Where, you might ask (as almost everyone I told did) is Guyana? Well a little geography lesson, Guyana is on the northern coast of South America. Colombia and Venezuela are to the west, Suriname and French Guiana to the east and Brazil to the south. It is a country with a interesting past, having been a Dutch, French and British colony and finally gained its independence in 1966, just 50 years ago.
My fellow students and I (17 total) met up in the capital city of Georgetown and quickly departed by 2 small planes to the interior of the country. Most of the people in Guyana live along the coast as the interior of the country is very remote and includes amazingly large areas of intact rainforest that are difficult to travel to. As a class we spent several days at the Iwokrama River Lodge and then moved on to the Surama Eco Lodge. Both places were within the boundaries of the Iwokrama Reserve, sometimes called the Green Heart of Guyana. Iwokrama was established 20 years ago with the lofty goals of conserving the forests while also promoting their sustainable and equitable use among all the citizens of Guyana.
When I look back and reflect on my time in this amazing, beautiful and very hot country, my mind wanders to the forests. I loved the experiences we had meeting the local Makushi tribe members (making cassava bread with the women and carving hunting arrows with the men), investigating and trading cultural experiences with the local wildlife club students and even going on nature hikes with park rangers to learn more about the local flora and fauna (there were so many beautiful things to see everywhere you looked), but I just can't get the image of the vastness of the rainforest out of my head.
In America, we are often bombarded with images and statistics about the constant destruction of the rainforest and prior to going to Guyana, I believed that all rainforests in the world were under constant attack and that if we as global citizens didn't act now, we would all perish. I know I am not the only one to have felt this way, but I am here to tell you that it is not always true. While there are many areas of rainforest in the world that are being destroyed, there are also many areas that are being protected. Iwokrama is one of those protected areas and the most amazing part is that all of the stakeholders (timber companies, local people, indigenous tribes, government agencies, environmental groups and others) are working together to find a way to have the forest benefit everyone. Iwokrama is focused on research and discovering best management practices so that people can use the forest while still maintaining it for future generations. Some areas of the forest are set aside to never be logged, while others will be selectively logged now and then not again for decades. This allows the forest to regenerate naturally and gives local animals places to migrate to if needed. It truly is a wonderful experiment that I hope can benefit conservation efforts all over the world.
I truly loved Guyana and would never have even considered traveling there had it not been for this program. If you are interested earning your Master's degree from Miami University through the GFP (Global Field Program) or AIP (Advanced Inquiry Program) or if you are just interested in going on and Earth Expedition check out there website. http://earthexpeditions.org/ Applications are currently being accepted for the 2017 program.
I have included a few photos with this post (all pictures were taken by Samantha James or myself) would love to talk and share more experiences and pictures with you next time I see you. Just ask!