Direct mail campaign – May 2006
May 21, 2006
Probe International shows solidarity with Chinese environmentalists by providing English-language training in Beijing.
May 21, 2006
Dear Probe International supporter,
Last year, Dai Qing, China’s most famous female investigative journalist, was asked: “What do Chinese environmentalists need more than anything else.” Although I have worked closely with Dai for the better part of two decades, ever since she was jailed following the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, her answer surprised me.
“Chinese environmentalists need English language training “environmental English language training,” she said. ” They need to be able to communicate with the world, to tell their story, and to access the information and laws that they need to protect their own environment.”
So was born Probe International’s Environmental English Language Training Program. With the generous support of the New York based Open Society Institute, 17 of China’s leading environmental activists, journalists, lawyers, and publishers now meet regularly to expand and hone their English, especially their environmental English.
The first classes began last fall, in a makeshift classroom in Beijing. Night after night, after a hard day’s work at their day jobs, these environmentalists met to talk about their passion “the environment” in English. In the words of one of the participants, “it gave us confidence, encouragement, and a sense of hope for the future.”
The Chinese environmental movement has been long in the making. For decades, the Chinese press did not cover embarrassing environmental crises and the Chinese government did not permit environmental organizations. Chinese citizens could do little more than watch as their environment degraded and chronic illnesses spread.
Then, in 2003, the Chinese government introduced a law that called for environmental assessments of hydro dams, coal plants, and other development projects, and for public review of such plans. This small shift in environmental law “what we in the West take for granted” was nothing short of monumental. Chinese environmentalists then did something brave and unprecedented. They took their law makers at their word – their legal word. China’s environmental volunteers started a public discussion about China’s environmental future. They asked the government to do environmental assessments for the biggest and most damaging hydro dams planned for China’s undammed rivers, and they asked that those assessments be disclosed so the public could evaluate them and have an informed debate about the projects’ costs and benefits. For us at Probe International, it has been a marvel to watch this increasing openness in China and an honour to work with these dedicated and principled Chinese environmentalists. As so many of you will remember, we first got involved in Chinese environmental issues in the 1980s when the Canadian government decided to fund the world’s most environmentally damaging dam – the Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze. When we realized, back then, that the few brave Chinese researchers and journalists who dared to challenge their government over the dam risked
everything – their jobs, their reputations, even their liberty – we decided we must help. Since then, we’ve translated and published their books, their articles and their studies and used the power of the Internet to get this otherwise banned material to mainland Chinese
Year by year, step by step, it has become easier. And now, we are helping to empower Chinese environmentalists by giving them access to the methods and resources that the West’s environmentalists use. Before the end of the year, we will bring six of these environmentalists to North America so they can see how environmentalists in Canada and the United States communicate with the public, the press, and our law-makers. Also important, the Chinese environmentalists will be able to do intensive research for the scientific, economic and legal information that they need to make their own arguments at home. As you undoubtedly know, in China even access to the Internet is limited.
This program is an immense success. Because English is the common language spoken in the worldwide environmental movement, and necessary to fully understand the many studies and reports generated in the West, more Chinese environmentalists are asking to do our course. We hope to hold more language training programs, not just in Beijing but also in Chengdu and Chongqing. For this we need your help.
As China’s 1.3 billion people raise their standards of living, many in the world fret about the effect on the global environment. I don’t because I know that Chinese citizens, as much as Canadians or Americans or the citizens of any other country, want to develop their country in innovative and accountable ways, without destroying their health and their environment. With your generous assistance, we hope to help Chinese environmentalists be ever more effective defenders of the economic and environmental health of China. If together we can help in this small way, we will have contributed a world of good.
Categories: Campaign Letters