Conservation biology is nothing without the understanding and cooperation of the local residents. GVI Amazon worked long and hard on developing relationships with the surrounding communities. Over the years many teachers, parents, community members, children and even local doctors have benefited from a variety of activities including an integrated environmental and TEFL-based English language program, lectures on local snake species, sports days, science fairs and cultural exchanges (a.k.a. Sunday football!). The money raised by our many challenges for the Charitable Trust has funded a water pump for the Fuerzas Unidas school and community, as well as books and other scientific materials not provided by the government for the local schools. Our final challenge will help ensure the continuity of a youth-led tree planting initiative that will provide an economic incentive for increasing biodiversity on agricultural lands.
It is thus that we will leave the Yachana Reserve with both joy and sadness; joy that we have had the privilege to live and work in such a place, and sadness that our parting will be hard for some. We leave our Reserve ranger Abdon to perhaps a more peaceful life on base and I only hope that the Saturday market will not suffer without our weekly demand for empanadas, chicken and beer! We will greatly miss our time with the students from the Yachana Technical High School; over the years, as part of GVI’s National Scholarship Program, more than 60 Ecuadorian students have come to us from the Yachana school, initially arriving with plans to learn English, but often leaving with even more: an understanding of our science, our love of nature and our culture. Those who stayed for months rather than days have gone on to speak English at advanced levels and some have even received scholarships in the United States, later returning to become bilingual jungle guides. We are proud of them and will follow their careers with interest, and are excited for the opportunities for new students once the handover to our partners at Yachana is completed.
While it is tough to leave the jungle home that has provided us with so much, we look forward to our base camp’s new future as Yachana’s hands-on science education center for high school students from the Amazon. We have spent the last few weeks preparing for the handover: finalizing the curricula and conservation lessons for the students, labelling and organizing equipment we are leaving for their use, and coordinating resources with Yachana staff, whose first task will be to learn all those frog and bird calls! The base is now ready for the arrival of the jungle first-timers; we hope they will enjoy it as much as we certainly have.
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