According to data from SENPLADES / INEC of the Ecuadorian government, the Ecuadorian Amazon region has a population of 739,814. About a third (36.7%) of the region’s inhabitants live in rural areas, of which 49.3% are below the poverty line. This has led to high levels of environmental destruction. Public education is extremely poor with the rote memory style of teaching causing students to leave school early because they feel it is irrelevant to their daily lives and their futures. Those who have completed some level of education are: 64% have finished elementary school, 22% completed high school, 5% have a bachelor’s degree and 0.5% have a master’s degree. The population as a whole is approximately 75% indigenous with the remaining 25% mestizos. Most of the mestizos moved into the Amazon region in the early 70’s through a land reform program.
Science and Technology education virtually does not exist throughout the Amazon region. The Amazonian educational focus of the Yachana Foundation will be enhanced with the Science Park, an unprecedented educational initiative and opportunity in Ecuador. This program will initially serve middle and high school students throughout three provinces of the Amazon region that the Yachana Foundation serves plus video modules specifically designed for teacher training. It is vitally important to reach this target population because they are the future stewards of the rainforest and the only way to bring about change in the habits currently destroying the rainforest is through education. This can not be achieved in dry, dull lectures but through an alive, active, hands-on discovery experience for the youth. The many interactive exhibits that the science park has will raise the awareness of the students and provide a practical introduction into subjects they are studying related to physics, math, chemistry and sustainable agriculture. The Amazon population is buffeted by oil exploration, timber extraction, gold mining and farming. Mixing the interactive mechanical and practical exhibits within the presence of the rainforest will maintain the interest of the students. These activities will spark an interest in the subjects related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
These needs are basically not being met in the schools we are working with. If a school has a microscope or books, frequently these are locked up and unused because the “students might damage them”. Or there are no professors with the basic knowledge on how to explain these subjects. The three provinces we are targeting have the lowest levels of education within the country. Most of the schools are in small cities or rural areas that do not have the teachers or materials to provide good science education. Public education tends to be rote memory with no opportunities for students to experiment and discover new ideas or concepts; and no incentives for critical thinking. In addition, there are not any NGO’s specifically addressing this major lack in public education in the region.
The project will “light the spark of the love of learning about the wonders of the mechanics and methods for a sustainable life within the Ecuadorian Amazon. The Science Park will fill a void in the region’s lack of knowledge and understanding of appropriate and innovative science, technology, investigation and cultural development, will generate an interest in knowledge and learning and provoke critical and proactive thinking; all qualities lacking in public education. This will contribute to the social, economic, and cultural development of the region. The program will serve students and teachers from throughout the three targeted provinces of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Students will visit for two days and one night which will justify their traveling long distances in some cases to reach the Park. It is estimated that in the first year 1,200 students and 120 teachers will visit the Park. Subsequent years will see an annual increase of at least 10%. The students in the region are from families with an average of 7.5 members. Many of the students have smart phones and Yachana will provide videos on the different exhibits for them to take back and share with their families and schools, providing a major multiplier effect. Teachers will be trained and given videos to continue the momentum of what has been learned. The information learned at the Park will help the youth better understand their natural environment, now to protect it and the technologies and methods of machines and agricultural innovations they can use in their homes. Only through education can those who call the rainforest their home ensure its protection.
The program builds on the strong experience the Yachana Foundation has in seven years of running its own high school, in our work with alternative energies, interpretation on its 1,000 hectares of rainforest, and innovations in machines and agricultural methods that can be used in the student’s homes. Both students and teachers can learn scientific concepts through this practical interactive program that will help them in their classes.
Young people have a tremendous influence on their families, especially when it involves information that the adults may not have. The region is extremely poor with an average family annual income of around $550. One way to help the economics of the region is through better management of the natural resources that the farmers own and improved agricultural methods. Parents are very pleased when they know their children have the opportunity for meaningful, hands-on learning. They are painfully aware that the rote memory, deadly dull school instruction is not providing their children with the information and skills they need but they don’t have any other options available. From our experience the Foundation knows the kinds of information and experiences that the youth are begging for and that will help their community and environment.
A group of french volunteers working on projects.
Apart from the different exhibits, we will offer a number of cultural and social examples for students. Though they may not fit perfectly into STEM concept they are never the less vital to the economy and respect of the cultures of the indigenous peoples of the region.
Hike in the rainforest
The Yachana Foundation has 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares) of rainforest. 80% of this is primary forest, meaning it has never been altered by man. All the students will go into the forest with our knowledgeable bilingual guides to learn about the marvels of this ecosystem. Ecuador has some of the highest biodiversity of anywhere on earth and our reserve is part of that.
Village micro credit program
This is a program that the Yachana Foundation started four years ago and that has had tremendous success. Micro credit is a community based mini bank that the members of the community run. The members of the community received training in how to operate the program and then started by putting in $20 per month per member for 6 months until they had around $1,500 in capital to start to lend in mini loans of no more than $150 to the members of the community. Their repayment rate has been right at 100%. Based on the success of this community, the Yachana Foundation raised additional funds to allow them to make larger loans that go up to around $4,000 each. These too have all been repaid. Visiting students will have the opportunity to go to the village and visit the home of one of the members of the micro bank and talk with them about how the program has improved their lives. They will then go to visit some of the projects that have been financed through the program.
All students will have the opportunity to visit a traditional indigenous healer. This custom is still a vital part of the local culture and many continue to use this method to cure many illness. Students will be able to participate in a cleansing ceremony using tobacco smoke and leaves. They will also learn and sample the local drink called chicha made from yuca.
Students will be involved in all of the aspects of farming on the Foundation land. These include raising chickens, gathering eggs, collecting produce from our greenhouses, cutting down a banana tree for a stalk of bananas, pulling up yuca roots to eat, plus much more. They will learn about the value of consuming natural, organic food and can help prepare these foods in our kitchen.
There will be many more opportunities to interact with the local culture and environment. This will be a time to disconnect from the digital world and experience the more basic, hands-on realities of how machines and agriculture really function. But most of all, it will be a time to enjoy a remarkable environment with wonderful people.