Ecological education at the Călimani National Park

Katarzyna Mordak joined Călimani National Park for a four-week Pioneers programme placement in 2020, working alongside hosts Cristinel Ortoanu and Benone Gavrilas. Asked to develop an ecological educational plan for children, COVID-19 restrictions meant Katarzyna’s lessons couldn’t be delivered in schools as planned. Nevertheless, the programme was adapted for a virtual setting and her plan will continue to be taught at the park – and beyond.

 There are so many benefits to being a Pioneers host – you meet new people from across Europe and experience different cultures and backgrounds. Katarzyna did a great job as a Pioneer and we learned a lot from her.

Cristinel Ortoanu & Benone Gavrilas, Pioneers Hosts 2017, 2018 & 2020

I met a lot of kind and friendly people who supported me during my placement. My hosts explained my tasks well and answered every question. I was also very happy to be asked to participate in field trips with staff members, so I could experience their work and experience the beauty of the Călimani region.

Katarzyna Mordak, Pioneer 2020

Călimani National Park is an IUCN Protected Area in Romania. Located in the Eastern Carpathian mountain range, it is a popular ecotourism destination. Cristinel Ortoanu has worked at the park since 2006 as an ecological education specialist and has been a Pioneers programme host three times: “A local manager reached out to us and we were immediately interested. Being a host means meeting different people from all over Europe who work on environmental protection. They support us and we also learn a lot from them.”

In 2020, Pioneer Katarzyna Mordak spent four weeks completing a placement at Călimani. Cristinel and colleague Benone Gavrilas, who works as a ranger at the park, were both very impressed with her work: “Katarzyna was a great fit – we wanted someone with a geology background who had experience working with children and she had experience in both fields. She helped us create an educational programme which includes ecological lessons and an introduction to geology.”

Katarzyna developed an educational plan for local students of different ages: “The goal was to improve children’s environmental awareness and teach them about the surrounding natural world. I needed to get acquainted with existing lessons and games connected with the environment, improve them and come up with new ideas for activities for students. The whole cycle of lessons is connected to the Călimani National Park’s geography,” she adds. 

Her hosts supported her throughout the placement, says Katarzyna: “The biggest challenge was adjusting the difficulty levels for different ages, but my colleagues at Călimani provided me with all necessary information while being very encouraging. Although the COVID-19 pandemic meant Katarzyna’s lessons couldn’t be delivered in schools as initially planned, Cristinel and Benone said the programme was adapted: “We can make it virtual and also deliver it at our visitor’s centre when children come to visit.”

Katarzyna says she learned a lot during her placement: “Working in a foreign country was a fantastic challenge, as I needed to learn a lot about the area which I was developing lessons for and how best to raise ecological awareness among young people. Working in an unknown environment is something everyone should try once – it opens your eyes to other points of view and problems that sometimes are completely different from yours – and sometimes exactly the same.”

“I think my work will help raise ecological awareness and help students better understand the natural “heritage” related to their local area,” says Katarzyna. Hosts Cristinel and Benone agree: “Katarzyna did a great job as a Pioneer and we learned a lot from her.”