Exchange Program (AEP)
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The most important goal of the AEP is for visiting students and faculty to work with local people on research/projects that directly support local needs and programs. Therefore, participation in the AEP requires students to dedicate most of their research/work time in the communities to one community project. The AEP was designed as the antithesis to what has widely been termed “helicopter research,” in which academics visit a foreign location, conduct their research, and leave, with little to no interaction with local people. Local people are rarely consulted in these kinds of research programs, and they can feel resentful that they receive no benefit from projects conducted in their own ‘backyards.’ Unfortunately, helicopter research is conducted more often than not. In contrast, the AEP is fully collaborated by local communities and Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, who have embraced the program as a new model for international collaboration that benefits all parties.
The four current AEP projects were prioritized by community authorities, community members, national park authorities, and park guards. They represent real areas of interest and need for the local communities and Noel Kempff Mercado National Park. Students will need to choose one area for their community work:
All student groups will be supervised by one SELVA program leader, one community member, and possibly a faculty member from a collaborating university. Although students will be supervised, most of their work will be conducted independently, within their student team (minimum two people). Students will be responsible for implementation, completion, and final presentation of their projects. Work activities will differ according to program, but will likely include field research, contact with local stakeholders, interviews, travel to and from different locales, data collection and analysis, and final reports. Completion of all projects will necessitate a final product. Depending on the project this could include written reports (in Spanish) and live community presentations.
What is acai?
The community of Porvenir has implemented a community owned organic, wild harvested acai production project, to generate income in a manner that is sustainable and protects local forests. The project is truly one of a kind and has been effective in providing income to community members, incentive to protect forests, and an alternative to local lumber production. Sustainably harvested acai is an alternative to the most common acai production in Brazil, which involves deforestation and the planting of acai plantations. It is also an alternative to heart of palm harvest (from the acai palm), which is a destructive, unsustainable process.
In Porvenir, acai is picked from wild trees. No additional roads are created, and all harvests are carried out by local people through the forest. No chemicals are used, and harvests leave enough acai berries for future regeneration. The goal of harvest is to not harm the trees or forest in any way. AEP students will assist local people in researching and helping inform the sustainability of the local wild harvested acai program. Specific research/work opportunities could include:
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- Estimate the productivity of fruit production of wild acai trees (Euterpe precatoria).
- Evaluate the population status, viability, growth, abundance, and effects of wild harvested acai, through the monitoring of permanent plots.
- Identify the insect species responsible for pollinating wild acai.
- Analyze water quality in the acai production plant.
- Train project associates in accounting and computer use.
- Analyze/inform marketing strategy
Community Run Tourism
Ecotourism is a buzz word that has come to describe many tourism programs that are actually not environmentally friendly. While tourism can provide income to local people that is a good alternative to forest destruction, some tourism programs harm local environments and local people. Many programs offer more benefits to private tourism agencies than to local people. The communities of the Bajo Paraguá plan to create a community owned tourism program 100% run by local people. This program will help stop lumber production and other destructive development practices. Students will assist local people in the development of a community tourism plan. Specific work could include the following:
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- Develop trail routes and evaluate logistics and infrastructure needed for tourism.
- Collect life history information on various plants and animals, and other ecological information, for the use by local guides to use with tourists. Develop this natural history information into “stories” that can be presented to tourists.
- Assess local ecotourism resources, such as the species and occurrence of birds on the rivers.
- Evaluate different tourism activities.
- Develop index files of community members with different tourism services to offer, and how much they would charge for their service.
- Help develop a community tourism organization that will manage tourism operations in the community.
- Develop a tourism marketing plan tailored to the individual communities.
- Develop a community-based tourism business plan that shows costs and expenses.
- Study other community supported ecotourism operations in Bolivia.
- Help organize local capacity building or training sessions for community members to work within the tourism industry.
- Organize community supporting activities (e.g., clean up trash in community).
Local community schools are run on few resources and include no natural science or environmental education. Other educational themes are also lacking. Local children, while living next to a UNESCO world heritage site, often never have a chance to visit the park themselves. Additionally, as future leaders of the indigenous territory, the fate of local forests will be in the hands of today’s children. For this reason faculty, local leaders, teachers, and park guards have prioritized environmental education as key for future conservation of their forests.
Through workshops attended by teachers and park guards, it was discovered that while there is no current curriculum for teachers to teach environmental themes, the park guards have long-term interest in teaching environmental education in local schools. This local resource had never been tapped. Therefore, the group at the pilot program in 2012 came up with ideas such as creating a summer ranger program for kids, and involving park guards, parents, and other community members in teaching classroom curriculum. AEP participants will help local teachers and park guards implement an environmental education program.
Participant work could include:
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- Develop and support implementation of a Junior Ranger Program.
- Help develop an environmental education curriculum for the Park Rangers to use in the seven communities surrounding PNNKM.
- Training for park guards in teaching environmental education in classes.
- Include programs for getting kids out on the river, into the forest, and into the park.
- Get kids involved in science projects, collecting data for use in projects.
- Develop and implement English language and computer use training for teachers and students.
- Develop and teach environmental educational program that includes student research.
There is a strong need in local communities for basic improvements to health and local medical support systems. Health priorities defined by local people include drinking water quality, nutrition, intestinal parasites, diarrhea in children, and malaria. Local medical facilities are rustic, and most people have little to no access to western medications and necessary treatments. Students who choose to work on health projects will coordinate with Dr. Pamela Stone, Director of the Culture, Brain, and Development program at Hampshire College, who is coordinating a collaborative health project with women in the community of Porvenir. Dr. Stone visited the community in 2012, and through discussion with local women, has developed a student program that works to enhance exchange of knowledge regarding health and nutrition between students and local women. Student work could include the following:
1. Develop and conduct programs in nutrition and health in the community and local schools.
2. Live with local women and exchange healthy methods of cooking.
3. Assess the quality of water in local wells and develop a program to improve local drinking water quality (concerns that wells aren’t deep enough, aren’t covered, and are poorly located).
If interested in this health program, please contact Dr. Pamela Stone at pksNS(at)hampshire.edu.
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