Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Apetina Schoolchildren Take Part in Primary Exams: Building the Future of Indigenous Children

Editor’s Note: In her role as communications and information coordinator for the Amazon Conservation Team Suriname, Karin Lachmising works with ACT’s indigenous colleagues to capture their stories and share the great work being done in Suriname’s remote indigenous villages.

This month, for the first time, seventeen children from the indigenous village of Apetina in southwest Suriname will participate in the primary school exams. I sat down with the man who made this all possible, headmaster Arnold Arupa, who came to Apetina six years ago to act as headmaster of the first primary school in the village. 

In early days, the missionaries held classes in reading and calculating, lessons that were given in the Wayana language. When Arnold started with a group of the best children in the first grade, his mission was to prepare them to finish the primary school curriculum. It was his goal to prepare them for the exams and he guided them for five years thoroughly. 

Although Dutch is the official language, the children found it easier to learn when the official school started as they already had done some basics in their own indigenous Wayana language. This made it easier for them to understand the different subjects such as calculating, spelling and grammar. The hardest subjects for the children were geography and history. Headmaster Arupa had to use all his creativity to bring the information closer to the children and to make them like it.

“It is not easy, when you’ve never been out of the village, to learn about things like the Caribbean, the islands, trucks, ships and roads,” shares headmaster Arupa. “But I am confident that this group is ready for their exams.”

When they finished the first grade, Arnold asked the Ministry of Education for permission to allow the best 20 children to skip a class, because they had done very well, and he guided them as the “exam team.”  The children on the team range in age from 12 to 19 years old.

“Now they are ready for it,” he says. “And I am very proud. Almost the whole group is still together; only three children left the group of 20.”

We have a beautiful building now with four teachers from town and one local teacher. I think these children can set an example that it is really possible to succeed at school. I asked Arnold: What they will do after they have succeeded?

“This is a difficult step for all of the children in the interior of Suriname,” Arnold responds. “For further education they have to go to town, there is no other possibility. Sometimes family takes them in, but most of them have to stay in boarding school, which is for most families not financially or socially manageable.”

For now, Arnold concentrates on the exams, the first step to the children’s futures. When the children were asked what they want to become in the future, they answered with a wide range of jobs, but all have a link with their own environment: a pilot, a nurse and most of them, a teacher. One of the children, when asked a few times, said with some hesitation but with an inner confident spirit that he wanted to be a doctor. 

“The grades so far have been the best of the interior,” says Arnold proudly. “So I am quite confident they have a good chance.”

It seems headmaster Arnold is even more nervous than the children.

“I know,” he says, with a big smile. “But I really want them all to succeed.  I’ve worked such a long time with these kids and I admire them for the effort they and their families at home took to keep on coming to school and learn in an environment which is so very different from what you learn in your schoolbooks.”

Karin Lachmising
Amazon Conservation Team, Suriname
Communication & Information Coordinator

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Witness to the First United Assembly of Male and Female Healers of the Colombian Eastern Andean Amazon

To have witnessed a historic event of great importance to traditional medicine is an honor that can hardly go unnoticed in the life of a human being.

From March 20 to 23, 2011, in the community of Mocoa in the Colombian department of Putumayo, members of the Union of Indigenous Yagé Healers of the Colombian Amazon (UMIYAC) and the Women's Indigenous Medicine Association (ASOMI) assembled together for the first time. They held both concurrent and independent sessions to address issues of concern to both groups. I was fortunate enough to have been invited to observe. 

A primary point of concern for both groups was the misuse of their traditional medicine that is occurring in many places, as well as the ongoing irresponsible commercialization of their knowledge by both indigenous and non-indigenous persons.

The message that they wish to disseminate to the world is that the virtuous practice of traditional indigenous medicine must comply with the cultural rules and traditions in which it is fostered. This means, among other things, that it must be the elders, the recognized knowledge-keepers, who give consent to this practice; that their traditional medicine must be performed in appropriate settings, that is, cultural and environmental conditions that ensure the "cleansing" of space; that the origin of the plants employed must be known with certainty, so that they have not been exposed to pollution of any kind; and that the musical instruments and songs employed are those belonging to the local cultural tradition.

The healers stressed that the worthy producers of the “remedy" are those that are supported by and are rooted in their communities. In contrast, those who are engaged in the distribution of medicine in a city without being in real contact with their natural environment are considered charlatans and “knowledge-mongers” who endanger the lives of their patients as well as the good name of traditional medicine.

The healers’ reflections and communications reinforce the importance of protecting both their lands and their culture. To keep their medicine alive, it is necessary not only to ensure that their youth engage in the study of plants (through an apprenticeship program), but also to protect and restore the territory in which this medicine was born, and to ensure that the state and its institutions provide the means to make certain that the culture and territories are respected and possess the proper conditions for their survival in the future.

As I mentioned at the beginning, having witnessed this new stage in the growth of these organizations is an honor for which I thank the generosity of the shamans and mamas present at the meeting. I received their concerns and enjoyed their conversations as well as the kindness of their healing and medicine. Now, I have both a personal and institutional commitment to support efforts so that this medicine and ancestral knowledge may continue to bring well-being to humanity.

Jose Pablo Jaramillo 
Amazon Conservation Team Colombia

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Improving Food Security and Economic Opportunities in the Amazon

On April 22, environmentalists around the world will celebrate Earth Day. Our indigenous partners in the Amazon celebrate their land and its preservation every day as they strive to maintain their cultures and the rainforests in which they live.

Over the last several months, our indigenous colleagues and ACT staff in Colombia have collaborated with more than one hundred community leaders to promote integrated sustainable development in the Alto Fragua Indi Wasi National Park in the northwestern Amazon. Through training workshops, ACT is encouraging the region's communities - including non-indigenous farmers - to share farming techniques that improve the planting and maintenance of family gardens, as well as pasturing livestock with a sustainable approach that has less impact on the forest.  

As part of our commitment to this important project, ACT Colombia recently delivered seeds, equipment and other materials used in the preparation of organic fertilizers to the communities for the planting  of 124 family gardens and 44 plant nurseries.

Additionally, in Suriname, ACT staff is helping the rainforest community of Kwamalasamutu (Kwah-mah-lah-sah-MOO-too) to develop an immunity-boosting tea for the market. ACT provided training in plant propagation and cultivation, food safety, marketing, business planning, bookkeeping, and project administration. We are happy to report that production facilities are being constructed, and a management plan is under development.

Through these ongoing sustainable development activities, ACT and our indigenous partners in the Amazon are working to ensure the preservation of one of the Earth's most sacred forests--one whose survival may determine how hospitable an Earth we leave for our children and their children. Here's to celebrating Earth Day every day! 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Surui Tribe Launches Carbon Fund

As I return from the United Nations Climate Conference (COP16), I'm happy to share that there is some good news coming out of Cancún despite all the media headlines of stalled conversations. ACT is working on very concrete projects that will have a direct impact on the implementation of policies regarding the reduction of carbon emissions in the rainforests of South America.

ACT has taken the lead in creating coalitions of NGOs and indigenous peoples to design and implement effective land management solutions, and now is working with its partners to ensure that these solutions can be applied broadly - both on the ground, and also to positively impact the policy negotiations and implementation of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and REDD+. ACT is an integral part of the discussions surrounding the design of these methods where the results generated on the ground will help to shape how these solutions can potentially be implemented on an international scale.

I joined Chief Almir of the Surui Tribe in Brazil at COP16 in his announcement of the launch of the Surui Carbon Fund. The Fund-created by the Surui with help from the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund (FUNBIO)-will enable the indigenous community to manage the funds derived from the marketing of their carbon credits. The Surui will be responsible for fund financial management as well as implementation of their self-created management plan for their 600,000-acre reserve in Rondônia, Brazil.

The Surui Carbon Project is an initiative led by the Surui and involves expert NGOs including Kanindé, Forest Trends, FUNBIO, and the Institute for Conservation and Sustainable Development in the Amazon. The project uses two forms of carbon offset: avoided deforestation and conservation through carbon stocks, as measured through the REDD mechanism; and carbon sequestration through reforestation. The impact of the project will go far beyond the Surui and will bring new alternatives in the management of indigenous lands to other indigenous groups worldwide. 

Vasco van Roosmalen
Director, Amazon Conservation Team Brazil

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Brazilian Drought Continues to Impact Amazonian People

You may have recently read some of the articles in the news about the major drought occurring in the Brazilian Amazon.  Disasters like this make it more challenging for our indigenous partners to protect their ancestral lands.  This months-long drought has eliminated food supplies, basic building materials, and plant-based medicines upon which many of the indigenous groups in the northern and western Amazon depend.

For fifteen years, ACT has been pointing out the clear and unbreakable link between healthy forests and human well-being. In the Amazon, the destruction of the forest itself precipitates both major droughts and fires, with associated human misery and deep economic costs for tens of millions of people.

Despite this news, we continue our innovative community-based approach to conservation--in true partnership with our indigenous colleagues--which not only addresses global issues like climate change, but also helps alleviate poverty and find lasting solutions that work at the local level.

Mark J. Plotkin, Ph.D. 
President, Amazon Conservation Team

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Indigenous Culture Lessons for Surinamese Schoolchildren

In Suriname, one of ACT’s focus areas is to bring greater awareness of indigenous culture to the capital city of Paramaribo. To do this, we created the Wapono Pakoro Indigenous Day Project. The project’s focus is on knowledge exchange between the Trio and Wayana tribes and schoolchildren in Paramaribo. The project involved educational, hands-on, and showcase events for the schoolchildren.
The event kicked off in July 2010 with three elementary and technical schools in Paramaribo learning about indigenous culture and building scale models of traditional indigenous houses. This project is a follow-up to a recent publication, Wapono Pakoro: Traditional Indigenous Architecture of the Trio and Wayana in Southern Suriname, and is funded by the Dutch Embassy in Suriname, reflecting the theme “respect for different cultures.”

In partnership with an architecture team, indigenous park guards of Kwamalasamutu (an indigenous village in the remote southern interior of the country), held workshops for the technical schools to share their knowledge about materials used to build houses and the indigenous wave-and-bind construction techniques.

For two months, with assistance from ACT staff, children ranging from 9-12 years old and their teachers worked on building a village model. Simultaneously, children of the technical school tested their architecture skills by building three traditional indigenous houses: a clay house, a wooden house, and a bamboo house. The replicas were built at 50 percent scale by students in the 14-18 year age group.

The event wrapped up in August when the house models were on exhibit during the Indigenous Day weekend for all to see. We also invited local artists to share their work focusing on the indigenous people. Paul Woei, a famous Surinamese visual artist, displayed his sculptures and paintings of the nation’s indigenous peoples. Charles Chang, a local photographer and journalist, displayed pictures of the Trio (Suriname) and Xingu (Brazil) tribes.

To capture such a monumental event, we created a DVD which can be viewed by other schools to promote their own cultures. As I write, one replica, the clay hut, as well as one village model have been adopted by the Villa Zapakara children’s museum in Paramaribo.

It was very special to watch these young children work together with indigenous peoples on such an inspiring project. I’ve included pictures of some of the final pieces of work from the project.

Karin Lachmising
Amazon Conservation Team, Suriname
Communication & Information Coordinator

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Backyard Observations – Spiders

Editor’s Note: Author, illustrator, passionate conservationist and all-around cool lady, Janell Cannon is best-known for classic books like Stella Luna and Verdi – works that focus on what some consider “creepy critters,” but Janell uses her unique skill to show us the beauty and wonder of all creatures. ACT is greatly privileged to have Janell as both a friend and member of our Advisory Board — she is a fascinating person with an awesome sense of humor, love of nature and inquisitive mind. She shares her observations of nature and the wonders that we can find in our own homes, if only we paid better attention. We asked Janell for permission to share some of her findings and photographs that document fabulous aspects of common wildlife right in our own backyard, of which many of us are unaware. Enjoy!

I first noticed her yesterday, bundled in a branch of a plum tree. She is just short of an inch long in this bunched-up form, so she's big. I noticed she had a nice big orb-web stretched between the branches nearby, and the main anchor point was attached to the ground near the base of the tree so that her web would be oriented in a vertical plane. The ground anchor seemed a bit vulnerable to disruption, and by this afternoon, I noticed that her web had been destroyed.

I knew come nightfall she'd rebuild, and so I went out to watch. Since she no longer had the ground anchor, she made do with the branches around her--all of which leaned steeply outward, offering no easy way to build a web at the optimum vertical angle. She began to weave the web at a nearly 45 degree angle.

Soon enough, she finished and settled in the center to wait for dinner. I wondered if this oddly slanted trap would be effective. So, I checked back in about two hours and she had a nearly-devoured prey in her clasp. Everything was covered in fine dew and she was sparkling.

Janell Cannon
Author and Illustrator
ACT Advisory Board Member