First thing in the morning, a parade of children marched up to my hut, all of them with machetes slung over their shoulders. I’d asked a student to bring one along to represent deforestation in the interactive theater workshop on climate change we’d be presenting later that day, and a whole brigade had come along to greet me. Their ultra-enthusiastic response calmed the lingering nerves I’d felt about my first big educational event as a volunteer for Alianza Arkana’s Grow & Cook – Banati Joati program in Santa Clara, the community that will be my home for the next six months.
We started broad and basic with definitions of nature, climate and environment, so that everyone would feel comfortable participating. “What is nature, and why must we care for it?” asked AA volunteer Coline Billon, the workshop’s co-organizer. “Trees! Animals! The river! Air! La vida!” they called out. But the kids were stumped when we asked, “Does anyone know why they say that the Amazon rainforest is the Earth’s lungs?” With this inquiry, we segwayed into the day’s performance battle: Team Nature vs.Team Pollution.
One young boy, Luis, volunteered to be the rainforest, his smiling six-year-old face peeking proudly from behind a branch. Since this day, the other children have nicknamed him “El Arbolito”, meaning “Little Tree.” We found three girls to represent atoms in a molecule of carbon dioxide. They linked hands and danced around Little Tree as they were transformed into the air we breathe, making way for the other elements of the happy ecosystem: two kids waving my blue shower towel to represent the Ucayali River; a hoola hoop sun; and three little fish swimming about. I entered the scene representing humans, wielding a fishing rod I’d constructed a few minutes prior with a twig and bit of spare string. “Off to catch myself a yummy little fish for dinner!” I said, waiting patiently until one of the fish-boys jumped up, laughing, to let me catch him and bring him off-stage to gobble up.
Together we explored the more harmful impacts of people on their environment. The machete sent Little Tree toppling to the floor, and another student dropped a plastic bottle in the river, sending a second fish sinking. Students continued to act out various forms of environmental degradation until all that remained were a ravaged ecosystem and a growing group of carbon dioxide molecules–with no trees left to convert them into oxygen. With this, the kids understood why the Amazon is called the Earth’s Lungs, as it provides all of us with the crucial oxygen we need to breathe.
The adults in attendance brought it all home when they shared their observations about how the climate in the region has changed over the past several decades, providing anecdotes about the resulting problems faced in the community. After discussing possible solutions, we enjoyed our snacks and embarked on our first real-world application of the principles we’d just discussed: working together to prepare the land by the schoolhouse that will become a small community permaculture farm and living classroom.
There, kids from the school will be able to learn more about the plants that are so important to their traditional culture and the rainforest ecosystem that has become so scarce in this ecologically degraded region. Mothers who participate in the Grow & Cook – Banati Joati program will help cultivate crops that improve nutrition and will work together to revitalize traditional recipes, supplementing common meals with locally available, nutritious, and healthy ingredients. This is the second Shipibo school to benefit from this program, and kids here started receiving one healthy meal per week just this past month.
The adults (and a few extra-eager young ones) worked with their machetes, while the students joined me in picking up trash. In recent years, Santa Clara residents have suffered the harsh consequences of food instability and erratic weather patterns that increase the frequency and severity of droughts and floods. This was a beautiful day in the community, in which students and parents came together and began working toward a solution. In the coming months, I hope to help cultivate ecological consciousness with the youth in Santa Clara, which will grow stronger alongside the permaculture garden.
volunteer with Alianza Arkana, Tuesday, 04 November 2014