Jungle School Vacation
It is one thing for an eco-lodge in the Amazon to offer hot showers and clean beds to world travelers without damaging the land. It is even better to send those travelers home with knowledge about the riches of the forest and a passion for protecting it. But Yachana Lodge, an entrant in our Geotourism competition, which sits on the Napo River in Ecuador, has even bigger aims: to provide a new kind of learning for the people of the forest, to redirect their lives and to build a solid road of hope for the survival of the Amazon.
When Douglas McMeekin founded Yachana Lodge in 1995, the Amazon was already losing 342,000 acres each year to oil drilling, unregulated logging and agricultural clearing. He knew that it was the people who lived there who would have the greatest impact on its future. The answer was education, but not the kind that caused most indigenous youth to drop out of school by 6th grade.
“The traditional way of learning in these cultures was never classroom based,” says McMeekin. “It was learning through doing.” And because of his own struggles with dyslexia as a boy, he was particularly motivated to prove that meaningful, relevant education could enable these kids to excel.
Today, proceeds from the Lodge help fund a remarkable school that teaches local and indigenous students not just Math, English and Science, but forest conservation, sustainable farming and eco-entrepreneurship.
At Yachana Technical High School, students get hands-on training at the lodge, where they absorb the nuts and bolts of eco-tourism; on an organic farm where they learn sustainable techniques for raising crops, as well as pigs, chickens and fish; and on entrepreneurial projects that generate valuable enterprises as well as income for the school.
Yachana has an unusual calendar. Students live at the school for 21–days at a time, then return home for the same period while a second group boards and studies. This means that families don’t lose the vital help of children. It also means that each time they go home, they bring with them what they’ve learned; how to feed chickens to produce the most nutritious eggs or grow protein-rich crops to reduce the family’s reliance on the forest’s dwindling animals.
Students work on entrepreneurial projects that also bring major benefits to their home communities—they distribute and maintain water filters for the area’s rural schools and develop new markets for traditional crafts.
Lodge visitors learn from the students during their stay. Dottie Bauer tasted fried grubs but she remembers best her night hike through the forest. Her student guide had an almost magic ability to call howler monkeys and to teach her to see the extraordinary creatures in the forest. “He learned all this so that he could survive as a hunter, but now that knowledge was being used to open our eyes and educate us about the incredibly complex layers of life in the forest,” she says.
“We live in an area where oil companies have been the only way to make money for your family,” says Flavio Tanguila, a who is training to be a rainforest guide, “now I see a way to work conserving the flora and fauna.” The next step? To spread this kind of learning to rural areas across Ecuador.
What do you think?
Currently, many of these kids graduate the program and then return to live with their families. Some of them want to continue their education and entrepreneurial interests, but their families may not be able to spare their help and they would never be able to afford the expense of living in a town to go to university. To address this, Yachana is looking into founding a 3 year junior college on their campus that shares a similar calendar. Is it possible for them to truly become entrepreneurs and bring real change to their communities without further education? -Elise Pettus
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- Changemakers Geotourism Challenge competition: www.changemakers.net/node/2104
- Yachana’s entry: http://www.changemakers.net/en-us/node/8306