Of all of the things I thought I would do in this job, going to South Korea never crossed my mind. But three shots in the arm, several orientation meetings, and a pretty solid syllabus down, I’m one week out from joining with 150 students from the Pacific American Volunteer Association (PAVA) on a 12-day environmental expedition to learn about how different cultures live around water.
Around the world and throughout history, cities have had to figure how to live with water and the ecosystems around them. New settlements build irrigation systems to support agriculture, cities engineer flood control systems to manage storm water, and communities celebrate the vitality of water through volunteerism or ritual. Los Angeles has its own very interesting tale to tell with local water, and my work here has been about trying to tell that story to students and our community partners.
One community partner that has responded to our water story in a big way is PAVA, whose students have joined me to explore the Los Angeles River for the past couple of years. Building on that experience, and always in search of a way to connect with their Korean heritage, PAVA came to us this past spring to present the idea of an expedition abroad.
South Korea too has had its share of water problems, from disappearing freshwater sources, to development encroaching upon natural space, to flooding problems in rural and urban areas. But beginning in the late 90’s and continuing today, their government has decided to turn the issue around, investing billions of dollars into revitalization and restoration, and bringing community back to these spaces. And so it is that Korea, among a few other nations, are leaders in this area, reimagining and reinvesting the role that water has in the country in a big way.
And now PAVA will venture to South Korea this summer to continue their watershed journey, undertaking an expedition in search of bringing those hard fought lessons in environmental restoration and revitalization from their mother country back to Los Angeles. As cultural ambassadors, these students will ask questions on their journey about the process and success of the South Korean effort, returning to Los Angeles with answers that might better inform their work and ours. What lessons do we have to learn from our distant neighbors? Check back in when I return to find out!
-- Edward Murphy Heal the Bay’s Watershed Education Manager
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