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How One Teacher is Using Education to Transform a Village in the Amazon

Sharing the world through reading, writing and ecology

anderson headshot

Anderson Huaymacari Pacaya

AGE: 32
HOME: Nueva York, Peru
CAUSE: Teaching conservation to young Amazon villagers

Every Monday, Anderson Huaymacari Pacaya leads his students through the village to pick up trash and stuff it into old rice sacks. He teaches them to use water sparingly. He makes sure they know that by protecting the trees, they are showing respect to wildlife—from the red howler monkeys that leap from branch to branch, to the snakes that sometimes scare the youngest in his school.

Their village, Nueva York—named after the New Yorker who once ran a sugar cane distillery on the land—is tiny. Here, thatched roof, open-air houses sit on either side of a pathway bisecting the village. It takes only four minutes to walk from the single-story concrete school at one end to the village entrance on the banks of the Ucayali River.

That short pathway has great symbolism for Huaymacari. As the sole elementary school teacher in Nueva York, he is dedicated to the message that a good life begins with education, moves through your home village, and can lead you out into the world.

But the importance of education wasn’t always a prevailing sentiment in Nueva York. The quality of local education was poor, likely because the village is so small and so remote. But thanks to Huaymacari, children are now being taught about ecology and the protection of natural resources for the first time.

water color of village

“I saw the necessity in this village, because no one was teaching the children well,” Huaymacari said through an interpreter. So, at age 29, he left behind his work as a farmer and began a government job as a teacher, moving to Nueva York from a larger nearby town.

With a thick, tangled curtain of rain forest as his backdrop, Huaymacari instructs first through seventh grade students in a one-room schoolhouse, where the only adornment on the mint green walls is a fading vine above the chalkboard. It reminds Huaymacari of the importance of incorporating conservation into his lesson plans.

“Not many teachers have focused on conservation, but he does,” the community’s mayor boasted to a group of travelers who stopped by the village to drop off school supplies. “Ecology has become very important here because of him.”

Learn more about the Amazon.

  • teacher

    Anderson Huaymacari teaches students from seven grades in the single-room schoolhouse. Here he’s surrounded by his students and others from the community.

  • Nueva York Sign

    A hand-lettered sign noting the location of Nueva York village in the Amazon sits high on the rugged banks of the Ucayali River.

  • Concrete sidewalks in Pervian villages

    The Peruvian government built concrete sidewalks in some villages, to allow residents to walk at night without the risk of snake bites. In Nueva York, the schoolhouse sits at the end of the walkway.

  • house

    One family’s home also serves as a village’s store, selling a small supply of basic provisions.

  • store

    Homes are made of wood from fallen trees in the surrounding rain forest. One structure houses three or four immediate families from the same extended family.

  • mayor

    Andre (center) is the mayor of Nueva York. He and his wife welcomed a group of travelers from tour company International Expeditions to his home for a discussion about life in the village.

  • lunch

    A typical “brunch” in the village—most people don’t have breakfast, just a late-morning meal—consists of catfish soup and boiled yuca, a starchy root vegetable like a potato.

  • cooking

    Meals are prepared in the house, over an open fire. The smoke helps preserve the thatch roof and rid it of insects.

  • laundry

    Laundry is always hung in the early afternoon, when the sun is the highest and hottest and before typical late-afternoon rains show up.

  • church

    Not far from the school is the church—the only painted structure in the village besides the school.

  • kindergarten

    Aside from Anderson Huaymacari, Nueva York also has a kindergarten teacher. Here she stands with school supplies donated by a group of travelers.

  • boy

    A boy walks along the river bank, where a large barge is transporting materials to Iquitos, the nearest large city in the Amazon. In the background, a farmer is clearing rice fields with fire.

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