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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
Neotropical Environmental Education Program Visits Darien
Marta Curti — in Neotropical Environmental Education Program    ShareOne of the three main target areas for our education program is Darien, the western-most province of Panama, located along the border of Colombia. This area still maintains an amazing amount of forest and wildlife, is one of the last strongholds for Harpy Eagles in Central America, and therefore is a key area for our education work. We have been working in Darien for several years now and we have presented talks, games and films about the Harpy Eagle, raptors, top predators, and migration.

Crossing a stream.
Crossing a stream.
Our trips to Darien present us with many challenges or, as we like to call them, adventures. Traveling within the province is always exciting, as most of the communities that we are working in are far away from any passable road, and therefore not reachable by car. Instead, we use a combination of horseback riding, hiking and riding in dug-out canoes to reach our destinations. During the rainy season, all three modes of transportation can prove to be treacherous as pathways turn into mud bogs and gentle streams can turn into roaring rivers.

Another challenge we must face is the fact that in Darien we are working with people from at least three different cultures who speak at least three different languages. To help us translate our presentations from Spanish into Embera, one of the local languages, we are usually accompanied by one of Fondo Peregrino-Panama’s local field technicians; on this outing, we received assistance from Calixto Conampia.

Because we hoped to visit a large number of communities at once, we split into two teams. Kathia Herrera and Saskia Santamaría, made a first time visit to five new campesino communities located relatively close to La Palma, Darien’s capital. Since this was NEEP’s first visit to these towns, Kathia and Saskia presented general information about Fondo Peregrino-Panama and the Harpy Eagle.

Sean Davis explains the food chain to children.
Sean Davis explains the food chain to children.
A week later, Sean Davis and I headed down to Darien to work with some of those communities that are already familiar with our program. This time, we would be presenting information about the cycle of life, food chains and food webs. Apart from a PowerPoint presentation geared toward adults, we also developed a hands-on learning activity and a game that we would utilize with the children in the communities.

We started out our trip with a four-hour horseback ride to the campesino community of Colorado. This was our third visit to this particular community, and as always, we were greeted with warm smiles and friendly faces. When we arrived, we were immediately greeted by one of the community leaders who excitedly told us about a group of roughly 30 (migrating) raptors that were perched in a tree on his land just the other day. This gentleman also has a pair of Harpy Eagles nesting on his property and has had many up close experiences watching the juvenile as it grows and develops. It is always fun to listen to his stories about his encounters with this young bird!

That night, we gave a talk to approximately 30 of the community members. As an additional incentive to get people to come to our presentations (and one that works very well) we have begun showing movies after our talks. This time, we showed “The Princess Bride”, which was met with a lot of laughter and was enjoyed by all.

The next morning we headed to La Aldea, an Embera-Wounaan community which is a beautiful, one hour hike through the forest. Soon after arriving, we headed to the school to work with the children. We first presented the slide show and then Sean led the kids in a Food Chain Game of tag and conducted an evaluation activity in order to measure how much information the children understood and retained. That night, we worked with adults and children alike.

Navigating the rapids.
Navigating the rapids.
The following day, we loaded our equipment into a dug-out canoe and headed toward the community of La Marea. Though, in general, the river was calm, we did have to pass several small rapids. Sean and I were astounded as to how well the boat’s “captain” and “co-captain” navigated their way with only two wooden paddles to guide the boat. At one particularly difficult section, however, we all had to get out. We unloaded all of our gear and carried it several hundred feet across the rocks to a pick up point. Then, the two “captains” returned for the canoe. Using a rope, the paddles, and masterful skills, they managed to walk the canoe through the rapids. Sean and I couldn’t imagine how difficult it was going to be for them to get the canoe back upstream!

After our visit to La Marea and then the community of Tutumate, it was time for us to return to Panama City. We left feeling very good about our visit. Everywhere we went, we felt welcome by the people and we sensed a deep interest in the information we were conveying. We will return to Darien again in December to visit some of those communities we were not able to reach on this trip. I know that all four members of the NEEP crew are looking forward to future adventures and to sharing information and trading stories with the good people of Darien!

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