PILOT PROGRAM 2012 - A History of the Development of the AEP
Funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation and the Five College Consortium, MA
The Amazon Exchange Program (AEP) was successfully implemented as a pilot program, August 9 through 25 of 2012, by SELVA International and the World Language Enrichment & Acquisition (WLEA) Office at Hampshire College, in collaboration with Noel Kempff Mercado National Park and indigenous communities of the Bajo Paraguá, in Bolivia. The program was designed for faculty members, as an exploratory trip. Seven professors from Hampshire College, Smith College, Amherst College, and the University of Massachusetts traveled for 17 days to the Bolivian Amazon to explore the opportunities for student study abroad programs at the site. Additional goals of the faculty trip were to: (1) foster sustainable communities in the Amazon, (2) facilitate the exchange of culture, language, skills, and wisdom between rural Amazonian community members and U.S. academics, (3) promote the linkages between language learning and science, and (4) for participants to apply the knowledge they acquired abroad to their U.S. classrooms.
Community members and participating faculty exchanged knowledge and shared ideas by attending and delivering presentations, participating in discussion sessions (with local communities, community leaders, and park authorities), and visiting local sites (agricultural fields, health care centers, schools, ranger stations, protected areas in the park, sustainable development projects, and others). Throughout their stay, faculty lived with and experienced the daily activities of local community members in two communities. Additionally, they participated in potential tourist activities: camped at Los Fierros; hiked the meseta; rode on horseback through the pampas; made sugar cane juice; traveled the Paraguá and Iténez rivers by boat; took several short hikes to view plants, birds, and other wildlife; and visited chacos (individual farming plots).
More than 30 Bolivians were hired to develop this program, and 70% of the community members benefited economically and educationally. Additionally, a small portion of the program’s budget directly supported local conservation programs, such as the ongoing endangered turtle conservation program, which was part of the initial agreement in starting this program in the national park and indigenous territory.
Faculty reported the following results of their participation in the program: (1) increased understanding of the complexities of conservation in the Amazon region, (2) increased appreciation of the challenges of knowledge sharing with remote communities, (3) increased appreciation for the challenges of subsistence living, and (4) they facilitated discussions among stakeholders (e.g., park guards and teachers), bolstering their efforts at community education and conservation, (5) demonstrated active-learning activities with students in science education for teachers. Faculty identified a variety of themes they learned during the trip to be taught in their U.S. classrooms. These included: parks/indigenous people interactions, loss of subsistence livelihoods, the importance of protecting specific life stage of a species (e.g., turtle project), acai as a good example of sustainable bio-commerce (especially compared to heart of palm), community trash problems, use of plastics in these communities, appreciation of how subsistence based people live, and agricultural systems. Some faculty have already presented their experiences in classrooms and in lecture series. We expect that faculty will continue to share the philosophy of the program and the knowledge they gained with their students and other faculty.
Opportunities identified by students for community-based projects with students are outlined in the presentation below.