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Source: Eastern Institute of Technology – Tairāwhiti

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Invited guests gathered today to celebrate the official opening of the Ōtatāra Outdoor Learning Centre (OOLC). This included collaborating partners Department of Conservation, Cape to City, Predator Free Hawke’s Bay, Enviroschools and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.

Kaumātua Ihaia Hutana led the tikanga process related to the blessing of the site. EIT staff, students and local children engaged in different activities showcasing the potential of the centre inspired by its vision “Learning with Nature for a sustainable future”. Stakeholder representatives from local government agencies, councils, schools, NGOs and community groups who attended the event reiterated their support for the project.

In June 2019, EIT and the Air New Zealand Environment Trust (ANZET) had signed a memorandum of understanding expressing their intention to develop a Centre to inspire learning in an outdoor environment. The Trust provided generous funding towards the development of the Ōtatāra site, supported by the valuable input of Ngāti Pārau, kaitiaki of the area.

“The purpose of the Centre is to improve awareness of the importance of environmental issues such as the sustainable use of natural resources, biodiversity conservation and promotion of ecological intelligence. It provides us with the opportunity to develop a greater sense of personal responsibility in relation to ensuring a sustainable future for all,” said Executive Dean for EIT, Professor Natalie Waran.

ANZET Trustee Ruud Kleinpaste was thrilled to find the Centre flourishing. “It is absolutely wonderful to see how EIT has changed gear again! The Ōtatāra Outdoor Learning Centre is not just a fertile training ground for student teachers, it is now a learning space for a much wider range of students from an impressive number of disciplines, as well as providing a unique space for connecting different communities with nature.”

“The Air New Zealand Environment Trust is fully supportive of young New Zealanders re-connecting with the ecological experiences of the natural world, no matter what their chosen pathways might be. It simply promotes ‘nature literacy’ in an even wider context and that will – no doubt – lead to an increasingly sustainable future for Aotearoa. This is inspirational stuff and the Trust is delighted to be part of this ground-breaking project.”

Over the last months, the Centre has grown significantly. The EIT team has planted a rongoā (Māori medicine) garden as well as developing new native planting areas, restoring a native planted gully, revitalising the native flax for weaving, and refurbishing a log cabin which is open for interactive learning and research. The most recent Centre development was the addition of a large outdoor shelter to be used for arts, performance and other creative activities. 

The Centre has recently been recognised as a finalist in the prestigious 2020 Green Gown Awards run by the Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability (ACTS). EIT is the only New Zealand ITP and one of the country’s two tertiary institutions to be announced as finalists this year.

Project manager Emma Passey is passionate about further growing the project. “We want to provide an inspirational nature based learning space where the cultural and creative connection to the land, sustainable use of resources and the restoration of ecology and biodiversity management can be taught.”

 Wendy Rakete-Stones, Biodiversity Project Leader at Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, pointed out that OOLC provides an opportunity to inspire and connect students of all ages for education where the environment is a context for learning across the entire curriculum. “You can’t care about something that you’re not connected to and you can’t connect to something if it has no relevance and you’re not engaged with it.”

MIL OSI New Zealand News