A Change of Pace and Some Perspective

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A Change of Pace

Last month, our team returned to the field with a somewhat different agenda.  Instead of spending our days on the river, searching for signs of otter and the otters themselves, we focused on the kids in the village.  We dedicated our time to helping out in the schools, taking the kids on adventures, swimming, playing, laughing, and listening. Listening to what the kids had to say and the silly stories they had to tell.  Listening to their needs and wants and just taking the time to slow down and be present in their lives for a short while. It was a refreshing and welcomed change of pace. Although our hearts are full and our intentions for the future of the project feel more focused than ever before, we left Yupukari in tears as we said our goodbyes.  We may be worlds apart from the animals and the people we have grown so fond of during this crazy journey, but our hearts and sense of purpose remain with them.

In 2019, Save the Giants intends to push our conservation strategy forward with a focus on the health, education, and well being of the people who bring this project to life.  The people who live in harmony with the animals that we are trying to save. We will tell THEIR stories. The stories that will truly inspire. We made a promise to the children of Yupukari Village to provide them with the resources they need to learn, laugh, play, and thrive. We intend to make good on that promise, and we welcome all of you to join us! Please enjoy this story about the children of Yupukari…


Yupukari Primary school is modest, to say the least.  One long, wooden building, with a tin roof and enough space to uncomfortably fit 4-5 different classes at a time. There are no classrooms, just spaces that are divided by chalk boards and other random physical barriers. On one such barrier hangs a hand drawn illustration of the “Lifecycle of a Cockroach.”  On another, the daily prayer. The chalkboards have been used and erased so many times that the new writing just kind of fades into the accumulated layers of chalk dust. Filling the spaces between the barriers are wooden tables and chairs, that they call desks. The building is hotter than usual because the main solar battery died, and there is no power to provide proper ventilation. The kids move outside during the afternoon classes because it is “cooler.”  The headmaster has a small office in the corner of the wooden building, and you can poke your head in and ask to borrow a stapler or tape. Paper is a scarce resource because it is expensive and hard to come by in the interior, so the kids are provided with small journals for their daily assignments. Between each class a bell sounds, the kids all stand and, in unison, recite the daily prayers and school pledge. The kids all wear uniforms. Some are a brilliant purple, some navy, some grass green, and for the youngest group: black gingham.   

Today’s assignment: an essay, with an emphasis on composition. The kids are to write about three things in their lives that are important.  All of the boys follow the teacher’s example: food, family, and football. The 3 F’s! The girls branch out a little with a few different topics, but for the most part they all chose to write about the same things in life that mean the most to them. We are helping out in the 6th grade class, and our job is to be scribes for the students who are having trouble putting their thoughts on paper. I learned quite a bit during this exercise.  The most popular food items: chicken and rice, fish, and the Amerindian staple, farine: a couscous-esque dish made of cassava. One student says to me: “my family is plenty,” which, upon further inquiry, means that he has lots of siblings: 5 sisters and 4 brothers! Not an unheard of ratio in Amerindian culture. There are lots of giggles and whispers, as the children aren’t really used to having two white women sit with them during their studies. I think I finally won them over though with my spot-on impression of a giant otter snort!  Even the older boys who were trying so hard to be cool gave in and had a good laugh.

One of the big goals for Save the Giants in 2019 is the construction of a science center for the village youth.  The science center will serve as a multi-use facility. Per teacher request, the building will provide the school with extra space and, if all goes as planned, provide the kids with access to proper science and lab equipment. We will also utilize the space to incorporate a small visitors’ center, where tourists can visit, check out field guides, and interact with the children. The village also lacks a gift shop that would allow residents to make and sell their craft.  Needless to say, this project is a big deal, and we want to do all we can to ensure the kids and the community have something they are proud of and enjoy using, so we decided to interview the entire school!

In the beginning, this whole idea of asking the kids for their input on the science center seemed like a great plan.  We anticipated lots of enthusiasm from the kids with hands flying up and shouting out of ideas. We even had a big sheet of paper taped up to the chalkboard to keep track of everything the kids suggested. The headmaster introduced us to the school and as we started going into details about the science center, the group of students in front of us fell silent and gazed at us with foggy expressions.  In that moment, it was clear that these children had absolutely no concept of what an actual science center is or should be. Microscopes? A wet lab? Discovery kits? How would these kids possibly know what any of these things were that we were asking them about? Struggling to find answers to our questions, the group started listing off their favorite animals: otters, capybara, harpy eagle! Of course, a science center translated to a zoo for the children and their list of wants did not extend beyond wild animals. The teachers in the room made basic requests for paper, pens, and science related posters with proper illustrations of the solar system, anatomy, etc.  

After the kids left we sat down with the teachers and they explained to us that the kids didn’t have any encouragement to explore their environment outside of school.  They also have no reference or explanation for many of the things they might see around them. While we want to give the kids the world, it’s clear we need to start with the basics and build from there.  We learned an important cultural lesson in the classroom that day; and the experience only solidified our commitment to building the science center and the direction that Save the Giants is moving. Please stay tuned for a more detailed description of our goals in 2019!