The one room school at Fazenda Jofre Velho, a large ranch on the edge of the remote Cuiabá River outpost of Porto Jofre, is the only school for nearly 100 miles, and caters to the children of local fishermen, guides, and ranch hands. This past summer, though, a change in management of the Ranch lead to a three month shortage in funding for the end of the school term, and left the future of the school uncertain. Juara stepped in to fund essentials during the gap, volunteered time teaching, and worked with ranch management to assure the value in keeping the school open. Through the many specialties of our board and volunteers, Juara can offer expertise in language, health, and school psychology that would be otherwise out of reach for a single teacher at a rural school.
In particular, University of Michigan education student Eli Leiva designed curriculum and taught beginning English lessons to both young students and adults at the Jofre Velho school and ranch. Juara board members are continuing instruction after Eli's departure. In August, the students were already putting their English skills to good use when National Geographic photographer Steve Winter stayed at the ranch. Winter, whose photos help promote big cat conservation, was guided and facilitated by several of our adult English students.
One of the most important aspects of conservation in the Pantanal is ensuring a robust system of local ownership and involvement in the tourism industry. Tourism is better for tourists and better for long term protection of the region when presented by people with a deep personal connection to and knowledge of the land. When more and more tourists come from abroad, though, this is only possible when locals have the required language skills.
Summer 2014 brought 15 University of Michigan students to Poconé under the direction of Lecturer Melinda Matice for one month to teach English at Nazaré, at schools in Pocon@eacute and Cangas (a small nearby town) , as well as in town for adults. Knowledge of English is very valuable and can significantly increase one's job prospects, but there are very few well qualified local teachers. The program creates an immersive language exchange for both the Brazilian and American students.