Model Forest Intern Program Enhances International Networking

In June 2000, a small delegation of Manitoba teachers and students traveled to Windsor, Ontario to present their Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) Internet project at the annual Summit of the Organization of American States (OAS). While there, the group met with Lloyd Axworthy, who was then Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Rosario Green, then Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Minister, to explain how they were using the Internet to “talk” with schoolchildren in Mexico about their experiences with Monarch butterflies. For Angela Bidinosti, the project coordinator, the meeting was an unexpected but welcome bonus from her five-month stint as a Monarch Butterfly Model Forest intern.

Bidinosti and her husband, Lance Letain, joined the Monarch Butterfly internship program in November 1999 and left in March 2000. “We were riding our bicycles from Alaska to Mexico, where we were planning to do some volunteer work,” they say. “When we heard about the intern program (from a friend at the University of Manitoba), it sounded like a good opportunity.” To find out how to join, Bidinosti called Mike Waldram, General Manager of the Manitoba Model Forest, whom she knew from her Master’s thesis on the social dimensions of model forests.

During their tenure in Mexico, which coincided with the overwintering season of Monarch butterflies, Bidinosti was busy translating and writing documents, providing advice on local ecotourism projects, and helping to set up the Manitoba-Mexico School Internet Project. Letain’s job involved analysing waste management practices in the butterfly sanctuaries, and proposing ideas and programs to make them more environmentally acceptable.

Besides this husband-and-wife team, four other Canadians have served as interns with the Monarch Butterfly Model Forest since the program began in 1999. Part of the larger Youth International Projects initiative funded by Human Resources Development Canada, the model forest intern program is administered by the Winnipeg-based firm, Earthbound Environmental. The program benefits not only the interns themselves, but also both the Monarch Butterfly and Manitoba Model Forests, which have a partnership agreement.

According to Waldram, the internship program doesn’t cost much, yet it generates a range of benefits. For starters, it provides opportunities for volunteers with the Manitoba Model Forest to get involved in international activities, attracts media attention, and enhances awareness of model forest activities among senior government officials. “It also helps us establish new partnerships,” he says. “For example, we have just partnered with the City of Winnipeg’s Living Prairie Museum to conduct a public awareness campaign about the Monarch butterfly, and international commitments to help preserve habitat both in Canada and abroad.”

Moreover, interns often play a useful facilitator role between the model forests. During the winter of 1999/2000, Bidinosti served as the main liaison between Waldram and Benigno Salazar, Executive Director of the Monarch Butterfly site. “They were trying to develop a number of joint proposals, which required giving explanations in Spanish to the Monarch officials, then relaying back to Mike what they had written and helping out with the translations,” she says. Bidinosti also supplied information to the Manitoba team on projects that had been active for a few years.

The next year, another intern named Kim Hirose, a University of Manitoba graduate in political studies, played a similar role. Like Bidinosti, she worked on translations, interpretation, and project liaison — the latter involved helping to develop a reforestation and agro-forestry project proposal for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

While these interns faced numerous challenges — citing the language barrier, different cultural attitudes, and limited computer time as occasional sources of frustration — their overall experience was positive. For example, Bidinosti appreciated her introduction to local culture and the opportunity to travel throughout the area. “I learned a lot about the Monarchs, their migration, and their needs for habitat preservation.” Since returning to Canada, she and Letain have translated their knowledge into public presentations where they help spread the word on Monarch conservation efforts.

Both draw some inspiration from the Mexican team. “It was a real eye opener, how hard they work,” says Bidinosti. Her husband adds: “Benigno, Marcos and Anna are the most dedicated group that I have ever been associated with. Their relentless and focused work is most definitely having an impact on the communities within the Monarch Model Forest Region.”

Based on their own experiences, the former interns recommend that other model forests launch similar programs. “The International Model Forest Network (IMFN) Secretariat encourages exchanges of this nature between and among model forests,” adds Fred Johnson, Executive Director of the IMFN Secretariat.