The Amazon rain forest of Ecuador spreads out to an endless vista of green from the window of our small plane.
Jacobs Finds Way to Connect Nebraska Kids to Children of the Amazon
“I just received a call from the airport. We have to leave now,” Cristina Serrano said.
Serrano was guiding me back into the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador one more time.
Flying into the Amazon Rainforest is tricky. The weather constantly changes and thunderstorms can get intense, forcing emergency landings. The landing strips are narrow, long brown dirt paths in the middle of the jungle.
I had a very strong internal pull to go back into the rainforest of Ecuador. My experience at the beginning of this journey with the Achuar people had touched me. Over time, it became clear that a return trip would be how I should end my trip to South America.
The two visits are like bookends on a magical journey that opened my mind and heart to how precious the Amazon is.
Into our plane, we stacked and piled everything we needed for our jungle adventure. Squeezed between boxes, bags and water jugs in the back of the plane were Serrano and a 16-year-old Achuar girl who was returning with her newborn son.
Cristina Serrano, my Ecuadorian guide into the Amazon rain forest to visit the Achuar people grabs some shut eye in the back of the plane.
The young mother’s face was filled with fear as the plane raced down the runway. Serrano grabbed the girl’s free hand as she cradled her baby in the other.
“That’s her husband standing by the fence waving goodbye,” Serrano said. “She is going back to the village to get help raising her son, and he is staying in the city to work.”
I began to ponder the challenges of bridging two different cultures and ways of life.
“Tell her not to worry. I have travel angels that watch over me,” I yelled above the engine noise.
Serrano smiled and passed on the words intended to comfort our companion.
For the next 45 minutes, our plane weaved around thunderhead clouds forming over the Amazon Rainforest. Below us, I stared at an endless forest with an occasional river slicing through it.
We dropped out of the sky like the falling rain and landed on a small dirt airstrip.
After the traditional greeting with the village elders and customary payment for landing, we set off for the village of Tiinkias.
A young student in the Achuar village of Tiinkias waits for the teacher in his school.
Traveling by foot and canoe, four hours later brought us to the primitive campsite near the village of Tiinkias.
It felt good to be back in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, far from the sounds and noises of anything familiar.
“Tomorrow we will go visit the village and the school,” Serrano said, “so you can work on your project.”
I had four questions to ask the children of Tiinkias.
1. What is their dream?
2. What is their dream for the world?
3. What would they like to tell other children around the world?
4. What makes them happy?
A cricket sits on a plant along the trail to the Achuar village of Tiinkias.
The next day, we walked into the one-room village school and were greeted by 25 smiling faces.
After some playful moments of reviewing the Hokey Pokey, the teacher selected five students for me to interview.
We sat down on the school porch and went through the list of questions.
“My dream is to be a teacher and to work with tourists,” Wari Ichinki, 14, said.
“We are one world. I invite children from other places to visit us to learn about a peaceful way of life,” Mashient Ichinki, 13, said.
“My message to other kids is let’s live together in the same world in peace and share,” Sunny Sharup, 12, said.
“I like to walk in the jungle. That is my favorite thing to do,” Edwin Shakai, 6, said.
Three Achuar children watch from their home with curiosity.
A young Achuar girl in her home in the village of Tiinkias.
During this interview process, the seeds for an idea began to form.
A thought floated through my mind. There must be a way to link these students to students back home. We have so much to learn from each other.
The teacher, Bosco Wambandi, had shared the need for basic school materials.
A village meeting was called and I found myself sitting in a circle of Achuar elders under a thatched roof, discussing the idea to link the Tiinkias school to schools in the United States.
Serrano translated as I explained to the community.
“We talk about saving the rainforest of the Amazon, but how can people from the United States do this? One way is to support the education of the young people who call this place home. To support the guardians and the stewards of the rainforest who are already protecting what we both care about.”
The students in the United States have a chance to learn about the rainforest and the people who call it home. The Achuar learn about the United States and receive some support to educate their children.
The foundation for the Achuar Education Project was created for a wonderful service-learning project in Nebraska schools.
I recently received an e-mail from Serrano who had just returned from a visit to the jungle.
As she entered the village of Tiinkias, she said the first thing the children asked was, “Where is Mr. Dean?”
Making plans for his next adventure.
Before leaving, Dean Jacobs makes a new friend in the Amazon Rain Forest of Ecuador.