Are the fish in Niagara River safe to eat? SUNY Buffalo State student Ba Zan Lin says they can be, if eaten in moderation. Lin, the environmental justice outreach coordinator for Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, is in the master’s program in the Adult Education Department (ADE). Lin has been working to educate Niagara River fishermen about the dangers of eating fish from polluted waters.
Lin moved to the United States from Myanmar (also known as Burma) in 2006 to pursue an education. Lin’s father was forced to leave their native country to seek political asylum in the United States for his participation in pro-democracy activism in the late 1980s. “I was also involved in youth activities back home, and I was beginning to run into some trouble with authorities,” said Lin.
Lin began his education at the University at Buffalo where he studied environmental education. After graduating, Lin began working for People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH Buffalo) and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. Much of Lin’s work for these organizations has been focused on community outreach and education.
Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper is currently addressing the growing number of immigrants who are fishing in the Niagara River for food. Many of these immigrants are from Lin’s native country. “These people come from a completely different culture,” said Lin. “They come here and they don’t know anything about Buffalo’s industrial past. The water looks so much cleaner than what they are used to, so they assume the fish must be OK to eat.”
Before ADE, Lin found it difficult to effectively communicate his message to an adult audience. Lin’s involvement in ADE has helped tremendously in understanding the way adults prefer to be addressed. “Teaching adults is totally different than teaching a kid,” said Lin. “Adults have a sense of dignity or pride that can make it difficult to teach them without first demonstrating why the information is important. ADE arms me with a great deal of adult education methods and learning theories.”
Lin has found that the best approach to address this adult crowd is not to lecture directly, but to invite these anglers to participate in free programs such as kayaking lessons or educational tours. “When they get hooked into those kinds of programs, it is much easier to educate them and they listen more,” said Lin. It’s difficult to measure whether or not people are eating less of the fish they catch, but through narratives and continued interviews Lin is able to gauge his effectiveness based on the level of awareness. “About 80 percent of anglers say they have heard of the issue,” said Lin.
ADE courses are available online, which has been crucial for Lin’s work. Most outreach programs take place outside normal work hours, as do a lot of graduate classes. “My work is very demanding,” said Lin, “so the ability to focus on my classes when it fits my schedule is extremely convenient for me.”