News / USA

Sister Rivers Build Cultural Bridge Between US, China

Two great waterways, a world apart, face similar conservation issues

The River Spirit Exchange took students down the Kickapoo River, a tributary of the Mississippi, past towering sandstone outcroppings
The River Spirit Exchange took students down the Kickapoo River, a tributary of the Mississippi, past towering sandstone outcroppings

Multimedia

Audio

The Mississippi is the major river system in the United States. The Yangtze is China's longest river.

Although a world apart, the two waterways share conservation concerns that provide a cultural bridge between students in the United States and China, as well as from around the world.

Cross-cultural experience

The Mississippi flows almost 3,800 kilometers from a small lake in Minnesota, gathering the waters of 250 other rivers and streams before reaching the Gulf of Mexico.

In mid-May, as spring flowers began to open, about 41 students from a dozen colleges, mostly in the Midwest, explored a section of the river in Wisconsin and Iowa, to learn about the environment, and each other.

Students paddle along the Kickapoo River, where a 20-year preservation venture stopped encroachment by developers.
Students paddle along the Kickapoo River, where a 20-year preservation venture stopped encroachment by developers.

The students, from the U.S., China and around the world, came to join the River Spirit Exchange program.

The cross-cultural educational experience - set up by the University of Wisconsin, Madison-based Environment and Public Health Network for Chinese Students - focuses on the Mississippi and China's longest river, the Yangtze.

The International Crane Foundation is one of the groups supporting this sister-river program. Jeb Barzen, the foundation's chief wildlife biologist, gave the students a tour of the preserve.

She told them that, to successfully breed and produce healthy young, the giant birds need to stop in the middle of their long migration to rest, eat, socialize, mate, and build their strength for their long flight north. The Mississippi and its tributaries provide that sanctuary.

Barzen explained while these students learn about the problems challenging the Mississippi and Yangtze, they will also learn about the challenges - and importance - of bridging each other's culture.

"Americans in the Midwest, they're very funny," he told them. "They do things very differently from what you might expect in China. Or if Americans interact with you in China, they might think, 'Whoa, they do things very differently in China.' But what's important is that we are more similar to each other than we are different."

The three-day program included conservation activities like pulling invasive weeds from banks of the Platte River.
The three-day program included conservation activities like pulling invasive weeds from banks of the Platte River.

A larger lesson

This three day get-together featured story-telling, hiking, camping and canoeing, all part of a larger lesson about conservation projects that can be used on both the Yangtze and Mississippi.  

After the group met at the Crane Foundation preserve, they headed south to canoe a stretch of the Kickapoo River that winds its way through southwestern Wisconsin before joining the Mississippi. They paddled along a stretch of the Kickapoo River, where a 20-year preservation venture stopped encroachment by developers and protected the natural setting of the waterway.

The effort was led by Mark Cupp, director of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board.

He told the group he was proud of its success. "I believe because of the Riverway Project that we can be assured that our grandchildren's grandchildren will be able to set a canoe in the singing waters of the Wisconsin River and be able to experience the same beauty that we can see today and that those Native Americans saw from those many generations before."

But accomplishing that was a contentious process.

Cupp told the students setting rules for loggers, farmers, landowners and developers caused anger and even a few threats of violence between the two sides.

"In fact, near the end of the planning process, folks from Madison were called 'urban maggots' and they responded by calling the locals 'club wielding zealots'," said Cupp.

Barzen, of The Crane Foundation, recounted similar difficulties in China while trying to preserve habitat along the Yangtze River. China's river is threatened by dams and other water diversion projects, as well as fish farming, deforestation, and the cultivation of surrounding land for farming and grazing.

"Every year we would talk with the farmers," he recalled, "and they would say 'What can I do? I have no solution. I have to feed my family.' We would say 'But you know this technique is not good for you because you get a little bit of food now but it makes you poor next year or two years. And the farmer would say 'Yes, I know, but my children need to eat next month, not next year.'"

The group spent the nights camped out by the river.
The group spent the nights camped out by the river.

A cooperative approach

The message Barzen wants students to hear is, look for solutions from the other side. Don't treat them as adversaries.

"So these ideas of solutions including people are important for conservation. They're important for us as people to survive as well," he said. "This wetland is just a very small example of exactly the same thing that you're talking about on a very big scale, for the Yangtze, for the Mississippi, for the other river systems that exist in the world."

The president of the Environment and Public Health Network for Chinese Students, Xiaojun Lu, said the Mississippi and Yangtze Rivers are uniting these students from opposite ends of the earth.

"They got to know each other during the exchange," he said. He hopes that, by working together, they will find solutions to preserving these waterways."So I think that certainly helped people to change their thinking and so they can look beyond not just for now but for the future."

The students on the River Spirit Exchange ended their first night with singing and stories around the campfire. Organizers say the success and spirit of this first gathering of students will lead to other trips, including one down the Yangtze.

(Correspondent Gil Halsted contributed to this report.)

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs