The road to Las Palmeras is almost always wet and often impassable. This year we got lucky, it was dry and we arrived late in the evening, had a sandwich and fell asleep in our tents. I was awakened by men yelling “aqua aqua”! Their well had gone dry and they had been drilling around the clock in search of a new source of water. Las Palmeras is one of the hundreds of new communities cut out of the rainforest here. Everyone has a theory as to why the government of Evo Morales is allowing people from all over Bolivia to create communities here and seemingly burn as much of the forest as they want.
Las Palmeras is in some ways my favourite community; super organized, great teachers, very supportive parents and a willingness to do anything to support us – they built a two-room home for our teachers, but in other ways it is troubling; it is communities like Las Palmeras that are destroying the rainforest to plant crops.
In Las Palmeras we don’t just do reinforcement programs, we ARE the school. At this point, we run a pre-school and a primary school. The deal we made with the community and the district authorities is that we would create the school and provide the teachers, curriculum and materials for the first two years then the government would recognize the school and we would over the ensuing years hand it over to the State to run. We are in year two and so far it has been a huge success. Children who would otherwise be getting no education are getting a great education. The community has rallied behind the idea of educating their children and has built the schoolhouse and are getting accustomed to having great teaching and the Alma curriculum so we hope of course that when we leave they will hold the State to the high standards they are becoming accustomed to. Perhaps most important, because they are on the frontline of an environmental issue with worldwide implications all lessons are done with an environmental lens and examples.
While we sat in on the classes a tropical rainstorm came through and the noise from the rain bouncing off the tin roof was so loud that we could hardly hear anything. We sat and worked with the children. I saw the lesson plans and was very impressed by how the teachers had used environmental issues and examples to teach math and reading skills. The walls are covered with environmental messaging. There are so many fires burning around here that the sky seems permanently overcast with smoke. Maybe one day one of these children will be an environmental crusader. Seems unlikely but the situation is dire and working with children here seems like as good a place as any to start.
Thanks to the rain, the drive out inevitably became another adventure with much pulling and pushing of the pickup truck!