Yachana: Geotourism Lodge and School

Competition Finalist

This entry has been selected as a finalist in the
The Geotourism Challenge: Celebrating Places - Changing Lives competition.

YACHANA: GEOTOURISM LODGE and SCHOOL

We at the Yachana Foundation believe the future of the rainforest is inextricably linked to the well-being of its inhabitants. Only those who call the rainforest their home can ensure its survival; education is the best way to achieve this goal. In September 2005, the Yachana Foundation and Yachana Lodge opened Yachana Technical High School.
Yachana High School is a regional boarding school, with 80% indigenous students, from five Amazonian provinces within Ecuador, representing four ethnic groups. Instruction is practical, hands-on approach to learning, offering applicable education where few income-generation options exist. Curriculum includes geotourism, emphasizing a holistic approach to tourism. Students manage our organic farm, providing 40% of the school’s food, plus food for our guests at Yachana Lodge. Curriculum also includes conservation using our 4,300 acres of protected rainforest as a living classroom. The students work in and study micro-enterprise development, learning how to be successful entrepreneurs through environmentally sound endeavors. These businesses are generating 21% of the operating expenses of the school.
All Yachana Lodge guests have the opportunity to visit and participate with students in different activities, providing a unique opportunity to learn the lives and cultures of our students.

Your idea

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This will be the address used to plot your entry on the map.

Street Address

Amazon Region

City

Mondaña

State/Province

Napo

Postal/Zip Code

Country

Ecuador

Year innovation began

2005

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Geotourism Challenge Addressed by Entrant

Quality of tourism management and impact on the destination

Indicate sector in which you principally work

Tourism-related business

Plot your innovation within the Mosaic of Solutions

Main barrier addressed

Cross-cultural myopia

Main insight addressed

Education through hands-on experience

Geographic location

Rural, Rainforest.

Name Your Project

Yachana: Geotourism Lodge and School

Describe Your Idea

YACHANA: GEOTOURISM LODGE and SCHOOL
We at the Yachana Foundation believe the future of the rainforest is inextricably linked to the well-being of its inhabitants. Only those who call the rainforest their home can ensure its survival; education is the best way to achieve this goal. In September 2005, the Yachana Foundation and Yachana Lodge opened Yachana Technical High School.
Yachana High School is a regional boarding school, with 80% indigenous students, from five Amazonian provinces within Ecuador, representing four ethnic groups. Instruction is practical, hands-on approach to learning, offering applicable education where few income-generation options exist. Curriculum includes geotourism, emphasizing a holistic approach to tourism. Students manage our organic farm, providing 40% of the school’s food, plus food for our guests at Yachana Lodge. Curriculum also includes conservation using our 4,300 acres of protected rainforest as a living classroom. The students work in and study micro-enterprise development, learning how to be successful entrepreneurs through environmentally sound endeavors. These businesses are generating 21% of the operating expenses of the school.
All Yachana Lodge guests have the opportunity to visit and participate with students in different activities, providing a unique opportunity to learn the lives and cultures of our students.

Innovation

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What is the goal of your innovation?

The Yachana High School, in conjunction with Yachana Lodge, is providing Amazon youth an innovative, meaningful, practical, entrepreneurial focused education.

How does your approach support or embody geotourism?

The Yachana Technical High School opened in September 2005, addressing a need on a regional basis for a practical, hands-on education for poor youth from the Amazon region of Ecuador. It is the only school in Ecuador offering a degree in Eco-tourism and Sustainable Development, approved by the Ministry of Education. The Yachana Lodge opened in 1995 and now the two entities are combined under the umbrella of the Yachana Foundation.
The school has 128 students, 80% indigenous, from five provinces and four ethnic groups. The students are involved in cultural programs for the Lodge guests. The newest program being our Amazon Culinary tour where our guests harvest and prepare Amazonian foods with our students. All of the students work in the Lodge as part of their education, interacting with our national and international guests. A cultural interchange that both groups enjoy. The school provides a large percentage of the food for the Lodge and the Lodge is the major supporter of the school.
All of our guests visit our 4,300 acres of protected rainforest that is also the living classroom of the students.

Describe your approach in detail. How is it innovative?

• To provide intensive, semi-residential, year around education in both general academic skills and relevant experience in organic agriculture and animal husbandry, work in our ecotourism facility, training in micro-enterprise skills and involvement with conservation activities.
• To change the traditional teaching method of largely theoretical, isolated subjects with the introduction of a holistic approach to learning, working with the different cultures and the richness of local communities, addressing real environmental and social problems and understanding how market economies work.
• To focus on the development of knowledge and problem-solving ability, not just information.
• To develop the ability to investigate, to observe and be creative in looking for alternatives and solutions to the systems that currently exist.
• To promote the extension and replication of our program through community outreach activities and initiatives to expand the understanding of our program throughout the country.
To give our students a voice in every aspect of the operation of their school. There is a student disciplinary committee, a student run micro credit bank and students are encouraged to speak up, express their ideas, and initiate participatory discussion on their education.

What types of partnerships or professional development would be most beneficial in spreading your innovation?

• Partnerships with national high schools and universities to promote and expand our “network of change” in education.
• Agreements where Ecuadorian universities offer scholarships to our students.
• Recognition by national and international organizations to raise our public profile of Yachana Lodge, Yachana High School, or the founder and visionary of the Yachana Foundation, for our work in Geotourism, education, and sustainable development.
• Individuals, NGO’s or corporations who can help us financially to cover our operating expenses, development projects and finance the development of our micro franchises and businesses for the students.

Impact

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In one sentence describe what kind of impact, change, or reform your approach is intended to achieve.

We are giving young people the skills to address the social, environmental and cultural challenges they will encounter in life.

Describe the degree of success of your approach to date. Clearly define how you measure quantitative and qualitative impact in terms of how your approach contributes to the sustainability or enhancement of local culture, environment, heritage, or aesthetics? How does your approach minimize negative impacts? 200 words or less

• 128 young people from the Amazon are “living their learning”, actively involved and participating in their education. Many of these students are older and are here to learn.
• The students are from families with an average income of around $300 per year.
• We only have an 9% attrition rate from the school.
• We have 15% girls, and this percentage is growing, but against cultural norms.
• We are helping our 80% indigenous students to feel a pride in their cultures and share their heritage with both national and international visitors. This is giving them a valuable self confidence as they face life.
• We are training entrepreneurs and leaders of the future. Our micro-enterprise program is training in all aspects of business and micro franchise management and already generating 21% of the operating expenses of the school.
• Our students work as nature interpreters. This has helped them gain a valuable understanding of the frailty of their environment and a desire to work to protect it.
• Through our Youth to Youth and conservation outreach programs we will impact around 400 national, 275 international high school and university students and 1,800 elementary students in 2008.

How does your program promote traveler enthusiasm, satisfaction, and engagement with the locale?

• All of our guests visit the school, see the working farm, micro-enterprises, alternative energy systems and sustainable development projects.
• The students present these programs to the travelers, gaining confidence and English skills.
• All of the students work in the lodge in all capacities, learning hospitality management. But most important is they are interacting with our guests in all activities.
• The school and Yachana Lodge are part of the Yachana Foundation. People like to know that what they are paying is going to support this valuable program.
• Our guests are major financial supporters of our school.

Describe how your innovation helps travelers and local residents better understand the value of the area’s cultural and natural heritage, and educates them on local environmental issues. How do you motivate them to act responsibly in their future travel decisions?

• Yachana Lodge gives visitors a “window” into the lives of the people from the Ecuadorian Amazon. Our students now feel pride in their indigenous heritage.
• Interaction between guests and students is a wholesome and human understanding of the different cultures.
• Our students explaining the need to protect the natural environment helps them better appreciate its importance.
• Our Youth to Youth program is introducing our innovation to many Ecuadorians; creating a change in education from the bottom up.
• Guests see how their fees have developed the school, protected the environment and given disadvantaged youth an opportunity.

In what ways are local residents actively involved in your innovation, including participation and community input? How has the community responded to or benefited from your approach?

• Our students study for 28 days, go home for 28 days then return, all year long. This gives them time to help out on family farms in their small communities.
• What is innovative in our program is that this allows them to take something back to their families when they return home that is helping with the family standard of living: agricultural techniques, seeds, water filters, etc.
• The result is strong family and community support for our program.
• We have regular parent meetings and parents and students are investing in our student micro credit bank.

This Entry is about (Issues)

Sustainability

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Is your initiative financially and organizationally sustainable? If not, what is required to make it so? What is the potential demand for your innovation?

• Our school is not financially sustainable – yet, but is organizationally.
• In 2 ½ years, we are generating 21% of our operating expenses through micro enterprises.
• We will reach financial sustainability within 4 years through enterprises/ franchises.
• As founder, I am an entrepreneur; generating our support, guiding our growth. Created interesting model of a for profit supporting a non profit.
• I have created a strong organizational team.
• Our students are our future leaders – our most valuable asset.
• 20% of Ecuadorians have emigrated. Our educational model meets people’s needs and it will be replicated.

How is your initiative currently financed? If available, provide information on your finances and organization that could help others. Please list: Annual budget, annual revenue generated, size of part-time, full-time and volunteer staff.

• Financing for Yachana High School 2007:
o $122,000 project funding received for expansion.
o $18,000 represents 21% of operating expenses we generated through enterprises.
o $67,000 cash donations.
o $33,000 from Yachana Lodge in cash,
o $90,000 approximately in kind from Yachana Lodge
• Annual budget 2008: $202,000
o $107,000 for salaries and benefits for school staff.
o $19,000 for food beyond what we currently produce on our school farm.
o $76,000 for expansion and new projects
o Yachana Lodge will continue to provide major support in kind.

The Yachana Lodge has 27 employees, of whom 92% are native to local communities. 65% are indigenous. We have an average of 8 part time students who work on their days off doing internships to get better training. We have around 3 volunteer staff most of the time, usually teaching English in the school.

What is your plan to expand your approach? Please indicate where/how you would like to grow or enhance your innovation, or have others do so.

• Visiting Ecuadorian students participating in our Youth to Youth program become ambassadors for new initiatives, from bottom up.
• Replication in Ecuador first, probably Galapagos Islands, then internationally.
• Replication needs follow-up. Our students and staff are visiting and supporting communities where interest is developing.
• Our students will graduate and return to their communities or other parts of Ecuador and be multipliers in establishing “networks of change”.
• Our seniors spend weeks in work related projects during their last year in other locals throughout the country; generating a desire to replicate.

What are the main barriers you encounter in managing, implementing, or replicating your innovation? What barriers keep your program from having greater impact?

Barriers to our innovation of a totally new methodology of education are the difficulty of getting teachers and students accustomed to working with our program of practical relevant education and not theory. Once they do understand, it is working wonderfully. Financial limitations restrict the expansion of the program, making it more difficult to replicate. All challenges that are forcing us to reach self sustainability. Our program is still young, 2 ½ years in operation. Our first group of students graduates in August, the beginning of a much greater impact. Our Youth to Youth outreach will involve around 675 young national and international students this year. With more funds, and time to promote, this program will have a far greater participation and impact. Our conservation and sustainable development program for visiting students from the Amazon will reach 1,800 this next school year, but limited by lack of funds to cover transportation and expenses of the program. Replicating the innovation is limited by fear of many to make a change. Our program of a “revolution in education” and creating “networks of change” within communities will help get more involved and feel confident to bring about change from the bottom up.

The Story

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Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers' marketing material.

Douglas McMeekin is Founder and Executive Director of the Yachana Foundation, Yachana Lodge, Yachana Gourmet and Yachana Technical High School. Seeing the critical economic needs of the Amazon region of Ecuador, Douglas has dedicated the past 22 years of his life to finding solutions to these challenges. Through the Foundation entities, 5.2 million dollars has been invested in the region over the past 16 years. Douglas started the Yachana High School in 2005 to address the educational needs. This school offers a degree in Ecotourism and Sustainable Development and is an integral part of the Yachana Lodge tourism program.

What is the origin of your innovation? Tell your story.

The earliest origin of the idea began at a subconscious level as a result of the problems I had with dyslexia in primary and secondary school. I had to repeat the second grade and almost didn’t finish high school. That experience made an indelible impression on me, and resulted in my discovering that there are other ways to learn and develop, based on action rather than linear and verbal skills.
Now, after 22 years living in the Amazon region of Ecuador, seeing the incredible capacity of the people but also the very poor level of public education and how it was wasting the innate abilities of the youth, the idea of an alternative education system to meet the realities of the people and region began to developed and take form. The idea was to create an education system that meets THEIR needs. So, after years of thinking and talking about the idea while I was developing the Yachana Foundation and its activities, the idea of the technical high school began to materialize. It started with the purchase of 125 acres of land specifically for the school in late 2004. This tract has 21 acres of rich river bottom land for crops, plus more sloping land suitable for animals and buildings. Planting of longer term crops began at the end of 2004, and construction began in early 2005. The high school opened in September 2005.

Please write an overview of your project. This text will appear when people scroll over the icon for your entry on the Google map located on the competition homepage.

YACHANA: GEOTOURISM LODGE and SCHOOL

We at the Yachana Foundation believe the future of the rainforest is inextricably linked to the well-being of its inhabitants. Only those who call the rainforest their home can ensure its survival; education is the best way to achieve this goal. In September 2005, the Yachana Foundation and Yachana Lodge opened Yachana Technical High School.
Yachana High School is a regional boarding school, with 80% indigenous students, from five Amazonian provinces within Ecuador, representing four ethnic groups. Instruction is practical, hands-on approach to learning, offering applicable education where few income-generation options exist. Curriculum includes geotourism, emphasizing a holistic approach to tourism. Students manage our organic farm, providing 40% of the school’s food, plus food for our guests at Yachana Lodge. Curriculum also includes conservation using our 4,300 acres of protected rainforest as a living classroom. The students work in and study micro-enterprise development, learning how to be successful entrepreneurs through environmentally sound endeavors. These businesses are generating 21% of the operating expenses of the school.
All Yachana Lodge guests have the opportunity to visit and participate with students in different activities, providing a unique opportunity to learn the lives and cultures of our students.

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Yachana Mirador.jpg711 KB
283 weeks ago Jelani Bynoe said: This entry won the competition because the Yachana: Geotourism Lodge and School is an outstanding program that educates over 128 young ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
326 weeks ago Amelia Forrest Kaye said: On May 28, 2008, the judges reviewed the entries for the Changemakers “Geotourism Challenge” and would like to pass on this feedback for ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
326 weeks ago Gabriel Alfredo Jaramillo Zamudio said: Hi, I had the opportunity to visit Yachana a month ago and I was very impressed by the way the community is involved in the project and ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
327 weeks ago Yachana: Geotourism Lodge and School has been chosen as a winner in The Geotourism Challenge: Celebrating Places - Changing Lives.
327 weeks ago richard knapp said: I visited Yachana Lodge several years ago and was most impressed with the sincerity and idealism of its founder-director, Douglas ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
328 weeks ago carla vorbeck said: I am moved by the effort your foundation is providing for the education of Ecuadorian youth! I think you should "advertise" within the ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
328 weeks ago Michelle Fried said: Hi Doug, Great to see that complete write-up of the innovative, significant work you are doing! To other readers, let me say that I ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
328 weeks ago David Peaty said: I spent 6 days at Yachana doing research on community-based ecotourism and was extremely impressed by this project, and by Mr McMeekin's ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
328 weeks ago lisa saunders said: Dear Yachana, I visited Yachana in March of this year with the Phils group (Williams and McDonnell). I would just like to say thank ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
329 weeks ago Yachana: Geotourism Lodge and School has been chosen as a finalist in The Geotourism Challenge: Celebrating Places - Changing Lives.