It may not be the most enormous or the most populated continent, but South America is the most diverse – it holds 5 of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, as well as the biggest tropical wilderness on Earth. Between them, South America’s diverse regions hold irreplaceable ecosystems teeming with life – which in turn produce countless free services and resources for people across the continent, including the earth’s largest supply of one of our most basic survival needs: fresh water.

Conservation International

Eduardo Avaroa Park

South America is a continent of extremes. Home to the world’s highest waterfall (Angel Falls), driest desert (Atacama), largest rainforest (Amazon), greatest river (Amazon), and longest mountain range (Andes), the continent faces some big environmental and educational challenges. These include deforestation, urban air pollution, educational inequalities between rural and urban communities and between socioeconomic classes, and natural resource exploitation and depletion through such activities as mining, upon which many South American countries rely heavily for income.

Amid these challenges, however, are bright spots as well, with many grassroots efforts emerging to preserve both local natural environments and the cultures and languages of a great spectrum of indigenous groups, including the largest number of uncontacted tribes anywhere in the world who live secluded within the dense jungles of the Amazon. There are also great strides being made to employ alternative technologies such as solar and hydroelectric power, drawing on the solar capacity in the Atacama Desert, for example, and the amazing water resources in such regions as the Amazon basin.

The Earthducation team is unable to travel to every country within South America. However, we believe that the communities we will visit in Peru and Chile will offer good insight into educational and environmental issues that are being faced throughout the continent.

A mother and baby in the Atacama region

In Peru, the team will visit an impoverished community on the outskirts of Lima that is using innovative technologies to supply freshwater for communal and farming needs. Though rainfall is scarce in this region, with annual precipitation comprising only about half an inch (1.5 centimeters), thick fog is a common occurrence from June through about November. This fog offers a novel opportunity for water collection. Using special nets, residents can collect hundreds of gallons of water a day literally from the air around them. The cost to set up and employ such nets is relatively low, providing a viable means for low-income communities to attain the freshwater that is vital to sustain life in any environment.

With a few thousand dollars and some volunteer labor, a village can set up fog-collecting nets that gather hundreds of gallons of water a day—without a single drop of rain falling.

National Geographic

From the urban center of Lima, the team will journey into the Amazon basin, visiting indigenous communities in the Pullcapa region. These communities sit isolated within the dense rainforest that borders the great Amazon River. To reach them, the team will need to travel by motorized canoe and trek through dense jungle. The stories they collect from these communities should provide some unique perspectives on education and sustainability. How is formal education viewed and managed here? And how are the burgeoning tourism, mining, and petroleum industries impacting life for the indigenous people of these regions, as these industries make their way deeper into once-unexplored regions?

The Amazon basin

The Amazon is home to the largest number of uncontacted tribes anywhere in the world. As the modern world steadily encroaches upon the land of some of these tribes, buried deep in the rainforest, what responsibilities do we hold toward respecting the rights of such people to live in anonymity and privacy, not to mention to refrain from damaging the natural environment upon which they rely to sustain life? Contact with the outside world not only threatens the culture and livelihood of such communities, it in fact threatens their very survival. For example, the introduction of diseases unknown to these communities, though these diseases may be common and unthreatening to the outside world, can in fact entirely wipe out a community in a short space of time.

Across the world there are more than 150 million tribal people in 60 countries, but only 100 truly uncontacted tribes are known to still exist. More than half these tribes are in the Brazilian Amazon basin, 15 in Peru and one in Bolivia.

The Independent

The Valley of the Moon in the Atacama Desert

From the dense and very wet landscape of the Amazon basin, the Earthducation team will travel to Chile, visiting both the driest spot on Earth, the Atacama Desert, and the very remote and sparsely populated Patagonia region. They will first journey to San Pedro de Atacama, where they’ll learn about challenges faced by communities living within this desert land, regions of which have not seen rainfall within over 400 years. While in the Atacama, the team will visit a school, overnight with a local family, and explore some of the environmental wonders that are found within this otherworldly landscape.

Parts of Chile’s Atacama Desert haven’t seen a drop of rain since recordkeeping began. Somehow, more than a million people squeeze life from this parched land.

National Geographic

Torres del Paines National Park, Chile

The team’s visit to Patagonia will take them into a vastly different environment from the Atacama, a remote wilderness made up of sweeping grasslands and towering mountains. While in Patagonia, the team will capture the magnificent beauty of Torres del Paines National Park, as they speak with locals about educational and environmental issues that face the isolated communities in this region. They’ll also talk with the gauchos who herd sheep and cattle in the plains that border the parkland.

Home to some of the world’s largest fresh water reserves and one of the planet’s few remaining truly unspoiled wilderness areas, Chile’s Patagonia is now facing a potentially rapid industrialization with plans for a massive scale hydroelectric project that would see both the Pascua and Baker rivers with a total of five dams. Transmission lines will be clearcut through over 2,300 km of wilderness paralleled by a new highway. Together these would pass through 14 legally protected natural areas spanning half the length of the country.

GlobalResearch

The Earthducation team will be learning and sharing information from these diverse regions across Peru and Chile as they meet with schools and teachers, indigenous communities and leaders, environmental organizations, and a diverse array of individuals from many walks of life. We hope you’ll join us live between October 20 and November 6 as the team shares their experiences here online.