Ecuador Project All Reports: Kristen Lansdale, Apr.–Oct. 2005

Kristen Lansdale, Field Bioregional Education Manager
Planet Drum Foundation 
April 29, 2005

This week has been packed with activity as the bioregional education project takes flight. It seems that the program has an energy of its own as the community of Bahia welcomes the prospect of bioregional education.

  This week I have been to talk to the Universidad Catolica, Universidad La Laica, Colegios Eloy Alfaro, and Fanny Baird. I am guessing that I have presented the program to several hundred students ages sixteen and up. I am in the process of securing a place to have the meetings in the Municipio (City Hall)  one day a week and the other day will consist of taking trips and hands-on projects. 

This coming Wednesday we are going to have a meeting in the Municipio of all the people that have an interest in participating in the course. We’ll talk more about what the course will entail and when we would be able to meet. I have also been contacting different representatives of the neighborhood groups so that they caninform their communities about the course and hopefully attract older participants of all socio-economic levels. It is exciting to see this project take off in terms of communities interest. 

I am also in the process of putting together a committee of professors, ecologists, historians, biologists, and active community members to help teach the course. On Monday I hope to meet with some of the biology teachers of the colegios (High Schools) in Bahia to gain their support for participating. I am also organizing a meeting of Amigos de la Ecociudad at our Planet Drum  office on Thursday. These meetings will be held the first Thursday of every month at 7PM and will give participants an opportunity to share the projects that they are working on and gathersupport.

I spoke on the radio on Tuesday, announcing the project once again and inviting people to come to the meeting on Wednesday. I have been interviewed by the newspaper and an article will come out on Saturday about the project with an invitation to all as well. I will be speaking on two other radio stations on Sunday as well.

As far as the actual content of the course goes, I am meeting with Marcelo Luque, ecologist at Bella Vista barrio, to go over some possible lesson plans and ways of breaking down the different themes. He is interested in working on the project and is very knowledgeable about the ecology of the area. It has been suggested to me to break the course into three parts of three rather than four, the main reason for this being that people go on vacation from January to April and it would be difficult to continue the classes during this time. This would not mean that any of the material would be lost, rather it would be divided into three rather than four parts.

The initial check to fund the project has come through and is in the bank. I am not yet sure of the breakdown of the budget and am waiting to see what happens as far as an assistant goes.

As far as sending pictures, I agree with you that it would be excellent to be able to take digital photos to put on the website. I think that with the kinds of exciting hands-on education projects we are doing to be able to document it with a camera would be invaluable. I do not, however, know anyone who has a digital camera that I could borrow. It would also be excellent to have a phone line here at the office. It is very difficult to not be able to receive phone calls, especially when I am trying to coordinate so many things with so many different people. 

So that is all from Bahia this week. I am excited to ride the wave of enthusiasm from the community here as they extend a warm welcome to the bioregional education project.


Kristen Lansdale, Field Bioregional Education Manager
Planet Drum Foundation 
May 5, 2005

This week was full of excitement and activity. Starting off on Tuesday I met with the presidents of the barrios to let them know about the bioregional education project. They were very interested and in fact one of them wants to participate in the project. They suggested several ideas of projects we could work on and I am thinking of having the first Saturday of the month be a community service day in which the participants get together with the barrios and do a clean up of education project dependent upon what we are learning at that point. Wednesday was the big day in which all the people interested in participating in the course met in the municipal building in order to learn more about the course. We had a grand turnout of fifty-five people, mostly from the colegios and Universidades, but also some that had heard radio interviews or read about the program in the newspaper.  We started off the day with the bioregional quiz that I made into a game. I split the group up into groups of five and they filled out the quiz together. The group that got the most answers correct was awarded native trees that the whole group had to identify. There was a lot of enthusiasm and positive energy coming from the participants and we decided to meet on Tuesdays in the Municipal building (I am in the process of getting permission for the space) and Thursdays for the practice, 4-6 in the afternoon. We will be meeting on Tuesday to start the course and I am interested to see how many actually come. Right now it seems that there might be too many, but I want to wait and see what the first week is like before I come to any conclusions.

Tonight we had a meeting of Amigos de la Ecociudad and I presented to them what the BEP (Bioregional Education Project) was all about. They were also very interested and helpful in thinking of projects and people that could help teach the different subjects of the course. It is great to see all the enthusiasm and all the support that I am receiving from the community.  Everyone says that the themes of the course are exactly what needs to be taught.

I have broken down a tentative budget based on currently available funds as follows (a year):

  • Transportation: $72
  • Communication: $48
  • Research: $120
  • Materials: $180
  • Excursions: $130
  • Other $30

I have found a voluntary assistant who is a local Bahian, went to the Univ. Catolica and studied Marine Biology. Blas is very enthusiastic about helping out with the course.

I have spoken with Mike Morgan as well and I think that Heather and I will be going to visit Cerro Blanco Reserva in Guyaquil in the next couple of weeks to see what is happening there, talk about the Dry Tropical Forest and obtain seeds. 

Hasta pronto, 

Kristen Lansdale, Field Bioregional Education Manager
Planet Drum Foundation  
May 13, 2005                       

The education project is coming along with quite a bit of enthusiasm, perhaps too much. We still have fifty participants in the project, most of them from a tourism class at the local high school Fanny de Baird. It seems that their teacher has highly recommended, if not put quite a bit of pressure on them to take this course. This is both good and bad. It is good to have young interest and participation in the course, but it is bad in that the participants feel more obligated to be there rather than out of their own voluntary participation and so they are not as apt to pay attention and participate. And then of course there is the problem that it is way too big a class!  So I am trying to figure out what to do about this. I am thinking about talking to the teacher and explaining that the class needs to be on a voluntary basis, so please take off the pressure for them to take the course. I am also thinking of laying down some rules and trying to figure out a way to root out who is really interested in the course, such as a limit on how many classes can be missed, assigning homework, emphasizing participation etc. Maybe having them write an essay about why they want to take the class… but it is hard for me to tell them that they can’t take the course on an exclusionary basis. 

This week was an introduction to the course and the focus was on our direct relationship with nature. This was highlighted by the El Niño phenomenon. On Tuesday we had several guest speakers, Friends of the Eco-city and those participating in teaching the course. Nicola Mears from Guacamayo Tours spoke about what it means to be a citizen of the eco-city, Galileo spoke about our placement in time and being aware of the historical and cultural elements that affect our environment. Vladir of Genesis School spoke about what it means to be an Ecuadorian ecologist and the significance of bioregional education. Marcelo Luque spoke about the El Niño phenomenon, its causes and effects and the human involvement in it. The we broke into groups of five and discussed personal experiences with the El Niño phenomenon. We got back together in a large group after this and had Jose Paraga from Civil Defense told us about his experiences rescuing people and the sixteen deaths in Maria Auxiliadora. We then watched video footage of the disaster which really brought the message home. 

On Thursday we put the theory into practice with an excursion to the different areas affected by El Niño. We started off in Jorge Lomas, discussed the presence of the new water diversion canal, walked to the Planet Drum site, and then continued along the ridge until we reached Maria Auxiliadora and walked through El Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas where they could see first-hand the effects of the disaster and the ruins left behind. This was the introduction to the course so that they would take a personal interest in the subject and start thinking about their own relationship with nature, that of the society, problems and solutions. 

Next week we will start the course material. We will take the first several weeks to learn about the four different zones of life: Dry Tropical Forest, Very Dry Tropical Forest, Humid Tropical Forest and Mangroves. We will have different guest speakers to talk about the different zones and take excursions to see native plants and animals in the zones. We will start off with Marcelo Luque and Cerro Seco. We will also gather seeds and plant in the greenhouse to start the reforestation aspect of the project and introduce the participants to what Planet Drum is doing. 

So things are moving along very smoothly and again, it is exciting to see the enthusiasm over the project. The main concern I have now is limiting participants, but I guess it is better to be in that situation, rather than searching for more. Let me know if you have any suggestions or ideas. 

Hasta pronto, 

Kristen Lansdale, Field Bioregional Education Manager
Planet Drum Foundation   
May 19, 2005

This week we talked about the dry tropical forest and had Marcelo take us to Cerro Seco to see first hand lichens, orchids, the mighty Ceibos and spiders hanging from their webs. We were thirty this time and it seems that slowly but surely there is a self-deciding process of those truly interested in the material and projects. For homework on Tuesday they took leaves home with them to identify and learn characteristics and uses. Then when we walked through the forest they identified and presented on the plants. They are a very energetic and enthusiastic group!

Other exciting news is that there will be an Environmental Week celebration the first week of June. We are part of the planning process for this and it will include different education projects, theatre, and more!  I went to the meeting this week and suggested that the high school kids join together with the community members and not just walk around and see nature, but experience it and work for it first hand. I suggested that we all join together on the first Friday of June and have a community clean up of Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas. It was met with welcome approval and on Tuesday I will go with the leaders of PMRC and Civil Defense to see the safety factors involved in bringing a big group of high school kids there and to plan it out. So it will be a good step for the community taking charge of the project. 

We are heading to see Mike Morgan at Cerro Blanco this weekend and I look forward to getting some education material from him, gathering seeds and learning more about what he is doing there and the dry tropical forest.  

On a personal level, I am settling in nicely and really like Bahia. The apartment and volunteers are all good and we are learning to work as a team!

Hasta pronto, 

Kristen Lansdale, Field Bioregional Education Manager
Planet Drum Foundation 
May 27, 2005

I couldn’t be happier with the way things are turning out with the Bioregional Education class. It seems the numbers of students at different times in the class are resolving themselves and those that I am left with are really interested and dedicated. The majority are about seventeen which means they have lots of energy and enthusiasm and it is just a question of directing them in the right direction, the bioregional direction. But they truly seem interested in the topics we are learning about, really like the practices and excursions, and want to do community development projects as well!

This week we have been learning about the Humid Tropical Forest with the assistance of Cheo who is a dynamic and commanding teacher. On Tuesday we went over different vocabulary words such as vines and biosphere in order to put the Humid Tropical Forest into context, then talked about the forest and finished off with a creativity/team-work game in which they had to stack cards into a pyramid and get it as high as they could as quickly as they could. We broke them into three groups and it was great to see them work together and brainstorm. I think it is an education style that they are not used to, but or course enjoy. 

Thursday we went to the vivero (greenhouse) and I was so happy to see the enthusiasm that the participants showed with what we were doing there. We split up into two groups and I took one group up into the reforested hills to talk about the different trees, our projects and why we do them. The students all asked a lot of questions and had a really good time. Heather was in charge of the other group which she led through the greenhouse, preparing beds and planting seeds. We then switched groups so that they would all have a chance to do both activities

On Sunday we are meeting to go to Cabo Pasado to see an example of Humid Tropical Forest. Cheo will be our guide and the owner of the property will accompany us. The students are really excited to go and see all the plants and animals there, and I think we are in good hands with our guides. 

Next week Friends of the Eco-city are kicking off International Environment Week. We will be participating in the Bosque en Medio de las Ruins clean up on Friday. My students are enthusiastically preparing a skit to perform before the town on Saturday night about the importance of taking care of our natural resources. On Sunday we will all be participating in a beach clean up followed by marine creature sand sculptures. 

I have also had the opportunity to participate in some of the different meetings of the presidents and representatives of the neighborhoods. I was a special guest at the last one and was asked to talk about what I am doing for the Bioregional Education Project. I asked the different representatives for support in the project and said that my students are interested in taking what they are learning and teaching others, doing education projects in the schools and community as well as beach clean ups and other projects. There was a warm reception on the part of the representatives and so now it is really a question of coming up with something concrete and implementing it. 

As far as the Bosque clean up next week, I am working hard to involve the community of Maria Auxiliadora as well as the high-school students in the project. I have been talking to both Elba from the Eco Amigos as well as the president of the barrio in order to gain more support and involvement in the clean up. One thing that we have been thinking to do is clear an area to put in benches and possibly tree swings with the help of the Civil Defense representative Jose Parraga. We will also be weeding the trails and do some clearing of debris as you suggested. One issue that has been raised is if there is someone that can keep an eye on the park and take some responsibility for it. I will be talking more to the community about this next week. I am wondering if it would also be possible to plant some trees symbolically in the area that we have cleared for benches. It would be great for the students to be able to be involved with this and see the trees grow and also be good for community spirit. 

Please keep me posted on the possibility of sending a digital camera down with the mayor. I think that it would be wonderful for the education project both for the students and community here as well as to show you all the fun, interesting and educational things that we are doing and post them on the web. 

So with much enthusiasm I conclude this weeks report, 

Kristen Lansdale, Field Bioregional Education Manager
Planet Drum Foundation 
June 2, 2005  

Weekly update from Bahia. Sunday’s outing to Cabo Pasado was a smashing success. The walk was led by Cheo and was a challenge to many of the participants who aren’t used to physical exertion, but they loved the challenge none the less. We got to the beach and they were in heaven playing in the sea and in the sand. Then Cheo gave us a talk about the significance of Cabo Pasado for marine migratory species, as an earthquake fault line and the meeting place of the La Niña and Humboldt currents. We then walked down the beach observing the tide pools. We found petrified wood and fossils and I explained the process that makes them and the geological processes that created the beach there. I loved to see their excitement as they waded through the tide pools squealing with excitement and delight. We walked back through the forest and found monkeys hanging from the trees. They couldn´t have been happier. Most of them had never seen monkeys before!  It was a treasure to discover the beauty and joy of their bioregion alongside with them. They are hooked!

We have been learning about Mangroves this week and had Thea from the Peace Corps come and give the class a presentation. We started off with a discussion for reasons to protect the forests in general and then moved over into the importance of mangroves and their function in other natural systems. We had a beautiful Power Point presentation and then went out to the river and collected Mangrove seeds. I was amazed to find out that many of the students didn´t know what the seeds looked like even though they are washed up all over the beach.

Today we went and planted the Mangrove seeds that we found.  We talked about the different kinds of Mangroves and they can now tell the difference between a Red, White and Black Mangrove and know how each excretes salt. It was such fun to sink our feet into thick and oozing mud and they loved and hated it. It was at first hard to coax all of them to get down and dirty, but they all did and were so excited and happy to do so. It was like taking them back to childhood where it didn´t matter how dirty they got.

Tomorrow we are doing the clean up of the Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas with the help of the high schools, my Bioregional Education  Program students and the barrio community there. We will be doing trail maintenance, trash clean up, weeding and clearing, tree planting and building benches with wood we have had donated to us for the project. My students will be helping with the organization, and we will also be educating the high school students about the area, and uses of the trees etc. 

On Sunday my class is putting together a skit to perform before the town, police force, firestation, etc. to celebrate World Environment Week and to teach about the importance of conservation. They are so eager to perform and I will let you know how it goes in the next report. 

Ciao from Bahia!    

Kristen Lansdale, Field Bioregional Education Manager
Planet Drum Foundation 
June 9, 2005         

This week we finished up our topic of the different zones of life in this bioregion (dry tropical, very dry tropical, humid tropical and mangrove) with seed art. We went and collected seeds from various trees around Bahia. We then learned from a local artisan how to perforate holes into the seeds with an ancient method of heating up a needle in a candle flame and pressing it through the seed. The participants will be making the holes at home and when we get back together again we will make the art, necklaces, bracelets or whatever their creativity leads them to.

It was very interesting to see the method for making the holes and fun to gather the seeds. Soon we will be learning about animals and birds of the area. 

I am leaving for this week and classes will resume on the 21st of June.

Take care, 

Kristen Lansdale, Field Bioregional Education Manager
Planet Drum Foundation 
June 25, 2005  & June 30, 2005

June 25, 2005

The seeds that we collected for the seed art mainly were jaboncillo and maracuyá. They also collected some seeds that I unfortunately didn´t write down so I will try to keep better track of details next time. 

This week we did some review of plant zones. I taught my students some English words such as plant, trail, pollution, grow, forest, environment etc. which they loved. Since Tuesday fell on the solstice I gave them an explanation of what that meant using two volunteers and a volleyball to represent the earth. We discussed the solstice in relation to living in your bioregion and how in some places it marks a day of total light or total dark for 24 hours and how that plays a big part in society, culture and environment. We of course also discussed why it is not really even marked here on the Equator. On Thursday we climbed up to a lookout point and the students made their own bioregional maps of Bahia and the estuary of Rio Chone. They are lovely and it started many discussions of the resources here, sources of contamination and means of protection. 

The group is very enthusiastic and wants to get more involved doing projects in the community. I hope to have them go to some schools soon and do education projects with younger kids as well as in the greater community of Canton Sucre. 

June 30, 2005

Marcelo and I led a presentation on birds and how they can be a good indicator of contamination as they are migratory animals. We will be going to Isla de Corazon to see many birds, mangroves, as well as a successful effort at conservation. The students will be giving presentations on the different birds we will see there such as pelicans, cormorants, frigate birds, etc. 

Today we had a fun day of building sand castles on the beach. Heather and some of the other volunteers were the judges and gave different awards such as, “the most ecological”, the most architecturally sound”, etc. It was a beautiful day of fun in the sun and great to see their enthusiasm as they got down and dirty. 


Kristen Lansdale, Field Bioregional Education Manager
Planet Drum Foundation 
July 9, 2005  

I am sorry that I wasn´t able to write sooner but there was a strike here in the lovely province of Manabi to demand more money to improve the infrastructure here. Everything was shut down from the buses to the schools to the internet cafes. It put a bit of a cramp in this week´s lessons as well. On Tuesday we continued with a lesson on birds from Marcelo as well as a guest biologist from the states, Antoinette. We went out and did some pelican observation after the discourse. 

Saturday was also great at the Isla de Corazon and the participants loved the boat tour as well as seeing the great magnitude of birds that inhabit the island. 

I am in the process of getting the group organized to do some community education projects. Now that they have learned a bit the students will be able to share it withtheir friends, families and community.


Kristen Lansdale, Field Bioregional Education Manager
Planet Drum Foundation 
July 21, 2005    

This week in Bahia I have been focusing on educating the educators. That is to say that my students are preparing to go and talk at schools about what they have learned. The two themes are Mangroves and Dry Tropical Forests. We spent both Tuesday and Thursday preparing materials, posters and discussing activities and ways to present information. 

I am working with Marcelo to organize times that we can go to the elementary schools and do a presentation as well as a more hands-on day to show the kids how to plant mangroves or show the richness of the dry tropical forests and uses of Palo Santo. This is the way in which I hope to spread the knowledge from my students back into the community. 

I am also organizing a minga (workday) to make a mural with Galielo and involve both my students and others in Bahia. The mural will be about the resources of the region and the reasons and ways to protect them. My students are also preparing to go on the radio and share some of what they are learning. So the focus of the project right now is community education, but at the same time we continue  with the class’ education. 

I have almost made it through the information for the first quarter. The topics that we have covered thus far are plants and habitats of the region, animals,  and art. We are starting on the watersheds, contamination of the estuary, water treatment, etc. We are pretty much on track as far as the schedule goes and I hope to keep the community service projects outside of the regular classroom time so that we can continue to focus on the class’ education as well their community teaching.


Kristen Lansdale, Field Bioregional Education Manager
Planet Drum Foundation 
July 29, 2005    

This week we worked with the Fanca eco kids club to make recycled paper. On Tuesday they showed us how to rip up papers, what kind to use, how to soak them, blend with aloe to make it sticky, and then use frames to create papers. We left them to dry until Thursday when we completed the project making boxes, notebooks, frames, cards etc. We used petals and leaves to decorate and they came out beautifully. The best of all was to see my students interact with the eco-kids club and how much they exchanged and learned from one another. 

I really look forward to soon getting my students in touch with the schools and teaching what they have been learning.

Take care,  

Kristen Lansdale, Field Bioregional Education Manager
Planet Drum Foundation 
August 4, 2005  

This has been an interesting if not a bit frustrating of a week. On Tuesday I spent the better part of the afternoon planning class with Maria Elena who has done her thesis work on contamination of the Estuary Rio Chone. We had put together a presentation which when we tried to print. It wouldn’t and then the computer shut down all together. When we tried to start class the guy who opens the room wasn’t to be found and to top it all of a large number of my students couldn’t come because they had another project to work on. So I had to reschedule class.

On Wednesday I went to Rambuche where I am helping Varon teach a school way up in the mountains where there are two grades and about twenty students up to the age of 18. I am helping him teach ecological education, English and art once a week. To get there I ride my bike to a boat to the bus then walk to where I ride a horse up the mountain. Quite a journey!

Today we had class and went out with the civil defense and Maria Elena to see first hand the different characteristics and properties of the estuary and the contamination there. It went very well and we were able to consolidate the theory and practice into one. I hope that we will be able to go out again soon to talk to fisherman about the nets they use, fish they catch and their experience with the estuary.

I have been planning with Marcelo Luque to prepare my students to start teaching in the elementary schools and that is going well. That aspect of the project continues. I also spoke with the mayor today about finding a wall to do a mural using recycled art materials (glass, ceramic, stone, shell etc.) involving protecting our natural resources.


Kristen Lansdale, Field Bioregional Education Manager
Planet Drum Foundation 
August 11, 2005 

On Tuesday we had a very interesting day of class. The gas station Repsol has been leaking gas into the estuary for what seems to be about eight years, or since the earthquake. It became such a problem that they could no longer turn the blind eye and have had to close the gas station and do some major clean up. So Friends of the Eco-city got together and wrote a letter saying that the company should make reparations and put certain things in order (such as put the gas tanks in a concrete container in case of further spills) before they can open again. My class participated in the meeting and then voiced their opinions and concerns over the problem. We then went and were fortunate enough to get a tour of the clean-up process at Repsol and talk to the engineer in charge who gave us a very different perspective on the story. He said that Repsol was being very diligent in the clean up process, that the spill was contained and that nature has a remarkable way of repairing itself. So my students had the opportunity to see both sides of the story and we discussed the motivations behind both. It was very educational and they were all thrilled to be involved in the process and see something that is affecting all the inhabitants of Bahia without them really even knowing it.

Then on Thursday there was a special meeting on Tourism in Bahia put on by the municipality. We went and listened and unfortunately it wasn’t very interesting from an ecological perspective but took on more of an economic slant. 

I am having a little bit of trouble organizing my students to teach at schools because they have vacation coming up and many of them are traveling from the 18th of August to the 5th of September. I think that I might not have any students around during that time to even have class!   


Kristen Lansdale, Field Bioregional Education Manager
Planet Drum Foundation 
October 2, 2005 


When I set off for Bahia de Caraquez exactly six months ago I had no idea where I was going or what I was really being sent to do. My boss, Peter berg, told me that he was throwing me into the deep end of the pool  on this one, but I felt confident in my ability to swim,  As the idea of bioregional education was explained to me I was going to facilitate educating the local community of Bahia about how to live in harmony with their surrounding environment or particular bioregion, and how to appreciate and protect its natural resources. My heart, mind, body, soul, everything I had was behind this idea and I couldn’t wait to put it into action.

When I got to Bahia the first thing I did was to come up with a curriculum. This wasn’t a difficult task because I had the invaluable resource of Peter’s article, Learning to Partner with a Life-Place, that set out a timeline of topics and projects that could be used for bioregional education throughout a year’s time. The topics ranged from energy resources to indigenous peoples, native plants and animals to geology, with some art and literature to spice it all up. Once it was clear to me what the different topics that I would be teaching were, I set about looking for who was going to help me teach them. I was a stranger in a strange land and to say that I was in any way an expert in even one of these fields would be a gross fabrication. So I said to myself, “Why reinvent the wheel?  The knowledge is here, the expertise is here. So why not use it?”  My idea was to have the community teach the community…to further teach the community. This meant that I would work as a facilitator finding the local experts who could come and teach my class (from the community) about their specific subject area so that my class could then go and diffuse the knowledge by teaching this to others in schools and work places (back to the community). 

Now I just had to find the experts, find the students and contact the community. To find the experts I decided to call upon the Friends of the Eco-city group for support. I planned a meeting in which I discussed the plan for the project, curriculum and the actual program of a twice-weekly meeting of a few hours in which theory and practice went hand in hand. The Friends were wild with support, volunteered to help as the experts, and proffered names and phone numbers of experts in other subjects. One thing led to the next. I did some more sleuthing around and by the time I was done There was a long list of names and numbers for each and every subject. Experts, check!

The next thing I had to do was find the students. This is where I hit the ground running. I went on the radio, I talked to the newspapers, I talked to college classes and high school students and told everyone interested to meet next week at the municipality building (Municipio) and we would talk about subjects, times and all those other details. The only requirement was an enthusiasm for learning and a desire to protect the environment. There were over fifty students at that first meeting!  That was much more interest than I had expected but I said to myself, “What the heck, the more the merrier.” Students, check!

Then I got in touch with community leaders such as barrio presidents and city agency heads who were accessible through the municipality data base and sent them all letters inviting them to an informational meeting about the program. “Come one, come all,” I said and ended up with a representative sprinkling. I told them  about the project and asked for their support in heading any community development projects that were in line with the themes of the education program such as beach clean-ups, elementary school education, and erosion-controlling tree planting projects (just to name a few). They were enthusiastic and promised to help with the bioregional education program as much as they could. Some even volunteered to be students in the course. Community, check!

The last plan was to find a place where I could hold classes. Because the course was to be of the people, for the people and by the people, I couldn’t think of a better place to teach the course than the municipality building. I got the stamp of approval from the mayor and was set to go. Meeting place, check. 


I think that the true genius of this project lies in the fact that theory and practice go hand in hand and, as I see it, this style of education is not only more interesting, exciting and has greater information retention value, but it is also essential for a full understanding of the subject matter. My students and I spent one day talking about the devastating effects of the El Nino phenomenon on the community, watched a video tape put together by the civil defense agency, listened to their rescue stories, and then walked through the ruins and sites of mudslides to really visualize the houses that slid down the hill taking 16 lives with them. This provided a perfect opportunity to discuss the link between nature and human interaction. People hadpreviously deforested the hillsides leaving no tree roots to hold the earth in place.When the drenching year-long rains of El Nino came the hills became saturated and collapsed to devastating effect.

After we established a base of understanding about human interaction with nature we moved on to other subjects such as native plant restoration. We talked about mangroves and their role as filters in the estuary, And followed up by planting mangroves. We talked about the dry tropical forest characteristics of the bioregion in Bahia, then walked through the forest with a guide and saw the role of trees, orchids, lichens, and vines in an unadulterated state. When we talked about the river and the role of fishermen in contributing to contamination and overfishing, we went out in a boat and saw the nets and saw the floating trash. We made necklaces of native seeds, planted native trees, learned about native birds, studied the currents and climate and their effect on the seasons, watched monkeys swing from mangrove trees (most had never seen a monkey!) and learned all about the Bahia bioregion.

The students gave back to the community through clean ups on the river and ocean beaches, and a site known as “Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas” or “Forest in the Middle of the Ruins” where the lives had been lost and houses swept away during El Nino mudslides and Planet Drum Foundation was actively working at revegetation using native trees. The high school age students joined up with a younger Ecology Club kids to make recycled paper and decorate paper products. In this way the experts taught my students and my students taught the community.

The great diversity of subjects led to a great diversity of learning activities. My students were continuously learning more about their bioregion and all the natural resources that they had the responsibility to protect, and at the same time were constantly exploring and pushing their comfort zone as they planted mangroves in knee-high mud or walked hours through a green, viney, Tarzanesque forest. My students were constantly smiling, and hardly realized how much they were learning because they were having so much fun doing it.


The course started off with fifty participants and slowly the wheat was separated from the chaff and I was left with about twenty constant, dedicated students that loved the course and wanted to be true crusaders of protecting the bioregion. They were mostly high school age because it seemed they had the most time, motivation and ability to put into the course. They were to receive a certificate of completion when the course was over, but even more importantly they were to graduate with a real, concrete knowledge of their bioregion and an understanding of how they could protect it. 

Now comes the catch. Because my students were high school students, and mostly seniors at that, the course had to take a backseat to their other school responsibilities. When it came down to finals or school projects I found myself with only a handful of students. After about five months of teaching, I learned that many of my students were going to have to take an after school preparatory class required for attending the University. Because of the time conflict, they would no longer be able to participate in my class. With great reluctance due to not being able to continue with the different subject matter, but much joy over what had already been taught, the course came to a close.


It was both the innovative as well as extracurricular nature of the course that brought it strength and weakness. There isn’t a general cultural model for extracurricular education in Ecuador. Consequently, even though there was great interest and enthusiasm for the novelty of the course, there was a lack of commitment to see it through. There is a real cultural difference in work ethic between the costal Ecuadorians and North Americans. Ecuadorians are typically late and even take pride in impunctuality, calling it “la hora Ecuatoriana” (the Ecuadorian hour). People often wouldn’t show up for meetings. Of course it also meant that things in general were more laid back and that the people take things a little easier and slower (which they call “tranquilo”). I couldn’t help but wonder if there was some happy medium of efficiency in a laid back setting somewhere in the world.

In order to give the project greater structure in the future I would recommend that the course be taught through an already established system such as public and private schools, churches or community programs. I would give greater, more tangible incentives to the students that complete the course by encouraging more dedication and attendance. In the future there should be even more local and community involvement in the program, including a local teacher who has greater cultural understanding of the system and work ethic. 

I would strongly encourage partnership with other organizations to strengthen the scope and breadth of the project. Because what Planet Drum Foundation is doing is so innovative and ground breaking, I believe that it could be more effectual and efficient with support from other organizations that are also interested in environmental protection and education such as the Fundacion Cerro Seco and Ecology Clubs of the area. 

I think that there is great potential for a future bioregional education project if it was given greater structure and some of these steps were taken to ensure its heightened success. A truly in-depth knowledge of the people and place is crucial. Then, truly, the sky is the limit.

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