It can be difficult to set up environmental/conservation projects in foreign countries because of the huge differences in attitudes to the environment and the issues involved.

Here are some of the issues you may want to consider:

  • Ecosystems
If you have specialist knowledge of the local ecosystem you have great potential to do good. But donít storm in without talking to local people first. Although they donít have a professional training in the post-tsunami restoration of mangrove swamps, for example, their opinions and knowledge are very important and they will still be able to help.
  • Resource Management
Donít assume that a problem in a foreign country has the same cause as in your own country. The systems in place may be different. For example, visitors to South East Asia may not realise the negative impact they have on the sewage systems which are not equipped to cope with toilet paper! There will be different restrictions and problems, and different ways of dealing with them.
  • Environmental issues
Take the time to get to know what the most important environmental issues are, how local people approach them and how you can help. Be sensitive to the local peopleís needs and be aware that their cultural/religious beliefs may have an impact on possible solutions.
  • Attitudes to the environment/conservation
Different cultures see the environment in very different ways and this must be taken into account. If you come from a developed country where most people have their basic needs met, it can be difficult to understand that in a less developed country, people may have different priorities. For example, if your family struggles to find enough food, you may not care about which animal species are endangered.There are also religious/cultural beliefs which affect the environment.

Because there are so many complications with environmental work in foreign countries, it is absolutely vital that you seek the help of local people or of a local environmental group. They will be able to give you advice on the viability of your proposed project and may be willing to assist you in some of the work.

Community consultations (see our page on this) will provide you with important information on the local environment, peopleís ideas and opinions about the proposed project and any problems you may encounter. If you can, try and show the local community how they will benefit by taking care of the environment. For example, in a tree planting project, emphasise that the trees will provide shade, fruits and prevent damaging soil erosion. People will be much more open to your ideas if you explain to them how they will benefit rather than lecturing them about how important environmental conservation is.

Get children involved
Children are the future. If youíre planning an environmental project, try and make it child-friendly. Get them involved in fun and interesting ways that will help them to understand why you want to stop them dropping litter, or to recycle their plastic bags.

Donít give up
Despite all the difficulties, being involved in environmental work in foreign countries is possible. In most developing countries, environmental conservation is a relatively recent concept and many local people will have other priorities. But if you are patient and determined and prepared to learn and adapt your ideas to the local culture, your efforts will be greatly rewarded. Good luck.

Written by: Sarah. Please contact us for any suggestions or further information.