How to become an Earth citizen

Özge Sönmez





Abstract – To live on this Earth without destroying it we need to learn how to become Earth citizens. This article describes how that can be accomplished through training. Turkey is implementing a promising programme, using non-formal adult education methods and letting learners experience a sustainable lifestyle. 

To be an Earth citizen, do you have to be a different person from today? The answer is both yes and no. Are you satisfied with what you know and what you have, and say that’s enough for me? If so, then to be an Earth citizen will require you to become a different person than you are today. Do you define yourself as open towards learning new things and think you have a lot to contribute towards the wellbeing of humanity and planet Earth? If you do, and are ready to act, then we can say that you already are an Earth citizen.  

Taking charge, being responsible  

Earth citizenship is more comprehensive than all the usual no.tions we use in order to define ourselves. It is not the sole pre.rogative of a particular race, religion, gender or age. From this perspective, being an Earth citizen can be defined as living in harmony with nature and being ready to work for the health and wellbeing of the planet and humanity. This is not a paid job – it is our shared responsibility as individuals living on this planet.

The Earth Citizenship Programme at the Yuva Association is a programme which encourages people to be responsible for the things that are happening around them or in the world and to act on them. The aim is to broaden our perspective and to perceive the Earth as the place where we belong, as our home, and to act and live accordingly. The programme consists of education projects for youth and adults wanting to learn how to adopt this kind of approach to life as individ.uals, and as a society.

Ecological Literacy Training of Trainers in Çanakkale, © Erdem Vardar

The Naturally Young Ecological Literacy Project 

The Naturally Young Ecological Literacy Project is one of the projects that we are implementing within the framework of our Earth Citizenship Programme. 

We consider that it is not possible to handle the eco-literacy issue without talking about human rights. Living in a clean and healthy environment and not being poisoned by breathing the air or drinking the water is one of the fun.damental human rights. What is more, under Article 56 of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, “Everyone shall have the right to live in a healthy and balanced environment. Developing the environment, keeping the environment heal.thy and preventing pollution shall be the obligation of the state and of citizens.” A human being’s most fundamental responsibilities towards nature include not harming the environment, and maintaining renewability and sustainability. 

To achieve this, we have to know and have to learn how to live in harmony with nature. Vandana Shiva, the founder of Navdanya International, says that “to be eco-literate is to be equipped to be Earth citizens, to reach our full poten.tials as human beings” (Goleman 2012). Being ecologically literate means having an ability to understand the natural cycles of life on Earth and its ecosystem. It means living life in harmony with nature in order to have a sustainable life. 

Live as you learn 

The Naturally Young Ecological Literacy Project aims to increase the awareness of such universal values as environmental protection, and to mobilise participants to act within this framework. This enhances citizen consciousness, raises awareness of fundamental human rights, and helps people to be active when it comes to protecting their own lives. It is a very unique project because it is the first youth-orientated ecological literacy project in Turkey. It was launched in 2013. 

The main activities of the project are the Training of Trainers (ToT) and Dissemination Training Sessions. The strength of the project is the peer education method used. After designing the training module, an open call is made to young people. Unfortunately only 20 out of the hundreds of applicants can be selected. The training is given by a group of environmental education experts. The whole programme is designed using participation-orientated non-formal education methods. The training provides the participants with the knowledge and skills that are necessary for the dissemination training sessions. 

“Badia ballerina”

It takes one week to train the trainers. This takes place in an ecological accommodation centre where the participants can experience an eco-friendly lifestyle including a vegetarian diet, using renewable energy sources, recycling and consuming less. Our experience shows that spending such a week in an ecological accommodation centre is the most effective part of the ToT. It is more effective than any of the sessions. It is more interesting than any of the information we share because, during this week, they get the opportunity to live what they have been told. They collect many stories to tell to their peers, which they never forget. Most of them define this week as the week in which they learnt the most in their lives. Following the ToT, the participants become peer trainers and pass on the knowledge that they have acquired to their peers with the help of a 2-day dissemination training programme. The interactive, participant-orientated training includes “Introduction to the Planet Called Earth; the Importance of Diversity in Natural Life and Recovery Capacity; Extinction; Solution-Seekers and Good Examples”. After about these subjects, the participants inevitably become change-makers; they start to protect their natural environment actively.

Why young people/university students?

Because environmental education is not a part of compulsory education in Turkey, we receive no knowledge of environmental issues at school. The studies conducted among university students show that neither environmental awareness nor participation of university students as active citizens is at a suffi cient level in Turkey (Oguz et. al. 2011). That is why we decided to work with university students and developed a programme that could be disseminated fast and easily through peer education to reach a wider public and that can easily be adapted to the diff erent needs of various youth groups.

Here in Turkey, most environmental adult education activities are implemented by taking the participants into the natural environment. Our approach, by contrast, is to go where the university students are located and implement the training where they live. We try to reach everyone by disseminating the training in diff erent cities and diff erent regions of the country. This enables university students who have fewer opportunities to also participate in this kind of training. Students can apply for a place in the training programme regardless of their background or what or where they study. This also creates an atmosphere in which diff erent types of youth groups can come and learn together and/or from each other.

Measuring success

A professional monitoring and evaluation process has been put in place in order to develop the project and to identify its strengths and weaknesses. This monitoring and evaluation (M&E) has been conducted by an external expert. The main purposes of the evaluation process are to assess the eff ectiveness of the Ecological Literacy Project in terms of its aims and objectives, and to provide relevant information to improve its implementation process. The study itself is not an audit, but an inquiry into what has worked well and what could be improved in the future.  

37 Ecological Literacy Dissemination Training Sessions have been implemented around Turkey with diff erent youth groups since 2013. The M&E covers both the peer trainers and the dissemination training attendees.

Significant changes measured by M&E indicated that participants reviewed their daily practices and intended to behave in a more eco-friendly manner, driven by the motivation of environmental protection.

An additional important outcome was attitudinal change. According to the M&E study results, participants showed a significantly more environmentally-focused attitude after attending the training.

The evaluation study indicated that the Ecological Literacy Project was planned and implemented in a way that resulted in (1) increased ecological knowledge, skills and environmental awareness, (2) increased intention to act in an eco-friendly manner, driven by the motivation of environmental protection in its target groups. Moreover, young peer trainers developed an environment-centred attitude. They also acquired skills and knowledge of formal, non-formal and informal education, Experiential Learning Methodology, peer training, communication, confl ict management and resolution, feedback, presentation skills, debriefi ng skills and teamwork (Naturally Young Ecological Literacy Project 2014).

Two of the project’s peer trainers shared their experiences below and talked about how their lives changed after this project.

Ömercan Ünlü:
“This project added many voices, colours, letters and more to my life. Now I feel that I am like a child who has learned how to read. I started to look at the world through the eyes of a fl ying bird, from the top of a pine tree, or at the deepest point that a worm can go in the soil. And I see how human beings and nature are coming together and becoming only nature with pleasure.”

Emine Özkan:
“Now I believe and can say that we are responsible for this planet, we are responsible for our lives. We can fi x that disruption, we are powerful, it is enough just to want and act for it. Thanks to this project, I now have my own opinions on environmental issues. The most important thing is that I feel responsible for the planet and strong enough to act.”

The Earth Citizenship Programme aims to have more youth and adult education projects on environmental and human rights for diff erent target groups. We at the Yuva Association would like to make it clear that we are open for national and international partnerships. We believe that acting for the Earth is not a job for which we are paid, but our responsibility as human beings living on this planet. We are dependent on the Earth, at least for the time being. 


Goleman, D. (2012): Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence. Jossey-Bass publishers.

Kahn, R. (2010): Critical Pedagogy, Ecoliteracy & Planetary Crisis. The Ecopedagogy Movement.

Oguz, D.; Cakci, S.K.; Kavas, S. (2011): Environmental awareness of students in higher education. SDU Faculty of Forestry Journal.

Phillips, A. (2008): Holistic Education.

Further reading

Center For Ecoliteracy:

Naturally Young Ecological Literacy Project (2014): Monitoring and Evaluation Report.

Navdanya International:

Schumacher College:

About the author

Özge Sönmez is the Earth Citizenship Programme Manager at YUVA. She has extensive experience in youth work and has been acting as a non-formal trainer for nine years, focusing on the environmental and human rights education of young people and training of trainers. She serves as a consultant on youth/adult education projects for various national and international NGOs. 

Yuva Association
Koşuyolu District, İsmail Paşa Street, No. 9
34718 Kadıköy, İstanbul

Adult Education and Development


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