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November 23, 2009

Inspiring Young Wildlife Advocates on Cacao Farms

An environmental education course teaches biodiversity to schoolchildren

Humane Society International

  • Schoolchildren display their cacao and biodiveristy coloring books.© HSI/Erick Bertin

  • HSI's Karen Aguilar helps the children identify wildife on the cacao farms.© HSI/Erick Bertin

  • The children star in their wildlife puppet show.© HSI/Erick Bertin

by Erick Bertin

Today our journey begins before the first rays of sunlight shower the town of San Carlos, on the banks of Lake Nicaragua. We have a long day ahead of us, so we'd better get on our way.

El Rotulo, located less than 30 miles from San Carlos, is one of two schools we’re visiting today. We had actually planned on visiting it two days before, but because of the continuous rain, the mountain trails were impassable even for all-terrain vehicles, forcing us to reschedule and trade our dependable truck for a two-hour-plus rather bumpy horseback ride.

We’re here to conduct an environmental education workshop called "The Cacao Farm: Natural Wealth and Abundance" as part of HSI’s environmentally-friendly cacao production program funded by the United States State Department. Our objective is to promote the importance of wildlife protection among children in cacao-producing communities.

Today all three of the school’s elementary classes will be taking part in the three-hour course. The arrival of five outsiders already has the school all abuzz: it seems that the further away we go, the more enthusiastically the children react, and El Rotulo is no exception.

For them, cacao is an everyday item, as cacao farms are fairly common here. They all know what it is, they have all seen it, and they have all tasted it. And so with the necessary introductions made, it’s time to let imaginations run wild, and we ask the children to draw a cacao farm. Trees of all shapes and sizes and fruits of a multitude of colors combine to bring the blank sheets to life.

Next is the puppet show: sitting on the floor, children role play as fruit bats, sloths, howler monkeys, squirrels and many other animals while listening to HSI’s environmental educator, Karen Aguilar, explain the role of each one of these animals and why their protection is important. It’s up to the children to stand up and do what is right: preserve the cacao farm, home to at least 190 species of wild plants and animals.

With the workshop drawing to a close, we hand out coloring and activity books, one for each student, so they can continue learning about cacao and the different animals that live within and around the cacao farms. The teachers are also given a teaching guide for the course to help them replicate it after we are gone.

Many hours and a very long horseback ride later, we have reason to be satisfied: we successfully conducted our scheduled workshops for some 70 schoolchildren, and with a little bit of luck, we will have reached about 300 before the week is out. By the time the workshops conclude at the end of November, they will be joined by some 1,200 of their peers from 30 schools in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

The sight of hundreds of smiling faces, newly appointed as wildlife advocates, makes all the hard work worthwhile.

(HSI's Erick Bertin, Karen Aguilar, and Antonio Mora were joined by cacao technicians Miguel Cortez and Rodolfo Hernandez.)

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