Zomi Bilingual Nature Tour

The afternoon of Saturday, September 1st, City of Gresham intern, Khan, led around 25 of his family and Portland’s Zomi Burmese community members on a bilingual tour through Powell Butte. This event was a final project of Khan’s Summerworks internship with Gresham.

(Pictured left: Khan stops on the trail with everyone to talk about ecological and cultural significances of Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar, and to indicate some of the differences between them.)

A warm breeze rustled the drying grasses and flowers all around as guests gathered at public benches near the Powell Butte visitor’s center. They were greeted with fresh fruit, local pizza, roasted chicken, Chinese pastries (from King’s Bakery in SE Portland) and refreshments generously provided by potluckers. Upon convening, Khan spoke about his experience as an intern and the knowledge he gained about what a watershed is. He introduced the concept of watershed councils, how they work and taught us all about environmental protection and nature conservation to the Burmese community from his Church.  Elders from his Burmese church brought his family and others to visit Powell Butte for the first time! Pelts and skulls on loan from Nadaka Nature Park kept children intrigued about the plant and wildlife education in store for them on their tour to the Powell Butte mountain viewing area.

With training from Keri Handaly (City of Gresham, Stormwater Science and Policy) and assistance from JCWC Community Outreach Coordinator, Adrienne, Khan had developed the lesson plan and tour route. He reached out to his church group, as well as, another Zomi community that visited a nearby church with save the date posters in the Zomi dialect to promote his event. The crowd that did come that day was energetic and children were enthusiastic to learn. Many of the adults had questions about where their water came from and how it was kept clean. An aspiring wildlife scientist, Khan shared that he felt the call to teach things like this to his community because before he immigrated he had not received such education. He always felt there were inherent value in these things worth learning aside from their use as food (for example). Species on the lesson plan included native and introduced plants and animals such as Coyote, Lupine, Tansy Ragwort, Cinnabar Moth, Western Red Cedar, Whitetail Deer, White Oak, and more.

After reaching the mountain viewing area, everyone gathered for more pictures and enjoyed music together before descending back to the benches to pack up and head home. The sun still shining, a few members inquired whether this would be an annual event in the future; and after such a positive experience it would be wonderful to make it so! We are truly grateful to be included in the project and to be part of this proud moment in making Khan and his community feel at home and connected to nature. Although not a direct project of the Bilingual Nature Johnson Creek (BNJC) program, this event showed the true value of providing environmental education in the native languages of immigrants and refugees. As you may already know, there is currently an ongoing refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh near Khan’s homeland. Refugee and immigrant communities of Greater Portland have a right to equal access to natural areas, and to the opportunities for education and wellness that these areas hold. It is through projects like Khan’s and through our BNJC program that JCWC hopes to ensure these rights throughout our watershed in a good way.

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