Preserving the Amazon Basin of my Childhood

I have used Wimba and Elluminate to teach hybrid language and content courses to undergraduate and graduate students at my institution, Montclair State University.  We all experienced technical difficulties at first, but these were overcome as we meet to discuss a variety of topics in the Language of Propaganda, Introduction to Linguistics,  Advanced Speaking and Listening Skills, and other courses.    What worked best for all of us was the use of the Breakout rooms.  This took a lot of work in terms of designing challenging tasks that students could complete on their own by spending 15-minutes brainstorming and negotiating meaning with their classmates or partners before being brought back to the main room. 

The research I conducted in the fall of 2010 and then again in 2011 has shown that a virtual classroom can be used effectively for problem-solving and group work.  Communicating synchronously via what was formerly known as Elluminate can be done if students or participants are actively interacting with each other via voice or the chat feature and then presenting their findings for group feedback.  Most students I have interviewed have recommended that synchronous sessions be limited to 45 minutes as they are very intense.  The synchronous feature of Bb Collaborate should never be used to transfer techniques used in the typical face-to-face (F2F) classroom that relies on the lecture approach or the Q & A routine of the traditional classroom.  I will describe what motivated my proposal for a free virtual Bb Collaborate classroom in the following paragraphs and briefly describe how I intend to use it.

When I was a teenager in Lima, Peru, I convinced my mother to let me travel to Iquitos and spend a month with my favorite uncle, tio Hugo, then a colonel in the Peruvian army stationed in this area.  I spent about a month with my uncle and two American students who were interested in the flora, fauna, and culture of the region.  Every morning I would wake up to the sound of birds flying overhead in an amazing array of colors.  They created a vibrant rainbow of life, which was what I was reminded of when I watched Avatar decades later.  As we traveled up the Amazon River, I discovered an amazing realm of beauty and mystery.  When I returned to Lima, I brought back a new world monkey, whom I named Gunther.  He lived with us for several years until my mother sold him while I was away at school.  I was heartbroken because he represented a link to the majestic and magical Amazon of my youth.

The Amazon Basin is in danger of disappearing.  It must be protected because it is humanity’s patrimony, benefiting millions with its vast flora and fauna, its medicinal secrets, and its native inhabitants’ unique ways of being.  This entire area is now under siege and in danger of collapsing unless we find a constructive way of dealing with the rights of ancestral communities and the greed of those who push disreputable models of economic development.  

While working and communicating via the Internet with a lawyer in Peru, I learned that she was doing extremely important work as the legal representative of indigenous communities in the Peruvian rainforest (Madre de Dios and surrounding communities).  See Google Map: http://www.maplandia.com/peru/madre-de-dios/   These communities are under siege by multinationals and mining companies that have been allowed by the government of outgoing Peruvian President Alan Garcia to explore for oil, gas, and mineral deposits in lands that belong to various indigenous communities.  The Federation of Native Communities of Madre de Dios and Tributaries (FENAMAD) represents 32 indigenous communities that fight for the legal right to and protection of their ancestral lands.  Their task is further compounded by a misinformation campaign waged by multinationals and others that promise members of these native communities a certain amount of money and material incentives (gifts) in exchange for their lands.  This has divided some of these communities since they are marginalized communities that have not in the least reaped the benefits of the so-called economic growth experienced in Peru in recent years.  Nothing trickles down to the dispossessed and forgotten. Thus, the lure of economic rewards is hard to resist.  Another serious issue faced by these vulnerable indigenous communities is a language and cultural barrier, cleverly exploited by local and national government operatives who wish to force them out of their ancestral lands by all means necessary.

It is for this reason that I propose to use a 50-seat Blackboard Collaborate virtual classroom to bring together members of these indigenous communities, interested citizens who live in Peru and are genuinely interested in preserving the Amazon basin, students majoring in linguistics at my institution who could help with the task of addressing the needs of multilingual communities in this area, and researchers and lawyers who work directly with indigenous community leaders and members.  There is a need to educate the world about the importance of protecting the Amazon Basin in Peru and not allowing it to become a site of environmental destruction by those whose major goal is the pursuit of profit.  We cannot allow the contamination of rivers with mercury runoff by those looking to make a fortune who criminally dump mercury into the tributaries of the Amazon as they have done in Brazil and other areas, poisoning animals and people whose living depends on the natural resources of areas directly affected by environmental contamination.  

This is a dream that I hope will become a reality.  While watching Avatar, I felt a tremendous sense of loss at the destruction of the enormous floating tree because it reminded me of what is happening to the Amazon Basin.  It is not just multinationals and corporate interests that have a negative role to play in this part of the world, but also individuals who are lured by promises of great personal wealth at the expense of the rights of vulnerable communities.  They willfully contribute to the destruction of one of the most important and majestic regions of the world: the Amazon Basin. There is thus an urgent need to disseminate information, educate individuals, and find ways of preventing further destruct ion of entire areas in a world already suffering from the devastating effects of global warming.

For more information about indigenous communities in Latin America please visit http://servindi.org/

Link to Servindi: Noticias indigenas

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