down sleeping bag
  • compression sack for the sleeping bag
  • inflatable pillow
  • silk sleeping bag liner (+5°C to your sleeping bag, replaces it in warm climate)
  • inflatable sleeping mat
  • indestructible sunglasses
  • camping cookware set (pot, fork/spoon, plastic cup)
  • foldable plastic bowl
  • aluminium or Nalgene water bottle
  • handheld water filter (LifeStraw)
  • USB-rechargeable headlamp
  • microfibre towel (about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have)
  • three-segment collapsible walking poles
  • the "Point it" traveller's language kit book
  • toiletry/healthcare set (too much in there to detail here, maybe for a separate post)

Shared between us

  • roomy tent with a separate compartment for our gear and smelly fellow canine travellers
  • portable yoga/floor mat
  • multi-fuel camping stove (burns white gas, unleaded fuel or even kerosene)
  • first aid/survival kit (too much in there to detail here, maybe for a separate post)
  • the (indispensable!) SAS Survival Handbook
  • water filter with a hand pump
  • 3-litre hydration bag
  • multifunction knife
  • waterproof fire starters
  • waterproof solid fuel tablets
  • length of thin rope
  • biodegradable soap/(dish)washing liquid
  • solar charging kit with USB output
  • LED camp lantern
  • thin USB-rechargeable laptop
  • USB power pack
  • waterproof action cam
  • compact camera
  • e-reader
  • dry sack for the electronic stuff

Oh and all the dog thingies of course... We're working on finding a way to share the load with our hairy teammate. Stay tuned for more on that!

Spotted anything we missed? Interested in the specifics of this or that piece of gear? Let us know in the comments, or contact us directly!

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Six weeks to go!

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Six weeks to go!

Hi everyone

It's been a while since the last update from Slow Motion Projects, and a lot of things happened in the meantime! We have finalised our project plans with Bayasgalant in Mongolia, Yunnan EcoNetwork in China, and AshaNet in India. We are also happy and excited to have built a new collaboration with an amazing Indian NGO working towards conservation and outreach in the Western Himalaya: Nature Science Initiative.

All projects are now detailed on the corresponding country pages, be sure to have a look!
Now that our plans are clearer, we are busy raising awareness about our action, and collecting funds for the projects.
As always, one franc we receive is one franc that goes to the projects — we cover the operational costs of the association and our own expenses!

Among many others, we were thrilled to receive a very generous donation from Fabulous Friends, a Zurich-based organisation run by Manuel Nappo whose vision is to offer every child a better life and a sustainable future. Have a look at their webpage. Thanks, Fabulous Friends! You are fabulous indeed.

The coming few weeks will see us travel here and there to tell people about Slow Motion Projects. We participated in the Basel StartupCamp two weeks ago, and just came back today from the Impact HUB in Zurich, where people came away very enthusiastic about the idea! Or maybe it was the cookies baked by Lisa?

Stay tuned for more news in the coming few weeks, as the date of our departure approaches! We'll be hitting the road in the first few days of April... In slow motion!

 Lisa is pitching Slow Motion Projects to startup founders and innovators at the Basel StartupCamp

Lisa is pitching Slow Motion Projects to startup founders and innovators at the Basel StartupCamp

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Four months to go!

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Four months to go!

Hi everyone!

This is the first of what we hope will be a long series of blog posts sharing the adventures and encounters of Slow Motion Projects while on the road.
Winter has finally arrived in Switzerland, and for us this year it is very special. We're entering the final few months of preparations before we leave Zurich and start on our journey... In slow motion!

We're really psyched to have established solid partnerships in the last couple of months with organisations in Mongolia, China, and India (have a look at the projects page). It's always hard to plan efficiently how to maximise one's impact during such a journey, and we're really glad to have found such supportive interlocutors at Harganat Ecolodge, Yunnan EcoNetwork, and noon.ch. More to come!

Talking about support, we retreated to the Swiss mountains last weekend so we could give this website the last push before it went online, but also to test some of the gear that will help us along the way. We were thrilled to take our new tunnel tent out for a spin, in the frigid temperatures of Valais. As far as storm-proof shelters go, this one didn't disappoint! Which is a good thing, considering how much time we'll be spending in it over the course of the next four seasons.

We'll be sharing more about the preparations soon. Stay tuned!

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