Authored by Claire Lannoye-Hall, director of education for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS).
The Amazon Rainforest is a beautiful and fascinating place to visit. An incredible variety of plants and animals make this region one of the most biologically diverse and important areas to protect in the world.
Living in this area of the world is not easy. The remote communities are only accessible by boat, using the Amazon and Napo rivers — and their many tributaries — to get to the larger cities where medical care and material goods can be purchased. Most communities rely on the food they can grow within their communities or harvest from the rainforest. There are few opportunities to earn money — aside from selling natural resources, such as timber.
While the Peruvian government provides a school building and teachers for each community, it doesn’t have the resources to stock the shelves with books and materials — much less support each student with the materials they need to attend school and learn with their peers. In the early 1900s, CONAPAC, a nonprofit in northeastern Peru, started providing supplies to a few communities adjacent to properties owned and operated by Amazon Explorama Lodges. This was the start of the Adopt-A-School program, which has continually grown for almost three decades through the support of generous individuals from all over the world. The DZS partnered with CONAPAC in 1999 after years of the Detroit Zoo conducting field research in the area. The partnership provided a stable and reputable U.S.-based nonprofit where individuals could receive tax receipts for their donations and enhance donor confidence in the project.
In the early 2000s, the DZS started organizing expeditions to the Amazon. Individuals can pay a fee to participate in the Adopt-A-School program by helping to distribute school supplies to the partner communities. The fee supports CONAPAC and accounts for a majority of its annual operating budget. The trip participants spend time in the rainforest, learn about its ecology and interact with families who have lived there for generations. This spring, 35 individuals from around the country participated in the Amazon Rainforest Expeditions. They paid their airfare and made a $1,500 contribution to support CONAPAC and offset a small portion of their lodging and meal expenses, which were otherwise covered by Amazon Explorama Lodges.
During the first week, the group visited the Canopy Walkway (a more than 1,500-foot-long aerial experience that connects 14 platforms secured to trees up to 115 feet in the air), went on night boat rides to explore the plants and animals after dark, and, most importantly, delivered school supplies to thousands of students and teachers. Each student receives a set of notebooks, pens, pencils and other materials they will use throughout the school year. Teachers also receive a set of supplies, as well as items to be used for the entire school. The school’s supplies include paper, writing and coloring utensils, text and story books, chalk or dry-erase markers, educational toys and more.
A second expedition, with a new group of participants, finished the school supply deliveries to the final two communities, then spent four days working in the community of Ramon Castilla. This small community was in dire need of a new community kitchen. Most of the kitchen structure was built by a professional contractor out of concrete to ensure it will last in the climate and withstand the variety of insects that eat and destroy natural materials, like wood. Trip participants built window frames and screened them, primed and painted the concrete, and painted the community’s water purification tower.
While some community members and trip participants were helping with the construction projects, the children in the community interacted with the rest of the group in the school. Together, they did environmental education activities and crafts, and they planted fruit trees and seeds in the school garden. The activities build math and science skills while reinforcing how an intact ecosystem contributes to the well-being of all who call the rainforest home.
This international partnership continues to stand the test of time, prioritizing access to education and supporting the teachers, students and families who live in the Amazon rainforest. To support the Adopt-A-School program, click here. To sign up for information about future rainforest expeditions, click here.