Familiar Strangers in the Forest

IMG_2054Deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle, an eclectic group spread across rough-hewn benches on a packed-earth floor, sipping fresh-made tea. They were gathered at a new site for conservation and education, the Las Piedras Amazon Center (LPAC). Rain drummed against a large tarp roof as the group of participants, from all over the world, sat elbow-to-elbow:

  • Twelve American college students, from many different disciplines
  • Nine Future Leaders—young Peruvian professionals and college students
  • Six local partners, from scientists to support staff
  • Two volunteers from Europe, accomplished professionals eager to share their expertise

The participants were gathered for a two-day workshop, focused on learning and telling some of the stories of the Madre de Dios rainforest, one of the most biodiverse places on earth. They were gathered to dialogue across political and cultural borders–an important task, requiring both small steps and big leaps of confidence.

The conversation focused on the intersection of ecotourism, sustainable farming, and wildlife conservation and kicked off with a panel discussion led by Dr. Jason Scullion (president of Wild Forest and Fauna), Luis Garcia (president of ARCAmazon), and Romulo (president of Palma Reale). Each panel member shared their nonprofit’s history and its mission.

They explained afresh that the challenges each of their organizations face share many commonalities: their dedication to the region and its diversity, the momentary setbacks their missions have faced, and what they hope to achieve. At each step of the way, they answered many student questions–about sustainability and opportunities, about environmental impact and networking potentials, about the rainforest and its inhabitants.

The incredible work showcased was invigorating; the interest in everyone’s faces was clear. Each new facet of the discussion hinted at the enormous promise the Las Piedras Amazon Center has for bringing far-flung people together.

For the next day of the workshop, everyone moved around and joined one of five different teams. Their objective? Simply to “tell a story, focusing on first impressions of the rainforest with the outside world.”

Introductions began, conversations started. As each group set to work, the writers had to work through different expectations of storytelling, different languages, different experiences and beliefs. Together, they wrote their stories in both English and Spanish, refining them in multiple stages with additional facts and context.

There was back and forth between people who had just met each other for the first time, brought together in an unfamiliar environment by their admiration for the beauty and thrill of the wild. There was a lot of awkward translation and searching for words, sustained by friendly smiles and genuine interest in how the other person saw the world. And as they worked, they discovered how many commonalities they had with each other, how familiar these former “strangers” began to feel.

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The workshop leaders initially thought that everyone would focus on their own stories, their own experiences. While those factors influenced the participants’ storytelling decisions, what was written was more imaginative, more surprising, than they first expected.

Read them here for yourself:

Of course, it’s hard to change the world in just two days of workshops. But stories were written on more than just paper as people shared email addresses and social media contacts. New narratives were written and the groundwork laid for many sequels to come–relationships that would give rise to new plotlines bridging continents, new character arcs in the endeavor to conserve the rainforest and support its inhabitants.

From Maryland to Peru

This January, a team of twelve students and two instructors will leave the state of Old Bay and journey to the invaluable rainforest of Peru to study conservation and ecotourism–and write all about the expedition.

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In the meantime, we’ve been studying and writing about 58 acres near campus–the Singleton-Mathews property, which we’ve decided is “McDaniel’s best kept secret.” You can learn about its history, its natural attributes, and its potentials here. Recently approved for a new re-forestation project in cooperation with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, the Singleton-Mathews property is an interesting local microcosm of the larger international issues we’ll be exploring with ARCAmazon, home to over 12,000 acres set aside for research and conservation in the Las Piedras region of Peru.

20Whether it’s in the rolling hills of Maryland, or amidst the towering trees of the Peruvian Amazon, we’re working to bring awareness about the beauty and the importance of the world around us. Bookmark this page to stay up to date with our travels!

ARCAmazon–our destination–is home to over 11,000 acres set aside for research and conservation

Note: Many of the awesome photos of the Amazon on this site are featured courtesy of award-winning photographer, Thomas Haney, who guest-lectured for our course. More of his photographs can be viewed at his website.

The Tourist Gaze: Unrealistic Expectations

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http://www.nathab.com/central-america/costa-rica-adventure/

Lucy and Elizabeth write about their thoughts on the benefits and concerns associated with Ecotourism, a rapidly expanding industry, which ARCAmazon will utilize in order to conserve the Peruvian Rainforest.

As government officials construct the Estrada de Pacifico, an extensive highway plan which extends from Brazil through the rainforest to the coast of Peru, many environmentalists are concerned about the effects the road will have on the Amazon. Constructing such a road will lead to higher rates of deforestation, which already destroys more than 150 acres lost every minute of every day. The highway could also increase the threat of gold mining illegal logging extraction of the forest resources there is also the threat of farmers entering the forest and using slash and burn agriculture, to destroy mass amounts of trees and natural habitats, to create nutrient rich soil for farming.

Without a plan for conservation and protection the future of the Amazon rainforest remains in jeopardy. By utilizing the resources of scientific experts, and collaborating with community members organizations like ARC Amazon can play an effective and significant role in the protection of the rainforest. It is crucial that ARC Amazon is aligning themselves in the best way possible both ethically and environmentally as they introduce tourists to the Peruvian jungle. Ecotourism provides ARC Amazon the credentials to be an environmentally friendly tourist destination, which will appeal to both environmentally concerned enthusiasts and explorers alike. To advertise as an ecotourist destination, It is essential that ARC Amazon creates sustainable profit while educating and promoting the values of conservation and research.  Fortunately the Amazon rainforest provides numerous opportunities for  ARC Amazon to fulfill the criteria of being an ecotourist friendly centre.

Continue reading “The Tourist Gaze: Unrealistic Expectations”

Our Planet, Our Future: the Promise of Singleton-Mathews Farm

As preparation for our January trip to Peru, our class has been visiting a large property a few miles off campus owned by McDaniel College. Below, Casey, Elizabeth, Ian, and Becca share what they found.

One of the two ponds on the Singleton-Mathews farm. Photo credit: Elizabeth Mann
One of the two ponds on the Singleton-Mathews farm. Photo credit: Elizabeth Mann

“The acquisition of the Charles S. Singleton farm in 1988 [by McDaniel College] makes possible the fulfillment of a desire by Dr. Singleton and Marthiel Mathews as well as being a challenge to a college community–a challenge to move toward a new venture in which success can be measured in some very unusual instructional and agricultural terms.”

[George A. Grier]

If you are reading this post, you most likely belong to one of two groups:

Group A: The group of people who already know about Singleton-Mathews farm and are currently thinking something along the lines of: “Wow, those are some inspirational words, Mr. Grier! And what a challenge it is!”

Group B: The somewhat larger group of people who know little to nothing about Singleton-Mathews farm. In which case, you may be thinking something like: “What? McDaniel has a farm?? I’ve been here for (insert number of years that you’ve been here) years and I didn’t know that McDaniel was in possession of an entire farm?

To those in the second group: don’t panic! We, the Forest Online class, are here to clear up any confusion. If you haven’t already read the blog posts from other groups about the history and the natural history of the space, you can check them out here and here, respectively. In this post, you’ll be learning all about the future of the farm (So if you belong to the group with some prior knowledge– don’t leave just yet! There will still be some great information in here for you.)!  

Continue reading “Our Planet, Our Future: the Promise of Singleton-Mathews Farm”