From the Classroom to the Forest: empower young people in the Amazon Rainforest


Raina Chinitz

January 21, 2021

Every morning since he was seven years old, Geovany Siquiha woke up early to go to school. For an hour and a half, he navigated his small canoe down the Napo River, which flows through the Ecuadorian Amazon, one of the most biodiverse places in the world. Often travelling alone, he boated through intense rain, flooding, and strong currents to reach the school nearest to his home in the Kichwa community of Sani Isla.

Around 15 years ago, education was very inaccessible to young people in Sani Isla. Despite being one of the largest communities in the area, there was only one school for two entire provinces in the forest, with limited transportation. But Geovanny was fortunate and determined to go. The trip he made every morning was too long, too dangerous, or too inaccessible for many of Sani Isla’s children. So many didn’t go to school at all.

Geovanny’s parents’ advice– to study, learn, and go to school, no matter how difficult it was– kept him going day after day.

“Jamás me rendí, seguí, seguí”
(“I never gave up, I kept on and kept on”)

In a recent interview, Geovanny shared why education is so important to him and his family: in the Rio Napo region, he said, education opens up opportunities for young people and increases communities’ capacities to defend themselves, protect their land, access resources, and build resilient and stable economies. Education equips young people with the skills they need to work with organizations– organizations like Rainforest Partnership– and other communities, create and lead projects, and support their families. Education in these communities happens locally, but the results of it are felt globally, by all of us. Today’s children are tomorrow’s rainforest stewards, protecting vast areas of forest that act as climate regulator, water source, and home to rich biodiversity.

Rainforest protection starts in the classroom.

Better schools enable better forest conservation. How? Because indigenous communities in the Amazon are the greatest stewards of their own land. Armed with the skills, tools, and knowledge to effectively manage biodiversity and protect their forests from deforestation and extraction, those living in the rainforest lead conservation efforts and advocacy work.

Here’s just one example: one of Rainforest Partnership’s longest partners, Conservación y Desarollo, an Ecuadorian NGO, brings Farm Field Schools to indigenous and local communities, and through trainings, workshops, and capacity building, equips communities with the skills to grow cacao sustainably and in harmony with the forest. This creates income for their communities, establishes healthy and balanced food systems and enables active forest protection through activities that support communities in the forest. The communities who work with CyD have greater resources, knowledge, and tools to conserve their lands and protect the forest for generations to come.

A classroom at Silverio Tapuy

Education and capacity building unlock this potential for successful and durable rainforest protection. Especially during the pandemic, when rainforest communities like Sani Isla have especially little governmental support and access to funding, local schools are even more critical. They are incubators of empowerment and forest protection.

Geovanny later put himself through college and became the General Manager of Sani Lodge, Sani Isla’s ecotourism lodge and the community’s main source of income. He now motivates and supports the community’s young people, so they can develop and achieve a stronger and bolder vision for their futures and the future of their community, thus becoming the next generation of community leaders and forest protectors.

What’s happening right now at Sani Isla’s school?

Geovanny has worked closely with Rainforest Partnership throughout the years and we’re now working to help him support Silverio Tapuy, Sani Isla’s school, which supports around 100 students of all ages. This is a marked and significant change from when Geovanny had to canoe for hours a day to get to school and back home.

But the school, this engine for community empowerment and rainforest protection, is threatened. The school’s doors may be open, but they can’t deliver education as they could before. They do not have the materials or resources they need to teach safely and effectively during the pandemic. Geovanny has been working as an ambassador for the school, travelling around Ecuador in search of funds and book donations to build a library for the school and the entire community.

Because of the pandemic, tourists can no longer visit Sani Lodge. The women of Sani Warmi, a women’s cooperative that RP helped establish and grow, don’t have buyers for their products. Income is hard to come by, and support from the government is little to none. Sani Lodge workers have become volunteers, and families are struggling with economic instability. But what does this mean for the community’s children?

               Translation: “help us improve our education and fulfill our dreams.”

But the school is under-resourced and, especially now, as the community has lost all of its income from ecotourism at Sani Lodge, the school is struggling for necessities.

Rainforest Partnership has had a strong relationship with Sani Isla for over ten years; we’ve worked together on many projects and we stay in frequent touch. Part of our work and commitment to our community partners includes supporting them through particularly challenging times like these. Throughout the pandemic, we have been working with the community, Sani Lodge, Sani Warmi, and the school to develop creative ways to generate income while ecotourism is on hold.

Change the Equation.

We can make a tangible, lasting difference right now: Sani Isla’s school needs funds for essentials such as internet access, computers, a projector, school supplies, solar panels, books, and water tanks to give the kids clean water at school.

This is an exciting and absolutely unique opportunity for you to make a direct, immediate, and long-lasting impact on the lives of Sani Isla’s students. Your gift is an investment that will empower young people, open up opportunities for the children, and have long term benefits for them and the community.

Supporting the school will also help the women of Sani Isla who are working with RP to establish agroforestry or sustainable forest agriculture projects growing cacao, plantain, and guayusa (tea) to generate income and protect forests and to restore their turtle conservation center. Access to internet , technology, and educational materials will advance their projects as well, empowering women economically and supporting work they care about.

Just one donation covered the installation of internet access for a month.

Unlocking opportunities now unlocks a lifetime of greater possibilities for the children and the community; this is the power of education in rainforest communities like Sani Isla. It improves the daily lives of community members, it ensures the long term protection and stewardship of rainforests, and it conserves biodiversity for years to come.

We invite you, whoever you are, to partner directly with the Sani Isla school to open doors and widen horizons, for students, families, forests, wildlife, and future generations.

How you can help empower the next generation of community leaders and forest protectors in Sani Isla

Here’s how:

On January 24, International Day of Education, we are leading a day of community-support and fundraising for the Sani Isla School.

  • Share this story and fundraiser on social media, send to your friends and family. Engage with us on social media and share our posts!
  • Donate to create immediate impact that will last for years to come.
  • Become a long term ambassador for the Sani Isla school through fundraising, outreach, partnership and direct communication with the teachers and students from the community.  Contact raina@rainforestpartnership if you’re interested.

Support the school now!

Explore other ways to support Sani Isla today