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SABOR: Enriching Children’s Perspectives
on Community Growth at el Sabinito Sur
Independent Study Report
My career program holds a double major, Art and Music; I am also passionate about nature and languages. Thus structured this independent study experience to work with the young generations of one village within the reserve “Area de Protección Sierra de Alamos Rio-Cuchujaqui,” by strengthening all those traditions which promote sustainability by incorporating into their elementary school curricula and out of school time, activities targeted to connect Sustainability, Art, Biodiversity, Origin and Resources: SABOR.
My journey into this academic experience started as I left international highway Mexico 15 and entered the municipality of Alamos. I realized I was no longer along a highway, but traveling back in time into another world, immersed in a unique distinctively natural landscape, different from anything existing northward is at your reach. Scientists call it tropical deciduous forest. “Tropical” meaning the threes can not tolerate frost and “Deciduous” that they drop their leaves as a strategy to survive the dry season, which in recent years seem to become stubborn as it has accentuated each year its effects upon the region. A bare landscape, colored in pale from December to June, reveals one side of the dual identity of these low and thick forests, for the most vibrant and lively greens, still dormant, are awakened only by the summer monsoons.
In only 34 miles of a recently paved and widened, road from Navojoa heading to Alamos, I noticed the dramatic change of natural landscapes. The highway rises gradually and, as its winds, leaves behind the flat and extremely hot, arid desert, where mesquites, other legume trees and columnar cacti are commonly known life forms of the desert. Once skirting the steep range of mountains, there is no more sharply defined faunal and floral area that occurs to ecologists, than this one that is embraced in Sierra de Alamos. A closer observation reveals the perfect ensemble among more than 730 species of tropical and desert plants and animals. Mainly a mountainous section, some of Alamos peaks reach 400 to 1300 meters (1300 to 4260 feet) through which few wandering trails provide access to the federally protected area for flora and fauna ‘Sierra de Alamos y Río Cuchujaqui.”
Most conservation agencies, both, national and international support private conservation ownership as the most effective way to ensure that Mexico’s species-rich and increasingly threatened ecosystems are adequately protected. Accordingly, Pronatura Noroeste A.C. has joined forces with organizations on a pioneering effort to create a large private reserve harboring one of the best intact examples of tropical deciduous forests TDF in Mexico (CONANP, 2008). Since 2004, 8,000 hectares have been acquired within the 92,890-hectare Sierra de Álamos y Río Cuchujaqui Federal Area for the Protection of Flora and Fauna, in the state of Sonora, bordering with Sinaloa and Chihuahua (Pronatura, 2008). However, I wonder whether this is the most appropriate measurement in the long run. More than 50% of the rural populations in the world have been moved away from rural lands, mainly to incorporate land into a global unsustainable economy (World development report 2006). If our current civilization is able to stop these unlimited desires and devastating consumption, it won’t be the result of setting aside isolated parcels of pristine lands, but of a modification of our human intensions.
How to enhance traditional methods of environmental education? I see future in children, whose parents and grandparents are the last generations, living in rural livelihoods. The combination of an intimate relation with nature, respectful attitude of its cycles and rhythms, and wonder as a means to obtain knowledge and true wisdom could create a deeper perspective of learning.
As children attend school in a rural setting like el Sabinito, they sit and look only in one direction, inside a small four-wall empty room; no longer questioning, but answering memorized second hand information; they no longer have the possibility to observe, to reflect, or to wonder; their creativity is numbed. They do not have real heroes not other than the TV characters. Schooling is important, but not at the expense of allowing children to forget we are part of nature and to enjoy childhood as the stage in life where they must promise themselves they have a vote, they can make a difference by holding traditions which have been passed from generation to generation over centuries.
To make evident among children of rural livelihoods those intangible connections among Sustainability, Art, Biodiversity, Origin and Resources, as a means to teach them about conservation of the Tropical Deciduous Forest in the Sierra de Álamos.
The present of children at el Sabinito Sur
Twenty eight families with almost 50 children live in El Sabinito Sur, a rural village just 12 miles away from Álamos, a town populated by 8,000 people. Alamos is well-known internationally as a colonial jewel because of its restored architecture, past mining wealth, and other magical contexts which are completely ignored by children and their parents at El Sabinito. They do know about other unique features of this region. Their beautiful landscape has been also recognized as one of the few sites on Earth upon the existence of human kind depends. The Protected Area Sierra de Alamos y Rio Cuchujaqui belongs to the MAB (Man and the Biosphere) world reserve network. What would these children wonder about, what should they discover and how would they grow. Who is paying attention to their marvelous blossoming future?
One in five children finishes elementary education in a marginal school system. It is common for girls to get married at the age of fourteen. Their mothers were married at that same age when they were “robed” by their fiancés (novios) and probably the next generation of girls will be also victim of this inequity trap.
Children at el Sabinito still build their own toys, their minds are full of legends, they run barefooted, only one 19 year old teacher, Uriel, handles a multi grade school for all of them. Besides knowing the common names of most plants and animals, they are fully capable of teaching other kids about palm weaving, rope making, clay, medicinal herbs, traditional rural cuisine, cheese making, and orchard planting. I wonder who learned the most from whom?
The future for rural children
The Sierra de Alamos rises from the intensely agricultural coastal plain of Sonora, on the horizon, it appears to be a discrete, isolated mountain range, but it cannot be separated from the socio-economic, socio-cultural, and political context of Sonora and Northwestern Mexico. In the 1960s and 1970s, Sonora was hosted the activities from the Green Revolution, to irrigate the Yaqui and Mayo valleys, the rivers were dammed, resulting in extensive dewatering of these two major watershed ecosystems. Cattle ranching still hold extensive political influence in Sonora, and is still causing the lost of vegetation cover which results in severe erosion.
There has been long interest in, and concern for, the Sierra de Alamos TDF among biologists; their collective voice brought attention to the need to protect the Tropical Deciduous Forest. In 1996, the federal government established the 92,890-hectares Sierra de Álamos y Río Cuchujaqui Federal Area for the Protection of Flora and Fauna (CONANP). This declaration is of landmark significance: it highlights the importance of, and government commitment to, conserving Sonora’s Tropical Deciduous Forest; it underscores the value of protecting the Cuchujaqui watershed, the last free-flowing river while in Sonora, losing its freedom as it joins the Fuerte river and then the Huites Dam; The Cuchujaqui provides the foundation for collaboration among a constellation of organizations, governmental, cultural, non-profit conservation, and business to sustain this spectacular resource.
In fact, in the last decade, other overlapping conservation activities are developing in Sonora, especially along the Sierra Madre. The Sonoran Joint Venture is a bi-national effort focused on protecting avifauna. The Cuenca Los Ojos Foundation is working to protect and restore mountain, grassland, and desert habitats along the U.S.-Mexico border. Further south in the Sierra Madre, the Northern Jaguar Project and Naturalia A.C. are partnering to acquire and manage lands to protect the extensive territory and corridors that jaguars require in northern Sonora. These efforts are questionable to me. These agencies are proud of establishing several hundred kilometers of contiguous jaguar corridors along the Sierra Madre, without noticing that rural children are also more and more confined into urban settings without possibility of learning from the powerful force for wilderness landscape, which, in turn, could enable them to be that successful element in biodiversity protection.
Five major art events were planed, conducted and interconnected; one every first week of the month. Each event enlightened children into a process of a cycle, passing through a beginning, growing, settling and ending (The moon cycle). Being the end the beginning of a new cycle. Each project was detailed in the series of attachments and supported with photographic testimonies of the art expressions.
Elements of SABOR guided the focus of each artistic event (Sustainability, art, biodiversity, origin and resources). These themes were the frames of each learning experience. All art products are being incorporated into a mobile exhibit which could hopefully be hosted at the University of Arizona.
Sustainability A word now heard and seen everywhere by children. The meaning of sustainability in their lives was explored from the simplest meaning they could give to the word, as Sustainability being a synonym of daily resources and survival. Children were motivated to attempt balance through diverse games and dynamics. They prepared to describe their favorite recipes and reveal which ingredients come from the forest and how are they gathered. Children attended the presentation of addressed by the presentation of the book entitled SABOR de Sabnito Presencia de la Cocina rural. The book is a collective result from the recipes of their mothers and grandmothers.
Art “Qué ondas?” was an art and crafts quest in which children at el Sabinito hosted a group of 15 kids (six graders) from a school in Sinaloa.
They taught them the more artistic expressions of their rural lives including preparation of creams and herbal soaps, clay ornaments, traditional rural cuisine, rope making, cheese making, the mysteries involved in flowers names, uses, pollination by bees, different honey, bird watching and toy making. (Appendix 2)
Biodiversity A group of interested boys and girls participated in a two day workshop on birds entitled “King of birds.” besides exploring their interests on bird life, children created a collection of postcards with all kinds of aspects of birds and their ecology, myths and beauty. (in progress to be included in Appendix 3)
Origin In search for origin was a part of the project which offered children an occasion to reflect upon the implications of change, change being the only constant in nature but all changes emerging from an origin. Activities were a quest of Origin “This I believe” an art workshop offered the opportunity to express with colors or words the many angles of origin which affect us as individuals and as a community. (Apendix 4)
An evaluation method was designed and applied during the implementation of the project. The structure of such document is independent but complementary to this report. I am confident that local efforts in Alamos towards wilderness preservation are to succeed in the long term if new generations are motivated to give a voice to their traditions as they receive them from previous generation and are eager to enact them and in time, pass them to the next generation. SABOR is a project with those ingredients.
Calendar of Activities
Project activities January- May 2009 and May – December 2009