GVI Amazon’s partnership with Yachana includes many things; we bring new volunteers to camp in style by canoe; we receive curious visitors into camp that range from University students to delegates from the United Nations, and we host Ecuadorian pasantes or intern students. These students are part of GVI’s National Scholarship Program (NSP) in which all their costs (GVI costs, room & board) are covered by scholarship during their time of study with GVI. NSP students come to GVI for the purpose of cultural and linguistic immersion, and high quality hands-on training in scientific methodologies. In the Amazon, we receive many different types of NSP students – some for short stays of 2 weeks to 1 month; others come with their entire class for a focused visit; and longer term interns: NSPs who have excelled on shorter stays and are invited to come back for a longer course of study with progressively increasing levels of responsibility.
The most recent long-term pasantes to camp were two students from the Yachana Technical High School – Kevin, a student from the small oil city of Coca; and Henry, a student that came to the High School after being born and raised in a jungle community many hours walk from the already remote school. While Kevin was more familiar with (small) city life, and has had the opportunity to travel to other parts of Ecuador, Henry’s community is something out of National Geographic – they hunt game with spears and blow darts, live in large communal huts and rely upon their shaman to heal and protect them.
Both Kevin and Henry were great assets to the camp. Kevin’s knowledge and love of the jungle, as well as his dedication to perfecting his English, encouraged and motivated the volunteers, and he was able to proved great, and often hilarious, insight into the life and exploits of teenagers and young adults in Ecuador. Henry, on the other hand, was truly at home in our jungle. He could follow faint trails left by a single person ascertaining their direction from broken leaves and scuffs in the leaf litter. He showed us many useful plants and was often confounded and amused by the way the gringos struggled in this bewildering environment.
At this point it is worth mentioning the tuck shop or ‘Candy Mountain.’ This small enterprise brings chocolate and other snacks into camp to sell (hot commodities in our remote camp!), with proceeds going to a special fund for staff, who may use profits earned for improvements at camp, comforts for staff who live year-round in the jungle, or whatever they see fit as a team. We have already used some of the proceeds to buy a much-needed pressure cooker -- cutting our cooking time by hours! – but still had some left over (we sell a LOT of cookies on base!). So it was that the closing date for GVI Amazon was drawing ever nearer and we still had unspent funds. With a certain amount of excitement it was decided that the money could be used to send the boys to Quito for English lessons and a tour as neither knew much about their capital, Henry, at least, had never set foot in a large city.
Trying to hide his fear, Henry agreed to the plan, as did Kevin, and we were all excited and interested to see how the boys, especially Henry, would do.
The schedule included a tour of Quito by bus, trips to the historic centre, a ride in a cable car to a lookout high over the city, museum trips, and more – all in English of course. The highlights from an anthropological point of view however was a trip to the cinema. On the first day, Henry – as wide-eyed as he been throughout the long bus journey to Quito – was led through a shopping mall in awe. He wondered how anyone could find their way around, asking how we knew where to go. He was amazed that his guide (Base Manager Charlie Coupland), who had never been to this bizarre place before, could navigate the maze of brightly lit corridors and stairs. It drew strong comparisons with how we see his abilities in the jungle; you just have to know what to look for; he hardly saw the signposts nor did he recognize shops that we had passed. The escalator was another eye-opener. Having commented on the size of a television outside the cinema his face as he saw the cinema screen itself was priceless.
By the end of the week, both boys had a great time and fantastic experiences and memories to recount to families and friends, as well as a much more thorough understanding of this part of their country’s culture and history – the culture of Quito’s high sierra region being so very different from the culture of the Oriente, or Amazon region, where they have grown up. Henry even declared himself to be a “city man”. He was pleased that he had seen and learnt so much and was excited that his new knowledge, his lessons on formal English and table manners and his worldly experience would help him on the way to becoming a great jungle guide.
We were so pleased to be able to offer this experience to our boys, who had been such a great asset to our program as interns over the past 4 months. We wish them the very best, and encourage them to study hard during this, their final year of high school, and have no doubt that they have the ability and drive to go on to fantastic things in the future, and we can’t wait to stay in touch and hear all about it!