Ecology and Sustainability Education

Dear Wakan Board and Wakan People,

Warm autumn greetings! This year’s Maya Eco-literacy Project was better than ever with expanding participation from the school and community members of the ejido Tres Garantias in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Annually the Eco-literacy Project is held at the Campamento La Piramide on the ecological reserve of Tres Garantias. What a huge improvement since last year!

In August of 2004, the Campamento received funding to re-build the kitchen and a screened palapa for sleeping. Also because of private gifts, I was able to fund the re- building of the toilet and shower area, which was in need of a total overhaul. The jobs employed the locals of the ejido, who were in need of paid work.

The Eco-literacy Project now is in its 5th year. Doing this project requires a lot of co- ordination and education of the adults involved in helping. It also provides meaningful work for all who assist in making it happen.

The set up process of the Campamento on the reserve went much smoother, with many more hands helping. It was wonderful seeing a group of men with machete’s in hand, clearing trails and vines so that we could take the children deep into the jungle to see the birds and wildlife. One thing is for sure, no matter how hard the work is on the reserve, everyone loves being out there.

It was an intense time of teaching for seven days straight, during the entire Earth Day week. The temperatures hit the highest in 20 years. It was around 115 degrees more or less daily. The conditions were incredible. It was the time of the year when the farmers burn their fields before planting. This is the second year of drought there. Everything was tinder box dry, and many fires got out of control.

En route on the main highway, at one point I looked out at the horizon, and as far as I could see, the jungle was ablaze. There were big black clouds of smoke rising and permeating the atmosphere. I had to drive through jungle fires along the side of the road to get to the reserve. There was a lurking possibility that we might get caught in a fire. I was on alert day and night. One night was so hot all night long with no breeze, that restful sleep was impossible, lying sweating in the hammock. Each day we lit the fire only once for morning coffee, because it was too hot the rest of the time. We ate most simply. Daily I began the classes with ceremony, burning copal and allowing each child and adult to receive the cleansing smoke. Don Federico, my Mayan plant master, explained the importance and use of copal amongst the Maya, bringing back this tradition into the minds and hearts of the young ones. It was good.

All of the participants received school materials, and the Elementary and Secondary schools received ecological learning materials including books, posters, microscope slides, and games. The Class for Teachers provided them with teaching materials on Ecology, and new ways of thinking about designing and implementing curriculum. I was requested to expand the classes on a regional level for primary and secondary teachers.

This year I included Classes for Secondary School students and young adults no longer in school. All of the students were very happy to come to the Campamento for a day and learn about the abundant plant and wildlife, and how to take care of the environment. One day as we taught, there was a lot of smoke in the Campamento from the fires burning somewhere in the distance. It was not easy breathing.

I decided that I wanted to involve the secondary students in a creative process, and so there evolved an art competition, with a cash prize. Only three intrepid students entered the competition, all with poetry. Each of the poems were so good, that I decided to give all of them a prize, and had them read their poems to their classmates and teachers.

New trails were blazed by offering a Class for Young Adults out of school who wanted to learn. It was wonderful to see them interact with great curiosity. They had an excellent experience with the elders, discussing problems and becoming more responsible community members.

The Women’s Class went well, and in each gathering of women, more of the gifts of the group become revealed. This year, one of the humblest of the women, displayed her formidable knowledge of medicinal plants, and told stories of her midwifery practice of many years in thejungle. She was an unrecognized jewel in their midst.

I decided to steer the group into some positive movement for the ejido. We discussed their environmental problems, and then founded the Women’s Water Protection Committee. There was a bad drought continuing, and the authorities were not paying attention to the diminishing water supply. A list was written regarding problems and solutions. Action was necessary for the general good. The day after their class, there was a General Assembly held on the ejido regarding Ecology and Conservation. We presented the demands of the Women’s Water Committee to the head of the ejido, in front of all the villagers.

This was a first! A huge amount of controversy went on, sometimes almost out of hand, and the village president, who sat next to me, agreed to meet with the Women’s Water Committee. As things simmered down, I also announced the intention of, after the meeting, gathering people to do a direct action for Mother Earth by cleaning up the public square in the village, as well as the entrance to the dump, which was a real mess.

The General Assembly ended very well, with the authorities as well as the villagers expressing their thanks. Afterwards, I gathered the people, and we collected trash for two hours in 110 degree heat. It was a labor of love. I wish you could have seen the brave Spirits. They were young and old, about 15 in all, heeding the call to protect the Earth, and putting their sweat and energy into doing something positive. This was an achievement.

There were some teenagers who asked me if they could come and spend the night out on the reserve, the next time, for a deeper experience of the jungle. I would like to do this, since they are the ones that have to learn what stewardship is about. Also I would like to respond to the request to expand the teacher training classes, as there is nothing of this available in the school system. The schools and teachers are in serious need of teaching materials relating to ecology. Because these people inhabit one of three remaining places on the Earth with the greatest biodiversity, it is up to us to help through education.

I want to acknowledge the presence and invaluable help of Dr. Celia Alvarez, who has come for the second year in a row to the Maya Eco-literacy Project. Her kind support, and unwavering spirit helped me through some considerable challenges.

I hope that you like these photos, and invite you to come and experience the Campamento La Piramide. The elders of the Ejido Tres Garantias await you. I am so grateful for all your kind support in making it happen for the benefit of many. Please consider giving your support for the 2006 Maya Eco-literacy Project. Look into the faces of the participants and see how much life, joy, and knowledge you have helped bring into a region where the elders have said to me, “We are the forgotten ones.”

Thank you for being so generous.

With love and deep regard,

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Camila Martinez