By Maggie Everett, Marvelwood School
Language barriers are tough and there are few things that can overcome difficulties in communication when faced with such barriers. Fortunately pictures are one of these!
Marvelwood School is a private high school in Kent, Connecticut. For nearly a decade now we have been traveling to Panama to conduct wildlife research. However our studies are limited to a few weeks each year. To better document the incredible biodiversity in the area around the year, we decided to start a pilot program to arm kids from underserved areas near the Cocoblo Nature Reserve (CNR) with cameras. We call the program CLICK to Protect Biodiversity. CLICK stands for Communities Linking Internationally to raise Conservation awareness in Kids. While we were only able to find funding for six point and shoot cameras the pilot program generated a lot of excitement and will attempt to expand the program next year. Both Marvelwood students and the children from La Zahina, also had the opportunity to work with Meet Your Neigbours Photographers in the field and try their hand at using sophisticated camera equipment to take photos. Below is an excerpt from the journal of Maggie Everett, a student from Marvelwood School about her experience working with local children as part of the CLICK program during our March trip to Panama.
“My favorite moment at the Cocobolo Nature Reserve (CNR) in Panama was the moment four young kids first walked into our base camp to help us photograph life in the reserve. They appeared to be of elementary school age and were wearing clothes like we do in the summer, their hair in braids, and one boy even had a red baseball cap on his head. But there was a definite border, a difference between me and them and that was the inability to communicate in a common language. They only spoke Spanish and I only spoke English. Frankly I was scared to be where I was in an unknown (and potentially dangerous) tropical forest, and trying to communicate and conduct scientific research with local children who did not speak the same language as I only compounded my anxiety. My anxiety began to diminish after the first few minutes of interaction as they seemed perfectly open and inviting to work with me and the other students and scientists that surrounded them.
My eyes immediately drew to a young girl soon introduced to me as Nixi. She sported a small orange camera, given to her my Marvelwood School during the February trip for the purpose of trying to document biodiversity in and near CNR. She held it tightly in her hand as her eyes searched the grounds. She was beautiful and had a glow of intelligence, knowledge, enthusiasm and ambition that everyone dreams their child will have. Before long, she was clinging to me and smiling a pure smile of excitement and joy as she started snapping photos of the insects, frogs and birds we encountered. I looked down at my Canon Camera, a more sophisticated version of the point and shoot camera Niki was using, and decided to take a risk. I called her over and slowly and carefully placed the strap around her neck as she began to gasp in excitement. After 2 minutes of showing her how to look through it, zoom in and out, and take pictures, she was already up to my level in how to use my own camera! I watched as she ran around and continued to take photographs of her friends, the trees, birds, butterflies. Watching this young girl, who had probably never traveled more than 20 miles from her village in her young life, due to economic and travel limitations, immerse herself in photographing the natural world around her, caused me to reevaluate my own life. It was that moment, watching the joy and excitement oozing from Nixi, as she took advantage of the opportunity to explore her world through the lens of a camera, that my own now pointless problems melted away. I felt renewed, I felt free and happy and trusting. I felt true love from Nixi and those other amazing kids exploring CNR with us in our quest to document the incredible biodiversity in the reserve. I learned that pictures really are the world’s universal language! I also learned that collectively, children, regardless of ones socio-economic backgrounds, armed simply with a camera, can really make a difference and raise awareness about the incredible biodiversity in this world that needs to be conserved and protected!”
A huge shout-out to the Meet Your Neighbours Photographers Clay Bolt, Twan Leenders and Sean Graesser for helping the students from Marvelwood School and from La Zahina, explore the natural world in Panama through the lens of a Camera.