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You Can Take 'Em Outta the Jungle, but You Can't Take the Jungle Outta Them: Freezing, Learning, and Living in Cuzco

Twelve students from one country, but ten
different languages!
From his village of five families in the Amazon Jungle, it takes nearly five hours by motorboat for Samuel to reach Puerto Maldonado, the closest town with a road and an airport. His family speaks one of ten different indigenous languages found in the Madre de Dios region of Southeastern Peru. Imagine the change for him to come here to Cuzco, a modern city high in the mountains. "It shocked me. It is very cold and there are lots of cars and pollution," he told me. The poor guy would die if he were to ever visit Detroit, New York, or London!

Samuel is one of twelve university students from small, indigenous villages who are here in Cuzco on a scholarship from FENAMID, the Native Federation of the Madre de Dios River and its Tributaries. Each was elected by their village, and they are studying courses that will help them later in their communities. They live and study together in a big house near the University, and, despite their unfamiliarity and the differences in language, these twelve students are now the best of friends and help to support each other.

Ayda and I are surfing the net.
The Madre de Dios region is very remote and difficult to reach. While it may only take 15 minutes by plane to reach Puerto Maldonado, by car it can take from ten to fifteen days! For this reason, it contains some of the best preserved rainforest in South America. Within the Manu National Park, for example, there exist villages that have almost no contact with the "modern world." Yet, no one in Peru wants to change this fact. Visitors are prohibited in most areas of the park, and a guide is necessary to visit the parts that are open.

Ayda's father works as a guide in Manu, and she is studying tourism. She also complains about how cold it is here in Cuzco, but she seems to be enjoying her time at the University. One of her classes is called "The Theory of Tourism," and they discuss the meaning of a bunch of camera-toting gringos visiting these small villages, while at the same time how they can use these visitors to make in a positive way for everyone involved. Knowing different climates and parts of the world can lead to more awareness and protection, if done correctly. The tourism majors also have to study English, French, and German! Now that's some hard work!

The jungle
animals didn't look so happy outside their native habitat.
Whereas growing up in the jungle may have taught these students many fascinating and useful things like exotic animals and medicinal plants, the schools did not properly prepare them for the University. They all studied for one year in Puerto Maldonado to prepare for college. One of the ways Kevin and I are helping is that we are teaching them how to use the Internet for research. Of course, as you know, it is not always all work. Ayda visited websites all over the world, dreaming of travel. Fermin used the Internet to update himself on all kinds of sports.

Having these bright indigenous students here at the University is important in two ways. First, it helps the communities to make better decisions on questions of development and its effects on the environment, especially their precious rainforest resources. Second, it gives the communities a voice to speak on their behalf in the University. Braulio is studying Anthropology, but believes that there is too much focus on the Inca and the mountain cultures. He is proof that there is an entire other section of indigenous Peruvians who live in the rainforest.

Fermin and Jorge Payaba, the directors of the program, gave me a tour of the University. On campus there is a small zoo full of animals from the jungle. Imagine, your own zoo next to the basketball court! Unfortunately, as Fermin and Jorge pointed out, the animals did not look healthy or happy in this climate. Just as the students find Cuzco extremely cold, so do the animals. The animals are too cold, too caged in, and are not accustomed to the food. While all the scholarship students demonstrated their gratitude for being at the University, they also expressed that they miss their jungle homes in Madre de Dios.


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Making A Difference - Save the Redwood Forests (and the Coho Salmon, and the Spotted Owl, and All of Us)!!!
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