As our time in the Amazon draws to a close it becomes apparent that we have achieved a great deal here in the last six years and it seems fitting that out final report should summarise some of the great things to come out of all the hard work done by volunteers and staff at our little jungle base and through our partnership with the Yachana Foundation.
Our project partners Yachana did not have a definite scientific aim in mind for GVI when they were approached in 2006; they wanted to know more about the rainforest land they were committed to protecting, and asked GVI – in the words of the founder of the Yachana Foundation, Douglas McMeekin – to “just go out there and see what you can find”. And that we did. Six years later we have a species list of over 785 different species including 298 bird species, 248 butterflies, 78 frog and toad species, 62 mammals and various snakes, salamanders and other fascinating creatures. We didn’t even start on the plants! What is so amazing is that we keep adding to this list. Even now we are finding new species every week.
However, the scientific contribution did not end there. At the time of writing, GVI Amazon has a published paper on glass frogs and is in the process of publishing a second on the edge effects of the road through the reserve. Additionally, the current staff team are putting together a follow-up road study since the dramatic widening of the road that will be compared with the previous study, to see how disturbance along the road affects biodiversity levels within the reserve. Alongside this, a monitoring system was put in place using the international PPBio grid methodology to allow for long-term monitoring of the reserve and comparison to other rainforest sites around the world. As part of our handover to our partners at Yachana, GVI has prepared monitoring methodology tailored to Yachana’s high school students so that the reserve can be used as part of their science lessons, allowing the students themselves the chance to monitor and protect their own reserve.
GVI Amazon has also produced the only frog and reptile guide for the area, which is currently being distributed to universities, museums, scientists, lodges and professional jungle guides. An online version of our guides can be found here.
It is thus that we leave the Yachana Reserve with both joy and sadness; joy that we have had the privilege to live and work in such a place, and sadness that our parting will be hard for some. We will greatly miss our time with the students from the Yachana Technical High School; over the years, as part of GVI’s National Scholarship Program, more than 60 Ecuadorian students have come to us from the Yachana school, initially arriving with plans to learn English, but often leaving with even more: an understanding of our science, our love of nature and our culture. Those who stayed for months rather than days have gone on to speak English at advanced levels and some have even received scholarships in the United States, later returning to become bilingual jungle guides. We are proud of them and will follow their careers with interest, and are excited for the opportunities for new students once the handover to our partners at Yachana is completed.
While it is tough to leave the jungle home that has provided us with so much, we look forward to our base camp’s new future as Yachana’s hands-on science education center for high school students from the Amazon. Thank you to everyone who has supported us over the last few years!
Conservation biology is nothing without the understanding and cooperation of the local residents. GVI Amazon worked long and hard on developing relationships with the surrounding communities. Over the years many teachers, parents, community members, children and even local doctors have benefited from a variety of activities including an integrated environmental and TEFL-based English language program, lectures on local snake species, sports days, science fairs and cultural exchanges (a.k.a. Sunday football!). The money raised by our many challenges for the Charitable Trust has funded a water pump for the Fuerzas Unidas school and community, as well as books and other scientific materials not provided by the government for the local schools. Our final challenge will help ensure the continuity of a youth-led tree planting initiative that will provide an economic incentive for increasing biodiversity on agricultural lands.
It is thus that we will leave the Yachana Reserve with both joy and sadness; joy that we have had the privilege to live and work in such a place, and sadness that our parting will be hard for some. We leave our Reserve ranger Abdon to perhaps a more peaceful life on base and I only hope that the Saturday market will not suffer without our weekly demand for empanadas, chicken and beer! We will greatly miss our time with the students from the Yachana Technical High School; over the years, as part of GVI’s National Scholarship Program, more than 60 Ecuadorian students have come to us from the Yachana school, initially arriving with plans to learn English, but often leaving with even more: an understanding of our science, our love of nature and our culture. Those who stayed for months rather than days have gone on to speak English at advanced levels and some have even received scholarships in the United States, later returning to become bilingual jungle guides. We are proud of them and will follow their careers with interest, and are excited for the opportunities for new students once the handover to our partners at Yachana is completed.
While it is tough to leave the jungle home that has provided us with so much, we look forward to our base camp’s new future as Yachana’s hands-on science education center for high school students from the Amazon. We have spent the last few weeks preparing for the handover: finalizing the curricula and conservation lessons for the students, labelling and organizing equipment we are leaving for their use, and coordinating resources with Yachana staff, whose first task will be to learn all those frog and bird calls! The base is now ready for the arrival of the jungle first-timers; we hope they will enjoy it as much as we certainly have.
Today we are lucky enough to have an update from one of our current volunteers, Laura Hartmans who is out in the Amazon...If I had to choose one overall theme for this week at GVI Amazon, it would have to be community partners. On Wednesday morning, I had my first opportunity to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL) at a local elementary school. That night, a group of local families and friends came over for dinner and a tour of the science museum volunteers and staff have created at GVI base camp. On Thursday, seven kids and three adults came from the nearby Agua Santa elementary school and spent the day at camp.I was a bit nervous for my first TEFL lesson, but the kids made it easy. They were so eager to learn and incredibly well behaved. Charlie and I taught the kids how to describe themselves and their friends with words like hair, eyes, mustache, fat, thin, and colours. After the lesson we had a two hour walk back to base through the jungle. Staff member Sateesh and GVI volunteer Mahalia went to teach at another nearby school, Rio Bueno, that same morning.
Wednesday night we were able to have a group of locals -- interested in learning about GVI and the work we are doing in the rainforest -- over to camp for dinner and a tour of the on-site museum. It was really exciting to have so many new faces at dinner. Most of the volunteers enjoyed the opportunity to practise their Spanish skills. Everyone is already looking forward to seeing them again at our Sunday football game.
On Thursday long-term conservation intern Vicky ran her Leadership project. She invited students and parents from the Agua Santa school to base for a day. We showed the kids a Blue Crowned Manakin (gorgeous bird) that Lana caught in a mist net; had them identify butterflies from our traps; and look at mammal pictures from an SD card from one of our motion-sensor camera traps placed in the forest. In the museum the kids got to make animal prints in the sand, learn about potential dangers in the rainforest, and look at butterfly wings under a microscope. Finally, lunch. Again we enjoyed the fresh faces at meal time.It was great to spend so much time with our community partners this week. Their interest in GVI’s work makes it seem even more worthwhile.
Last week saw the children sitting their end-of-year exams across the 3 communities where GVI and their in-country partner, The Phoenix Projects work.
The children here take exams in every subject, for every grade, every term. The GVI volunteers have been working with Phoenix and the local teachers in the schools to prepare their students for exams and, of course all important revision!
Our key grades here are first and second grade – a lot of the work here for the volunteers is helping devise fun ways to help the children learn to read and write; to count; develop their motor skills, help them socialize, and of course to have some fun! We have consistent improvements across these grades throughout the year, and with the exam results now in – EVERY child has improved!
To see the difference made here by The Phoenix Projects and GVI volunteers is incredible – all first graders across all the schools are now able to write their names and other key words, and all second graders can read, and count up to 100. Seeing the changes in the children every day means volunteers have a hugely rewarding experience, with tangible results.
It is a humbling privilege to be able to work with the children out here. Their lives are hard but they are so eager to learn that it puts everything into perspective.
Thank you donors, thank you Phoenix Projects, thank you GVI, and thank you volunteers for helping make this change real and sustainable!
To find out more about out our childcare projects in Ecuador, please click here.
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