SYCAMORE – Diana Swanson knows she can’t tackle all the world’s environmental or poverty problems alone, but she hopes by helping with a project in Sycamore and another in Kenya, she can be part of the solution.
Swanson, 54, is an associate professor of women’s studies and English and a faculty associate of Northern Illinois University’s Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy.
She’s helping a team of people educate high school-aged girls in Kenya through the Jane Adeny Memorial School, serving as the president of the board of directors for the Friends of the Jane Adeny Memorial School. Some 80 girls attend the school, with the first class graduating in December.
Her work locally centers around the Mayfield Congregational Church in rural Sycamore, where she’s helping to build a garden that will serve as a place for monarchs to stop on their journey between Mexico and Canada.
Swanson recently sat down with reporter Katie Dahlstrom to talk about the school and the monarch way station.
Dahlstrom: How are you binding the two projects?
Swanson: It’s going to hopefully be as much reduce, reuse and recycle the resources of this 10 acres of land on this hillside in western Kenya as possible. That’s about teaching the students there how to do that so when they go home to their villages, the ripple effect can happen. So we’re hoping, too, that here in our monarch way station, it can be a place for both spiritual contemplation and also community education about how our agricultural and lawn keeping practices have affected insects, especially monarch butterflies, but others, too. ... The ripple effect idea, the education idea, is to get more people to know about it, to get excited about it, to want to do it where they are.
Dahlstrom: So why is this focus on having environmental, sustainable practices ripple through communities important? Why have you devoted so much of your time to it?
Swanson: Well, there’s the now reason and then there’s the past reason. Thinking about this, I think about being a child and loving to be outside and just feeling such wonder when my father showed me an oriole nest hanging from the birch tree in our backyard. ... The things I remember most about my childhood are being outdoors. I just have always felt that it’s so important and if we destroy our environment we are destroying our own lives. If we care for and cultivate and respect the natural world, then we are respecting our own lives, as well.
Dahlstrom: How can someone help with either of these causes?
Swanson: In terms of the monarch way station, we will have planting days in the spring if people want to come and do that. We will have information if people want to start their own in their backyard or some other place. On the other hand, the Jane Adeny Memorial School, there’s ways to help by donating money. A full scholarship for one girl to cover everything is $800. People can also just donate to the general fund or we also have a challenge grant going on now. A very generous anonymous donor has said that she will match donations to build a science classroom building. She will match donations up to a total of $120,000.