Outdoor education gets kids excited about the environment

For years, Uzi Dayan worked to ensure the security of his nation’s borders.

Nowadays, Israel’s former national security adviser is dedicating his free time to protecting the land within those borders.

The nephew of the late Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Uzi Dayan had a career as a major general in the Israel Defense Forces and served as chairman of the National Security Council.

But when Dayan retired in 2002, he hooked up with Green Horizons (Hugey Sayarut in Hebrew), which for 30 years has introduced thousands of Israeli children to the importance of the environment.

Of all the environmental organizations in Israel, Green Horizons appealed to Dayan because it empowers young people to take an active role in the world around them. He serves as the organization’s chairman of the board.

Green Horizons “is more than conservation,” he said. “This is about fostering young leadership.”

Dayan recently visited California, New York, Washington, Baltimore and Phoenix, hoping to raise money to expand Green Horizons.

His visit was in partnership with the Jewish National Fund (www.jnf.org), which has helped support Green Horizons over the past three years.

One of Green Horizons’ aims is to build future environmental leaders. There are chapters in 180 schools around Israel, and each includes students in grades five through 10. The chapters range in size from 10 to 15 students, while students in 11th and 12th grades train to become youth guides.

Green Horizons groups have weekly environmental classes. One weekend a month, they go on a hiking and camping trip; four times a year, they participate in extended trips led by professional wilderness guides.

“They learn by doing,” Dayan said. “Knowing is loving by the end of the day.”

Dayan often goes on trips or stops by schools to observe the weekly lesson. He recalled one trip to the top of Mount Arbel in the Lower Galilee.

“The kids woke up at 3 a.m. and wanted to see the sunrise,” he said, still excited over their enthusiasm for the natural world.

Dayan said it’s more important than ever to expand the organization’s reach.

“When I was a kid, the house was a place to eat and sleep,” he said. “Now, kids spend so much time in front of the television that I had a mother tell me, ‘Nature? Isn’t that Channel 8?’

“We’re not fighting against technology,” he continued. “But we remind kids that while GPS might help them navigate, it can’t teach them about a stream or animals or plant life.”

Green Horizons wants to start additional chapters in numerous cities. It costs about $10,000 to launch a Green Horizons group.

The agency also hopes to build a school focused on environmental science and leadership, which would be the first of its kind in Israel. That project will cost about $1 million, Dayan said.

Dayan is optimistic about Green Horizons, but he does not ignore the reality that environmental change depends on both education and political will.

“The real change will happen when young people become part of Israeli leadership,” he said.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.