EL Bosque de Los Ninos -The Childrens Forest

For the latest News on this long running project now renamed Tierra de los Ninos please also see the NEWS section

For several years The Matthiesen Foundations activities have centred on educational programmes within the UK and the last occasion that it was active abroad was in Cambodia in 1990-91. Frances Wu introduced the Foundation to Joaquin Leguia who is active with environmental issues in the remote Madre de Dios region in south-eastern Peru. This area lies beyond the Andes, east of Cuzco, north of Lake Titicaca at the headwaters of the Madre de Dios tributary which some 1500 miles later spills into the Amazon. The area is remote, has one unsurfaced road, a few small outposts (Puerto Maldonado and Laberinto and Fitzcaraldo, the latter named after the person in the eponymous film) and lies in a jungle-clad corner of Peru that abuts Bolivia and Brazil which harbours extreme bio-diversity but which is suffering deforestation and depredation.
Joaquin runs a small NGO called A.N.I.A. (Asociacion para la ni�ez y su ambiente � The Association for children and their environment); its express purpose is to promote the development and identity of the local children in harmony with the conservation of nature. The most recent initiatives have been to seek support for the implementation of a pilot project in several outlying indigenous communities located in the buffer zone of Bahuaja – Sonene National Park and another small-protected area next to Manu Biosphere Reserve. The projects aims to teach the indigenous children the value of both protecting and conserving natural resources by means of elementary education and direct hands on experience. The communities, which The Matthiesen Foundation has sponsored 2001-2006 for the implementation of El Bosque de los ninos project, were first Sonene & Baltimore followed by Project La Torre and Infierno. These are all villages belonging to both the ethnic group called the Ese-eja in Sonene as well as settlers from the highlands. The total population of Sonene for instance is around 120 persons. These are primarily indigenous people in the case of Sonene and local settlers in the case of the other locations mixed with indigenous people. 50% of the population is comprised by children. The primary school in Sonene for instance has only one classroom and one teacher who divides the classroom into three sections: one for the lower grade, one for the intermediate grade and one for the higher grade.

A prime consideration is the health and the well being of the large community of children. Health and hygiene education is at the centre of this project. But this cannot be achieved without a supply of clean water so that it is planned to provide such a supply where possible adjacent to the schools and to improve the school latrines using modern studies for composting latrines. Studies were undertaken so as to decide whether to drill pipe wells or to use a water storage system in tanks and where possible this facility was installed. At the same time although the children do not lack actual nourishment they do lack a proper range of proteins and vitamins and often show clear signs of deficiency. Consequently it was planned to carry out botanical studies in order to widen the range of vegetables and fruit that can be planted in the children�s garden and by means of agro-forestry as part of El Bosque de Los Ni�os. In this way it is hoped to spread more evenly a balanced nutritional diet throughout the calendar year.

Each El Bosque � The Children�s Forest – project will include an area for socialising, an area for the production of environmentally suitable crops, a tree planting reforestation area, and an area of primary forest. The socialising area will take the form of a simple children�s playground with an opportunity for amusement, games, sport and performances. The production area will develop local resources such as agro forestry and related local fruits, medicinal plants, wholesome crops such as cassava, papaya and beans. It is specifically intended that this area should provide a greater range of crops and fruits than are available at present so as to improve the children�s nutrition. Studies relating to nutrition, health and the improvement of water supplies including the sinking of pipe wells will also form part of this project.

The tree planting area will educate children as to the dangers of soil erosion, over exploitation and the best way to harvest timber in an ecologically renewable way. The primary forest, which represents more than 50% of the surface area of El Bosque, will allow children to learn about and carry out research on wildlife and management of non-timber forest products, as well as to utilise and cultivate medicinal herbs and plants for local use. Further activities may comprise fishing, fish farming and some limited tourism in the future. It is envisaged that a locally administered El Bosque de los Ni�os Fund will be set up so that the Association of Village Parents can buy schooling materials, promote good health and improve the nutrition of the children in the community. A strong accent will be placed on education and the adoption of local projects promoted and administered through the village elders.

Transport in this area is extremely difficult and everything has to be brought in by river. A full time field co-ordinators was placed in charge of the four projects and a local field co-coordinator monitors the setting up of each Bosque. Educational materials have been supplied for each grade, as well as salaries, food supplies, transport costs and materials. In this way we hope to support a new generation of Amazonian children who will be educated to respect their surroundings and to defend them from encroachment or exploitation, or from non-desirable economic activities and to deploy the local natural resources to their mutual advantage.

The pilot programme is an ongoing one that has been extended to wider areas, and which is being adopted by the Peruvian and Brazillian authorities. Recently the project has been renamed Tierra de Los Ninos to encompass lakes, desert, mountains etc as well as the urban environment.  So I invite you to help by contributing to this small, but worthwhile project. Large trees grow from small seeds and we hope to promote this idea and extend its influence throughout Latin America and who knows, maybe elsewhere too.