July Reforestation in the schools: planting more than just trees

Students from Bajo Corral carrying compost from our organic garden’s compost system to supplement the trees they planted.

Sometimes to plant a seed of ecological awareness, you just have to literally go plant. The staff of Perfect Earth Project Azuero’s Education Program took this to heart and took action during July, as they completed reforestation projects with four different schools and communities of the Azuero region.

The reforestation projects were part of the program’s Spider Monkey Education Initiative 2015, which has focused on soil quality, and the very real and negative effects of soil degradation. With six different schools, the program teaches how deforestation and loss of biodiversity hurts the soil, increasing drought risk and watershed contamination. These consequences are a reality for the students, as Panama, and especially the Azuero Peninsula experiences a severe drought as a consequence of deforestation.

Kayla and Bladymir – two students from Oria Arriba.

Realizing the best classroom can be outdoors, the program used the reforestation projects to supplements the curriculum and inspire the kids to action. Waiting for enough rain to create sufficient soil conditions, the project planted more than 150 trees with the schools of Oria Arriba, Colan, Los Asientos and Bajo Corral.

The number of trees may be small in comparison to national reforestation projects, but the impacts of our project will be big. We are excited to watch the seeds of the trees we planted grow in each school, but we are even more excited to watch the seeds of environmental compassion grow in each of the students. It is a seed which causes these future landowners to think critically about their environment, and ultimately take actions which lead to a healthier environment, a better life and a preserved Azuero Peninsula.

Jairo, our project’s organic gardener, taking a well deserved break with the students.


Education Initiative focuses on Soil

Azuero Earth Project is delighted to kick off the 2015 Education Initiative!

Comparing different soil types
Comparing different soil types

With great enthusiasm, creativity, and long hours, our team has been preparing for our first visits to the schools!

Our classes this year were inspired as part of the celebration of the “International Year of Soil.” To quote the Director General of FAO, JosĂ© Graziano da Silva, “The multiple functions of soils often are overlooked. The soil has no voice.”

With the theme “Discovering the Magic of the Soil,” we recognize that although soil restoration and conservation is a multi-generational process, we have to begin somewhere! We hope that as we give “voice” to the soil, these messages will be heard by the sensitive and curious ears of our students.


Un visitante especial... El Señor Suelo
Un visitante especial… El Señor Suelo

Through the 2015 Education Initiative, we will visit several rural schools with creative activities and battalions of energy, knowledge, and confidence in raising awareness and learning about the paramount importance and countless functions that soil provides for all inhabitants of this planet.

The soil loves company! If you’re interested in volunteering with us, please contact Rebecca or Carmela!

A Surprise Troop of Spider Monkeys

Waiting for the games to begin!
Ready to learn!

Tucked high up in the rolling hills of Azuero lies the small community of Colan. With only eight students, this school might be considered tiny, but the students and the teacher were among the most enthusiastic that we have had the pleasure of working with.  Education in Panama is a labor of love depending on the teacher, who in these one room, multigrade schools, acts not only as the teacher, but the guidance counselor, principal, sometimes chef, and often community organizer. We were so impressed to work with Teacher Margarita Diaz this year.  During a preliminary visit months ago, we explained AEP’s educational initiative, one day’s worth of activities and a community movie night, with a small presentation from the kids, to take place in October.

The troop of monkeys waiting in the wings before their presentation.

Imagine our surprise and delight when we arrived months later to these shining faces- of their own initiative, the parents had organized to sew each student a monkey costumes! Eight of the most adorable spider monkeys had a blast jumping about playing forest fragmentation games and mono twister… with the added challenge of avoiding stepping on the tails of their peers!

AEP kicks off the 2014 Educational Initiative in Los Asientos

The Azuero Earth Project believes that environmental education starts with the kids! Each year as part of our Educational Initiative, AEP develops didactic games, interactive activities, experiments, videos, and presentations to reinforce environmental themes in six schools in the Azuero Peninsula. Through a full day of activities, students review previously learned topics, as well as learn new themes. We kicked off the initiative this year in Los Asientos, where lesson material focused on Organic Agriculture.

Experimenting with different soil types to test water absorption rates.
Experimenting with different soil types to test water absorption rates.

Activities included:

  • Nitrogen Cycle Game – Acting as a nitrogen atom, students traveled to different stations of the atmosphere, filling out their “nitrogen passport” with different stamps in order to understand the Nitrogen Cycle
  • Soil Experiment- Students tested sand, clay, and compost to understand water filtration and soil types.
  • Crop Rotation- Acting as land owners, students decided what to plant for the following 5 years in order to maximize production AND soil health.
  • Making Compost- Students learned the principles of decomposition and then headed out the garden to mix up a batch of compost
  • Building Raised Beds- After talking about water retention and erosion, students built raised beds in their garden and seeded native cucumber and bean varieties
Deciding what to plant in a crop rotation game
Deciding what to plant in a crop rotation game

For more information, check out our Education Program.

Pro-Eco Pela’os Take Field Trip to Madroño and Achotines Lab

On Wednesday, January 29, children from the local community who form part of the AEP´s Pro-Eco Pela´os program hopped out of bed early, arriving at Casa Pasa ready for the year´s first field trip.

Departing Pedasí before 7 AM, thirteen local children, accompanied by the AEP´s Carmela Luciano, Jairo Batista, and Mark Waterman, arrived at the Madroño trails near Playa Venao at just the right time. The group had scarcely entered the forest when the children were treated to a rare sight—a whole troop of Azuero spider monkeys! The monkeys, out for their morning meal, swung from branch to branch right in front of the AEP group. The troop was made up of between 15 and 18 Azuero spider monkeys, with at least one mother carrying a newborn spider monkey on her back.

The group pauses for a photo on the trail c. Carmela Luciano
The group pauses for a photo on the trail c. Carmela Luciano

The spider monkeys slowly moved away, and the group, after watching the last monkey go on its way, entered the forest. During a short walk through the young dry forest of Madroño, the Pro-Eco Pela´os learned about the interactions between the bull horn acacia and its resident ants, the changes between dry and wet seasons, and the process of natural regeneration in the forest.

After finishing their walk in the forest, the team piled back into the van for the short trip down the road to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission’s Achotines Laboratory. With guidance from the lab’s own Lina Castillo, the children watched the mid-morning feeding of the various species of fish in the laboratory’s large saltwater tanks. Next the group moved indoors to see what plankton, an important source of food for many marine mammals, looks like under a microscope. Hearing about the various ongoing investigations at the laboratory, the group learned a lot about the importance of conserving local fish species.

Examining plankton under the microscope c. Carmela Luciano

Worn out after a long day of learning, the group headed back to PedasĂ­, ready to continue learning about the conservation of forest and aquatic resources in the weeks to come!

Students Across the Azuero Participate in AEP Education Initiative

This past week, the Azuero Earth Project team once again loaded up the cars and hit the road, visiting 4 local schools in as many days to teach local students about the importance of environmental conservation as part of the yearly Spider Monkey Education Initiative.

Students in Los Asientos play The Forest of Luck, a version of chutes and ladders c. Ryan Dibala

From October 21-25, in the fourth edition of the initiative, members of the AEP visited elementary schools in Valleriquito, Oria Arriba, Los Asientos, and Los Asientos. Students at the schools explored the importance of preserving forested areas and protecting the habitat of the endangered Azuero spider monkey, playing a series of educational games, including:

  • Azuero Animal Relay – A guessing game where players learn how to describe characteristics of local wildlife species.
  • Monkey Twister – A game of twister where players do their best spider monkey imitations, learning about important fruit tree species while trying not to fall in a forest that grows smaller and smaller.
  • The Forest of Luck – A version of chutes and ladders that explores how both deforestation and habitat restoration impact wildlife.
  • The Hunter –  A lively game in which students collect as many fruits as possible while evading the poacher who stalks their shrinking forest habitat.
Stretching for the fruits in Monkey Twister c. Ruth Metzel

In each game, students learn how deforestation affects the environment and threatens the livelihood of the Azuero spider monkey. AEP staff and volunteers encourage students to identify local animals and native tree species and consider what happens to the Azuero spider monkey as its habitat becomes more or less fragmented (for example, when someone either plants trees to prevent erosion or cuts trees down to expand their ranch). As part of the process, the students also learn how we can help to preserve important local ecosystems and wildlife habitats.

Getting started on the AEP mural in Oria Arriba c. Ruth Metzel

This year, for the first time, the students also got the chance to put some of their ideas about environmental restoration into practice. With the AEP supplying organic bocashi fertilizer and dozens of tree saplings, students at each school planted their own trees, learning how to dig holes, add organic fertilizer, and properly place root bundles Students also learned about the importance of native tree species, planting important varieties such as caoba nacional (Swietenia macrophylla), guabita cansaboca (Inga punctata), macano (Diphysa americana), cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa), laurel (Cordia alliodora), guanabana (Annona muricata), caimito (Chrysophyllum cainito), and guayacan (Tabebuia guayacan).

Students in Nuario gently lower a sapling into the ground c. Jonathan Clay

As part of the initiative, the AEP also arranged evening movie screenings at each of the schools, inviting parents and community members out to learn about the AEP and to see what their students had learned during the day of activities. The short discussions were followed by a showing of Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest. In the 1992 cartoon, a logger realizes the error of his ways and helps the animals of the forest to protect their home from a rogue timber machine.

For more information about AEP’s Spider Monkey Education Initiative and other Education opportunities, see Education.

AEP Delivers Azuero Map Puzzles to Local Schools

Student making her Azuero map puzzle, c. Ruth Metzel

On June 11 and 12, 2013, the Azuero Earth Project delivered puzzles to participating schools in its Annual Spider Monkey Educational Initiative in honor of Natural Resource Month and their participation in AEP’s annual initiative to conserve the Azuero Spider Monkey and its tropical dry forest habitat.

The Azuero Earth Project puzzle contains a map of the Azuero peninsula made by Guillermo Duran with data from AEP’s GIS Database of Conservation Priorities and AEP’s design team that shows students how their communities relate geographically to the peninsula’s major population centers and important protected areas.

AEP staff members Carmela Luciano and Ruth Metzel with students completing their puzzles, c. Ruth Metzel

Through working with the puzzles, students will learn to identify, value and protect the natural wonders that are found in their local protected areas and to develop the geographical understanding of the Azuero peninsula. Carmela Luciano, Ruth Metzel and Hannah Metzel of the Azuero Earth Project team helped teachers and students to put together their puzzles in celebration of their future use as a teaching tool in participating schools!

Azuero Peninsula Map Puzzle, c. Guillermo Duran

AEP Celebrates the Environment in Panama at Festival Abierto

AEP staff member Jairo Batista with visitors at the AEP tent, Festival Abierto, c. Guillermo Duran

On March 23-24 the Azuero Earth Project participated in Festival Abierto in Parque Omar in Panama City. Marking its second anniversary this year, Festival Abierto celebrated environmental consciousness in Panama through education, culture and science. The goal of the festival was “to create a sense of pride among Panamanians about the natural and cultural wonders that their country has to offer” (festival website).  This year the festival’s theme was a “sea of new ideas”. The festival included a section of NGO and artist stands, booths selling arts and crafts and food, and a stage featuring Panamanian and foreign musical artists.

The Azuero Earth Project had a stand among over 30 other foundations and organizations working on environmental and other social issues in Panama. AEP staff members encouraged visitors to play spider monkey games that form part of AEP’s annual elementary school education initiative and to write down promise pledge to the environment on a colorful paper leaf to add to a growing tree of environmental action. During the course of the weekend, over 100 people contributed to AEP’s tree of environmental action with their promises.

The Azuero Earth Project thanks the organizers and sponsors of Festival Abierto for the opportunity to participate in and collaborate with like-minded organizations and artists during this important cultural event in Panama!

Written by Sophie M. Fuchs

AEP staff member Jairo Batista helps visitors write promises for the environment on AEP’s tree of environmental promises at Festival Abierto, c. Guillermo Duran


AEP Celebrates Family Environmental Movie Nights with Four Azuero Communities!

Students at the elementary school in Los Asientos perform a monkey skit at their movie night; c. Sophie Fuchs

As a part of the Azuero Earth Project’s 2012 Azuero Spider Monkey Education Initiative, AEP staff hosted movie nights in Los Asientos, Nuario, Oria Arriba and Vallerriquito communities from October 25th to 30th. These movie nights are part of AEP’s annual collaboration with communities in Azuero to celebrate the Azuero Spider Monkey and its dry forest habitat and emphasize the importance of conserving this endemic subspecies.

The feature film this year was “The Lorax”, Dr. Seuss’s whimsical tale of a boy living in Thneedville, an imaginary town with all modern conveniences but missing something essential: real living trees. The film follows this boy as he searches for a tree and learns a shocking story of greed and deception along the way. Students laughed at the comical antics of the characters while learning about important environmental issues such as deforestation and pollution.

Before the film, students shared environmental “tamboritos,”or traditional call and response songs, they learned during the daytime Azuero Spider Monkey Eco-Fairs with their friends and families. This year’s songs explore the future of the spider monkey subspecies and highlight the importance of conserving the Azuero dry forest. In Los Asientos, students also took part in a short play about a spider monkey family and how they respond when their forest home is cut down by humans.  An Azuero Earth Project presentation explained the details of the Eco-Fair school day with parents, explored the project’s vision for a forest restoration corridor in prioritized areas of the peninsula and invited the community to participate in AEP projects.

For more information about AEP’s Spider Monkey Education Initiative and other Education opportunities, see Education.

Written by Sophie M. Fuchs