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‘Climate Literacy for All’ in Vietnam

NOAA educator leads the creation of a climate education workshop during State Department fellowship.

Traditional ways are evident in Vietnam at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi and the traditional dress (ao dai) in the foreground.  The courting hat was used by women as a multi-purpose tool to carry intems, assist in the rice harvest and to hide behind for a quick kiss with a beau.

A World Apart

Traditional ways are evident in Vietnam at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi and the traditional dress (ao dai) in the foreground.  At right, NOAA's Peg Steffen dons a courting hat, once commonly used by women as a multi-purpose tool to carry items and assist in the rice harvest.

Peg Steffen, NOS’s education program manager, recently returned from three months in Vietnam where she led the development of training materials for leaders in Vietnam’s Thanh Hoa province (provinces are equivalent to U.S. states). She worked with a dedicated group of experts to develop a workshop on climate science that took place in late May.

Vietnam’s long coastline, geographic location, and diverse topography and microclimates contribute to its being one of the most hazard-prone countries in the Asia-Pacific region, with storms and flooding causing both economic and human losses.

Steffen taught school for 25 years before becoming an education specialist first for NASA and then for NOAA, and joined the project as an Embassy Science Fellow through the U.S. Department of State (DOS).

Working in Hanoi

A survey of Vietnamese provincial officials revealed that people know the climate is changing, but they do not understand why, nor are they making adequate preparations to deal with the consequences. As a result, the Government of Vietnam requested help with the issue through the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi. 

Working in Hanoi with U.S. Embassy staff and Winrock International employees under contract to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Steffen developed a concept paper, wrote position descriptions for the trainers, developed the course syllabus, collected and developed materials, and helped create workshop activities and presentations. To understand both the cultural and political “landscapes,” she consulted with foreign-aid organizations including the Red Cross and Oxfam International. She also worked closely with the team of trainers, comprised of professors from Hanoi University, Vinh University, and the Vietnam Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment.

“Two of my goals for the training were to push the idea of ‘climate literacy for all’ and to encourage interactive workshops, rather than ‘sit and git.’ Both of these concepts were fairly new in Vietnam, where ‘literacy’ had only the literal meaning of ‘ability to read and write,’ and where most training follows the traditional lecture format,” Steffen says.

Preparing Vietnam for the Future

The May 22 training for 70 of Thanh Hoa province’s top government officials incorporated websites, resources, and strategies from U.S. sources including NOAA, along with relevant local information and climate predictions for Vietnam. Topics included the causes and impacts of regional climate change, adaptation and mitigation strategies, climate vulnerability, disaster risk reduction, coastal resilience, and Green Growth opportunities for economic development.

“The people of Southeast Asia are likely to feel and deal with the impacts of climate change in much more significant ways than those of us who live in a comfortable, technology-enhanced world,” says Steffen. “All who worked on this project are hopeful that increased climate literacy will better prepare Vietnam for the future.”

To that end, she notes, “My wonderful colleagues in Vietnam are carrying on now that I’m home. The professors that I helped train will lead workshops in three more provinces later this year, and train others to lead them, too. The plan is for a network of trainers eventually to present the workshop to leaders in all 58 Vietnamese provinces and five municipalities.”

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Vietnam is a multi-ethnic nation with more than 50 distinct groups, each with its own language, lifestyle, and cultural heritage. Over the past four decades, climate changes there have included higher temperatures and rising sea levels. The country’s people and economic assets (such as irrigated agriculture) are largely located in coastal lowlands and deltas, so the predicted sea-level rise of more than 1 meter by the end of this century will alter the habitable and arable land and reduce the supply of fresh water, affecting both population and food production. The southern part of the country could lose large tracts of its productive rice fields to inundation, for example.


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