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Amazon Exchange Program (AEP)


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Program Mission:

To promote Amazon conservation and environmental education through a community-based research and service learning program that facilitates the exchange of culture, language, knowledge, and skills between U.S. academics and Amazonian peoples.

Program Philosophy:

  • We respect the communities and places where we visit and work. 
  • We try to give back more than we take. 
  • We conduct the opposite of “helicopter research,” in which academics drop in and out of “field sites,” having little interaction with locals.
  • We collaborate and work to co-develop programs with local stakeholders.
  • We get our hands dirty by helping build real projects on the ground.
  • We are conservationists who understand that environmental protection is dependent on science, education, and personal well-being. 
  • We facilitate host family stays, because we believe that people learn together by living together.
  • We believe that to effect global change, we need to empower people, locally.
  • We always try to be culturally sensitive, flexible, and prepared to expect the unexpected. 
  • We know that our ideas and knowledge are not always relevant and that we have much to learn.

Program Goals:

This program provides experiential, immersive ecology education for university students.  The AEP offers students the rare opportunity to explore Amazonian environmental issues and support on the ground research and conservation programs by working with local indigenous communities, researchers, park guards, and teachers.

Participants will:

  • Learn about Amazonian environmental issues, local projects, and community-based approaches to conservation, through dialogue and interaction with Bolivian resource managers.
  • Co-develop strategies for conservation by working on a community project.
  • Help develop curriculum and share their acquired knowledge in local community classrooms.
  • Be exposed to and improve their knowledge of Spanish.
  • Engage in cultural exchange by living and working with local people.

WHAT MAKES THIS PROGRAM SPECIAL?

There are many attributes to the AEP that make the project different from other study abroad opportunities:

  • Especially high biodiversity and a diversity of Amazon habitat types within PNNKM that qualify this location as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • A diversity of local cultures including indigenous Guarasu’we, Chiquitano, and Guaraní peoples, Bolivian and Portuguese peoples.
  • Immersion in Amazonian life, by living with local people in their homes (homestays).
  • Collaboration on local community projects, run by local people (as opposed to most study abroad research run by foreign professors).
  • Infrastructure and living conditions that are not changed by foreign influences (no research station, eco-lodge, etc.).
  • Real local need due to the lack of any outside support (the communities really want students to come!)
  • The project site is very remote and rarely visited by outsiders.

PROJECT DIRECTORS

  • Dr. Alison Lipman, Program Director & Science Director
  • Jimena Valdivia, MA, Program Co-Director & Cultural Director
  • Veronica Limpias Lema, Logistics Director
  • Lisandro Sauceco Mendía, Site Director
  • Mer-Mer Chen, MS, Administrative Director

PROJECT COLLABORATORS

  • Indigenous communities of the Bajo Paraguá, Bolivia
  • Sandro Añez, Director of Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, Bolivia
  • Park guards, Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, Bolivia
  • Rolvis Pérez, Co-director of Acai Project, Bolivia
  • Mariela Zeballos, logistical support, Bolivia
  • Dr. Pamela Stone, Director of the Culture, Brain, and Development Program at Hampshire College
  • Pamela Shea, MA, Director of World Language Enrichment and Acquisition Office at Hampshire College, co-developed the AEP pilot program in 2012

FUNDERS

  • Andrew W. Mellon Foundation- Funded the AEP pilot program in 2012
  • Hampshire College, MA- funded a portion of the AEP pilot program in 2012
  • Five College Consortium, MA -Funded a portion of the AEP pilot program in 2012
  • Turtle Conservation Fund- Funded a portion of the AEP pilot program in 2012

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