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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs