Notes from the Field: Visiting Schools Along the Napo River in Peru

We’ve traded in the “mototaxis” for boats as we moved from Iquitos into the rainforest at Explorama’s Explornapo Lodge along the Napo River in Peru. It’s interesting – when you look straight down at the water, it is a milky shade of brown, but when looking further out, the reflection of the clouds and blue sky give the impression that the Amazon River is actually blue, which it is not. The scenery is green and lush, as we expect, but now that the water level is lower, we can see how aggressive it is when the river rises. We know how fierce yet resilient nature can be. The mud is sculpted like artwork in places high above the current water line. In many places, green plants have taken over the steep mud cliffs, growing where water stands for months of the year. Birds are flying around checking out the water below, and there is a sense of tranquility from the wind and noise from the boat as we travel from place to place.

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All of this boat travel means that we’ve completed the first week of evaluations, having visited 29 schools as part of the Detroit Zoological Society’s Adopt-A-School program. We can’t all visit each of these communities in this time frame, so we spread out and meet up every night for a recap of what is happening in each community. Common issues that come up revolve mostly around water. Due to flooding, some schools weren’t able to hold classes for up to four months of this school year. Some don’t have enough time to grow crops between the flooding, and almost all communities are having trouble with proper trash disposal. Being here in the rainforest and immersed in this environment leads me to question what is the best solution for this situation. There aren’t garbage boats that come through these communities to pick up trash, so what are they expected to do with it? This is one of the reasons why this program is so important – we focus on education, including education about sustainability and preservation of the environment.

I’ve enjoyed visiting many communities this week, but Canal Pinto was one of the most impactful experiences for me. It was obvious the two teachers in the community had everything under control. You could tell by looking at the students, the classrooms, and their interactions with students that this community was in good hands. As I looked around the beautiful kindergarten classroom, I noticed something that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. Recycled plastic bottles, cut and painted, neatly labeled with student names. Inside each cup was a toothbrush. Hanging on the shelf next to each toothbrush was a washcloth. The students are learning to take care of themselves and to reuse items they have around them. This shows these children – at a very early age – the importance of helping to conserve items and take care of themselves, hopefully habits that will help them and the environment for years to come.

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We have a few days left of reviews before we head home. We will be soaking in the heat and humidity while we can before coming back to the much cooler north. Adios for now!

– Carla Van Kampen is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society. The Adopt-A-School program provides donated educational materials and supplies for schools in rural Amazonia. The DZS has partnered with Conservacion de la Naturaleza Amazonica del Peru (CONAPAC) in this conservation and education program since 1999. For more information, or to donate to the program, visit: http://detroitzoo.org/support/give/adopt-a-school/

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