Azuero Spider Monkey School Initiative: The Future in Small Steps

The Azuero Spider Monkey School Initiative is an initiative that collaborates with the primary schools closest to the remaining habitat of the Azuero Spider Monkey as well as surrounding communities. The primary goal with this initiative is to communicate the importance of Spider Monkeys in its local environment, the dangers that these animals face related to hunting, development and deforestation, and finally, the uniqueness of the dry forest ecosystem, and how reforestation can be as good for the environment as for agricultural productivity. This year the program benefits more than 430 people and works with 8 schools in the province of Los Santos, more specifically in Bayano, Bajo Corral, Los Asientos, Colán, Nuario, Vallerriquito, La Miel and Oria Arriba.

Fig. 1. The image shows the children of the School of Colán working.

The program was initially imagined in order to support the biological corridor that is of special interest for the Azuero Ecological Project. For several years, the Azuero Earth Project has been working in order to protect this corridor, as well as its unique species, spme of them being critically endangered of extinction, such as the Azuero Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi azuerensis). This corridor begins in the bay of Achotines, and extends itself to the village of Oria Arriba, passing through the town of La Miel and finally reaching with the La Tronosa Forest Reserve (see Fig. 2). For this reason, these schools cover a large part of this corridor, and the vision of this program aims to promote the role of its children, together with their parents and communities, become the conservators of this important environment in the future.

Before carrying out any activities related to reforestation or habitat restoration in the area, the first step is for the members to get to know each other better through community conversations that arise during the course of the Azuero Spider Monkey Initiative. In this way, the Initiative resembles a forum to the restoration actions in the field along the corridor.

Fig. 2. The image shows the ecological corridor of interest for the Azuero Ecological Project, which extends from the coasts of Achotines to connect with the forest reserve La Tronasa.

Through this initiative, and with these communities, we contribute to sustainable development objectives such as quality education (ODS # 4), clean water and sanitation (ODS # 6), responsible production and consumption (ODS # 12), action by the climate (ODS # 13) and life of terrestrial ecosystems (ODS # 15). A focal objective, is to expose students to their environment and the surrounding natural areas, teach them the meaning of conservation under a scientific and practical scope, communicate the importance of reforestation in the classroom and in the field, and involve the local communities and parents in activities and field trips with students, in order to create a connection with the children, teachers, and ultimately, community members involved in the project.

 

 

 

 

At the end of this school initiative, students will be able to: Describe what deforestation is in their own words, name the causes and effects of deforestation, name trees on which the Spider Monkey depends, identify the three most common monkeys in Azuero, describe how the forests help human beings, describe what is understood by “equilibrium” with regards to nature and the environment, describe erosion, as well as the causes and effects of pollution, differentiate between climate and time, and name at least three causes of climate change in the world and locally amongst others.

If you are interested in participating in this initiative, follow our pages on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, call us at 995-2995 / 6717-3331, write to us at info@proecoazuero.org / edward@proecoazuero.org or visit our office located in Pedasi.

Fig. 3. The image shows a group photo with the children of the School of Nuario after completing the day of learning.

Azuero Spider Monkey School Initiative Expands to Reach 8 Communities in 2017

The spider monkey school initiative seeks to promote curiosity and environmental awareness in Azuero’s new generations through play and artistic expression. These educational games incorporate aspects of their quotidian lives as well as teach how to conserve local flora and fauna. The protagonist of the school initiatives is the spider monkey or “charro monkey” as the children call it. this is a perfect example of how human intervention has reduced the population of spider monkeys and explains the serious consequences of continuing with this degrading process. The games of this year include: “La Red Ecologica”(similar to Human Knot displaying the connectedness of local ecosystems), “Juego del Árbol” (similar to musical chairs conveying the risks of habitat displacement and local species), and “Mono Twister” (similar to Twister but using tree species instead of colors).. In addition to these games, children paint a mural with an ecological theme to illustrate their vision of a sustainable ecosystem.

In 2017, the Spider Monkey School Initiative has expanded to include 2 more schools (Bayano and La Miel) along the ecological corridor that we are striving to create in Los Santos province, reaching a total of 8 communities in the area – Los Asientos, Oria Arriba, Bajo Corral, Colán, Nuario, Vallerriquito, Bayano and La Miel.
These educational activities initiate a constant dialogue with the children for them to voice their opinions and stories. Environmental education isn’t complete with just one session, which is why this year we gave each school a box of environmental games so that children can continue playing them to strengthen their environmental awareness and knowledge.
The environmental film night is the concluding activity of the day which includes the greater community. AEP connects with the community’s adults, informing them about AEP’s activities, and establishes a link with community members to spark collaborative reforestation efforts. This year, AEP presented the documentary “Cuando se Acaben los Bosques” to illustrate the current deforestation of the Azuero region.

The spider monkey school initiative’s greatest impact will come as children internalize environmental awareness leading to behavioral change, share what they have learned with parents, and become landowners themselves.

National Award for Environmental Excellence

Azuero Earth Project wins national environmental prize 2017 in the category of NGO environmental commitment

We face great challenges in environmental and social matters, that’s why it is important to cooperate and integrate all the components of Panamanian society. The Azuero Earth Project seeks to contribute to this issue through education in rural society, which is primarily the most affected by climate changes, soil erosion, and biodiversity loss.

The Panamanian Ministry of Environment (MiAmbiente) recognizes AEP’s effort and commitment through the award for environmental excellence in the NGO category given to people and organizations that perform good practices in environmental management and that have contributed to the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. To the Azuero Earth Project, his award means a lot, indicating that our methods of environmental education are becoming known and offers new possibilities for cooperation with governmental and non-governmental organizations.

The Spider Monkey Education Initiative was awarded the excellence award in the NGO commitment category. This initiative is our first front of awareness creation in the communities closest to the remaining habitat of the Azuero spider monkey, a subspecies endemic to the Azuero region, and in critical danger of extinction according to the IUCN red list. Through the initiative, which is active in the communities closest to an ecological corridor that AEP hopes to create between the remaining tropical dry forest near Achotines laboratory and the elbow of La Tronosa Forest Reserve, the children learn about topics such as the importance of the different types of forests, the trees and fruits associated with monkey presence, and the role of the community in the conservation of biodiversity and watersheds.

The school initiative has been active since 2010 and every year the relationship with the 8 participating Los Santos communities is stronger. In these towns, the Azuero Earth Project is recognized as a close collaborator of the communities, the students, and the owners of local farms interested in reforestation. The environmental situation may become worse in the following years but surely there will be more people who will join in this national commitment to care for the environment.

For more information about the national Environmental Excellence Prize 2017, please see MiAmbiente’s webpage: http://www.miambiente.gob.pa/index.php/2013-02-20-08-59-23/noticias/noticias-de-portada/1383-miambiente-reconoce-excelencias-ambientales-2017

Vicente Álexander Vasquez Velasquez

July Reforestation in the schools: planting more than just trees

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Students from Bajo Corral carrying compost from our organic garden’s compost system to supplement the trees they planted.

Sometimes to plant a seed of ecological awareness, you just have to literally go plant. The staff of Perfect Earth Project Azuero’s Education Program took this to heart and took action during July, as they completed reforestation projects with four different schools and communities of the Azuero region.

The reforestation projects were part of the program’s Spider Monkey Education Initiative 2015, which has focused on soil quality, and the very real and negative effects of soil degradation. With six different schools, the program teaches how deforestation and loss of biodiversity hurts the soil, increasing drought risk and watershed contamination. These consequences are a reality for the students, as Panama, and especially the Azuero Peninsula experiences a severe drought as a consequence of deforestation.

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Kayla and Bladymir – two students from Oria Arriba.

Realizing the best classroom can be outdoors, the program used the reforestation projects to supplements the curriculum and inspire the kids to action. Waiting for enough rain to create sufficient soil conditions, the project planted more than 150 trees with the schools of Oria Arriba, Colan, Los Asientos and Bajo Corral.

The number of trees may be small in comparison to national reforestation projects, but the impacts of our project will be big. We are excited to watch the seeds of the trees we planted grow in each school, but we are even more excited to watch the seeds of environmental compassion grow in each of the students. It is a seed which causes these future landowners to think critically about their environment, and ultimately take actions which lead to a healthier environment, a better life and a preserved Azuero Peninsula.

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Jairo, our project’s organic gardener, taking a well deserved break with the students.

 

Education Initiative focuses on Soil

Azuero Earth Project is delighted to kick off the 2015 Education Initiative!

Comparing different soil types
Comparing different soil types

With great enthusiasm, creativity, and long hours, our team has been preparing for our first visits to the schools!

Our classes this year were inspired as part of the celebration of the “International Year of Soil.” To quote the Director General of FAO, José Graziano da Silva, “The multiple functions of soils often are overlooked. The soil has no voice.”

With the theme “Discovering the Magic of the Soil,” we recognize that although soil restoration and conservation is a multi-generational process, we have to begin somewhere! We hope that as we give “voice” to the soil, these messages will be heard by the sensitive and curious ears of our students.

 

Un visitante especial... El Señor Suelo
Un visitante especial… El Señor Suelo

Through the 2015 Education Initiative, we will visit several rural schools with creative activities and battalions of energy, knowledge, and confidence in raising awareness and learning about the paramount importance and countless functions that soil provides for all inhabitants of this planet.

The soil loves company! If you’re interested in volunteering with us, please contact Rebecca or Carmela!

A Surprise Troop of Spider Monkeys

Waiting for the games to begin!
Ready to learn!

Tucked high up in the rolling hills of Azuero lies the small community of Colan. With only eight students, this school might be considered tiny, but the students and the teacher were among the most enthusiastic that we have had the pleasure of working with.  Education in Panama is a labor of love depending on the teacher, who in these one room, multigrade schools, acts not only as the teacher, but the guidance counselor, principal, sometimes chef, and often community organizer. We were so impressed to work with Teacher Margarita Diaz this year.  During a preliminary visit months ago, we explained AEP’s educational initiative, one day’s worth of activities and a community movie night, with a small presentation from the kids, to take place in October.

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The troop of monkeys waiting in the wings before their presentation.

Imagine our surprise and delight when we arrived months later to these shining faces- of their own initiative, the parents had organized to sew each student a monkey costumes! Eight of the most adorable spider monkeys had a blast jumping about playing forest fragmentation games and mono twister… with the added challenge of avoiding stepping on the tails of their peers!

AEP kicks off the 2014 Educational Initiative in Los Asientos

The Azuero Earth Project believes that environmental education starts with the kids! Each year as part of our Educational Initiative, AEP develops didactic games, interactive activities, experiments, videos, and presentations to reinforce environmental themes in six schools in the Azuero Peninsula. Through a full day of activities, students review previously learned topics, as well as learn new themes. We kicked off the initiative this year in Los Asientos, where lesson material focused on Organic Agriculture.

Experimenting with different soil types to test water absorption rates.
Experimenting with different soil types to test water absorption rates.

Activities included:

  • Nitrogen Cycle Game – Acting as a nitrogen atom, students traveled to different stations of the atmosphere, filling out their “nitrogen passport” with different stamps in order to understand the Nitrogen Cycle
  • Soil Experiment- Students tested sand, clay, and compost to understand water filtration and soil types.
  • Crop Rotation- Acting as land owners, students decided what to plant for the following 5 years in order to maximize production AND soil health.
  • Making Compost- Students learned the principles of decomposition and then headed out the garden to mix up a batch of compost
  • Building Raised Beds- After talking about water retention and erosion, students built raised beds in their garden and seeded native cucumber and bean varieties
Deciding what to plant in a crop rotation game
Deciding what to plant in a crop rotation game

For more information, check out our Education Program.

Pro-Eco Pela’os Take Field Trip to Madroño and Achotines Lab

On Wednesday, January 29, children from the local community who form part of the AEP´s Pro-Eco Pela´os program hopped out of bed early, arriving at Casa Pasa ready for the year´s first field trip.

Departing Pedasí before 7 AM, thirteen local children, accompanied by the AEP´s Carmela Luciano, Jairo Batista, and Mark Waterman, arrived at the Madroño trails near Playa Venao at just the right time. The group had scarcely entered the forest when the children were treated to a rare sight—a whole troop of Azuero spider monkeys! The monkeys, out for their morning meal, swung from branch to branch right in front of the AEP group. The troop was made up of between 15 and 18 Azuero spider monkeys, with at least one mother carrying a newborn spider monkey on her back.

The group pauses for a photo on the trail c. Carmela Luciano
The group pauses for a photo on the trail c. Carmela Luciano

The spider monkeys slowly moved away, and the group, after watching the last monkey go on its way, entered the forest. During a short walk through the young dry forest of Madroño, the Pro-Eco Pela´os learned about the interactions between the bull horn acacia and its resident ants, the changes between dry and wet seasons, and the process of natural regeneration in the forest.

After finishing their walk in the forest, the team piled back into the van for the short trip down the road to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission’s Achotines Laboratory. With guidance from the lab’s own Lina Castillo, the children watched the mid-morning feeding of the various species of fish in the laboratory’s large saltwater tanks. Next the group moved indoors to see what plankton, an important source of food for many marine mammals, looks like under a microscope. Hearing about the various ongoing investigations at the laboratory, the group learned a lot about the importance of conserving local fish species.

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Examining plankton under the microscope c. Carmela Luciano

Worn out after a long day of learning, the group headed back to Pedasí, ready to continue learning about the conservation of forest and aquatic resources in the weeks to come!

Students Across the Azuero Participate in AEP Education Initiative

This past week, the Azuero Earth Project team once again loaded up the cars and hit the road, visiting 4 local schools in as many days to teach local students about the importance of environmental conservation as part of the yearly Spider Monkey Education Initiative.

Students in Los Asientos play The Forest of Luck, a version of chutes and ladders c. Ryan Dibala

From October 21-25, in the fourth edition of the initiative, members of the AEP visited elementary schools in Valleriquito, Oria Arriba, Los Asientos, and Los Asientos. Students at the schools explored the importance of preserving forested areas and protecting the habitat of the endangered Azuero spider monkey, playing a series of educational games, including:

  • Azuero Animal Relay – A guessing game where players learn how to describe characteristics of local wildlife species.
  • Monkey Twister – A game of twister where players do their best spider monkey imitations, learning about important fruit tree species while trying not to fall in a forest that grows smaller and smaller.
  • The Forest of Luck – A version of chutes and ladders that explores how both deforestation and habitat restoration impact wildlife.
  • The Hunter –  A lively game in which students collect as many fruits as possible while evading the poacher who stalks their shrinking forest habitat.
Stretching for the fruits in Monkey Twister c. Ruth Metzel

In each game, students learn how deforestation affects the environment and threatens the livelihood of the Azuero spider monkey. AEP staff and volunteers encourage students to identify local animals and native tree species and consider what happens to the Azuero spider monkey as its habitat becomes more or less fragmented (for example, when someone either plants trees to prevent erosion or cuts trees down to expand their ranch). As part of the process, the students also learn how we can help to preserve important local ecosystems and wildlife habitats.

Getting started on the AEP mural in Oria Arriba c. Ruth Metzel

This year, for the first time, the students also got the chance to put some of their ideas about environmental restoration into practice. With the AEP supplying organic bocashi fertilizer and dozens of tree saplings, students at each school planted their own trees, learning how to dig holes, add organic fertilizer, and properly place root bundles Students also learned about the importance of native tree species, planting important varieties such as caoba nacional (Swietenia macrophylla), guabita cansaboca (Inga punctata), macano (Diphysa americana), cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa), laurel (Cordia alliodora), guanabana (Annona muricata), caimito (Chrysophyllum cainito), and guayacan (Tabebuia guayacan).

Students in Nuario gently lower a sapling into the ground c. Jonathan Clay

As part of the initiative, the AEP also arranged evening movie screenings at each of the schools, inviting parents and community members out to learn about the AEP and to see what their students had learned during the day of activities. The short discussions were followed by a showing of Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest. In the 1992 cartoon, a logger realizes the error of his ways and helps the animals of the forest to protect their home from a rogue timber machine.

For more information about AEP’s Spider Monkey Education Initiative and other Education opportunities, see Education.