I hope I can accurately document my experiences in Brazil and share my knowledge with other educators. The Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Project offers an extremely unique opportunity for a special educator. The need for both leaders and educators in special education to develop a global perspective of their field and an international understanding for policies and procedures abroad is imperative. Opportunities to learn from educators, government officials and inhabitants of countries promoting large education initiatives, especially those targeting students with disabilities and individuals who require alternative teaching methods, offer invaluable information about the country’s perception of special education, the disabled population, and what role culture plays in educating individuals with disabilities. Mutual understanding and learning amongst educators in this field is critical to the development of programs that will meet the unique needs of diverse populations.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Indigenous of the Amazon (Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira - Wednesday, June 30, 2010)

Hike in Sao Gabriel

Top floor meeting area - ISA

View from room at ISA

small plane taken from Manaus to Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira

Exhausted, I awoke at 4:30 leaving enough time to brush my teeth and throw on some clothes, to check out of the hotel at 5:00. We were instructed to pack a small bag for a two night stay in Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira. Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira is an extremely remote Amazon community in northern Brazil, near the Columbian border. Its inhabitants include either the indigenous of the Amazon or Brazilian military. We met Jasmine, who would accompany us to Sao Gabriel to learn more about the students she was working with, at the airport in Manaus. We boarded a small plane that would fly north through the Amazon and deliver us to a destination that many Brazilians could never imagine visiting. We arrived at around 9:30 on a small landing strip guarded by the Brazilian military and were brought to ISA, Institute Socioambiental (socio-environmental). ISA is a civil society organization working with the indigenous. ISA had small dorms they allowed visiting researchers and scholars to stay in while visiting Sao Gabriel. This is where we would spend the next 2 days. The rooms were simple, no air conditioning, but absolutely invigorating. They were wonderful! A huge balcony overlooked the Rio Negro and breezes blew in through large double doors. The top floor was the meeting area. It was an open space overlooking the water. The roof was thatched bamboo. Small tables and chairs were available and hammocks hung from large posts. A classroom/meeting room and a small kitchen were in the back. We were offered fresh fruit juices and bread.
After a short rest we met with FOIRN, Federation of Indian Organization of Rio Negro. The speaker, a member of the Baniwa tribe, showed us clips from movies they had made and presented slides detailing their work. He explained that the schools, the government had created for their communities, were not meeting the demands of their community. He said, “We feel that our knowledge should be valued as well that coming from the outside. It is important to maintain our culture as well as gain knowledge coming from outside.” The goal of the indigenous is to blend their culture with a new way of life. He also explained that many youths would leave in search of education and did not return.
Another issue FOIRN is tackling is balancing the environment with development. He explained that because of the changing environment their way of life has changed. Farming and fishing, vocations depended on, have dramatically transformed due to climate change. We were told that elders in their tribe remember working from dawn until dusk with no clothing protecting their bodies and now this is impossible. They must cover their skin, wear hats and work shorter hours because of the sun. They have also seen a dramatic decrease in the amount of fish. They have learned to farm and manage fish in new ways. If they did not, the fish they depended on to sustain their way of life would be extinct in the water of the Rio Negro within 10 years.
Based on their needs, the indigenous of the Amazon have modified the education in their schools. Fish management programs have been developed in their schools. Students do research and formulate solutions for their community. I was very impressed with the innovative teaching methods instilled in indigenous schools. Students learn through projects and research that benefit their culture and community. In essence their learning evolves through service projects. They are currently developing bees with no stingers to produce honey and pollinate produce. They are creating hatcheries and introducing environmentally friendly alternatives for their communities. Elders are invited into the schools to teach traditional skills such as basket weaving and discuss history and culture. Students perform research and write the oral histories handed down from their grandparents.
This new model of schooling is far better than the model introduced by the Brazilian government. Students are engaged and are making an immediate difference in their communities. What a brilliant idea!!!!!!!!!
After the meeting we began a long hike up a sacred hill in Sao Gabriel. One that promised if you reached the top you would find your way back. I feel there is truth in the story!!!! What a beautiful, breathtaking adventure!

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