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Gorongosa NP, Mozambique
Ann Brokaw's Blog Page
This link will be used to document our adventure to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique (Africa) with journal entries and a few photos. Our trip begins July 5, 2016 and ends on July 18, 2016. A second link (to your left) entitled "More Gorongosa Photos" will include many more pictures from the trip. (If viewing on a phone, this link is under the "View Submenu" link.) Enjoy the journey with us!
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Returning home
Posted 7/18/2016 at 10:47:21 AM by Ann Brokaw [staff member]
Returning home
Thoughts from Valerie...

As I sit in the lounge waiting for my final flight home, it is hard to wrap my head around the events of the past 12 days. The sights and sounds are quickly becoming less vivid but the feelings still remain. We (the team) experienced events that will connect us for years to come. Gorongosa National Park and the communities that surround it is a special place were science, conservation, education, and community assistance are coming together to save a natural wonder and provide a hand up to a resilient community of people. Check out http://www.gorongosa.org/our-story to learn more about what is happening in the buffer zone around the park. Wild places are precious global resources which we need to protect while at the same time improving the lives that are most affected by those areas. Poaching, clear cutting, and exploitation of natural resources are a very real threats but empathy is needed when designing plans to prevent them. The intent behind these practices is not always malicious - they are often an attempt to earn a meager income and feed one's family. It is easy to pass judgment when one has not walked in another's foot steps.

Over the next several weeks I will process how my experiences will influence my future actions but I hope that at the very least they will help me to remember to appreciate the opportunities I have been given and to be more present in the moment. Thank you to HHMI BioInteractive for making this opportunity a reality.
An Extraordinary Adventure!
Posted 7/16/2016 at 11:20:36 AM by Ann Brokaw [staff member]
An Extraordinary Adventure!

From Ann's heart to yours...

I said to Dennis Liu (senior manager at HHMI for educational resources and film) tonight as I hugged him, “Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this life-altering trip.”

“Life altering!” Really?

Yes, indeed, an extraordinary life changing adventure! Several months ago when I was invited to participate, I never dreamed that my heart and soul would be touched as deeply as they have been on this trip to Mozambique and Gorongosa National Park.

Exploring Gorongosa National Park (GNP), there were times that tears came to my eyes and a big lump formed in my throat as I witnessed animals in their natural environment, incredible sunsets over the African Rift Valley, and amazing lanscapes. The diversity of animal life was breath-taking! Warthogs who were like little soldiers as they scampered around the landscape with their tail-flags held high as we approached to signal to others, “follow me guys”! Baboon groups who watched us ever so curiously! Walking through fever tree forests which glistened in the sunshine and were magical mystical landscapes. Experiencing a small lion pride (2 males and 3 females) as they satisfied their hunger with a fresh kill and then grew sleepier and sleepier with full stomachs! Seeing a large breeding group of elephants with many young, several mothers, and of course the matriarch – this was an unbelievable moment!

…Tears are beginning to well in my eyes as I write this…

Then there were the village and school visits as well as our visit to the Community Education Center within GNP. “Life changing” does not begin to express the depth of emotion I felt. We only travelled on one paved road to visit Villa Gorongosa and the secondary school. And we traveled by foot to visit the village of Vinho. The faces of the people! Oh my goodness! The confident eye contact, the smiles, the respect afforded each other, the commitment to family and to helping one another. The joy in so many eyes as well as the depth of struggle as the people live day by day… now a big lump is in my throat… the secondary school with upwards of 70 students/class, some sitting three to a seat built for two. The young teenage boys with shirts and ties sitting in the “library” hand copying workbook questions and practice exercises into their own notebooks because there are not enough resources to purchase workbooks. But even with huge classes, incredibly limited resources, the students focused intensely on their education and were incredibly joyful and grateful to attend school.

And then there was the visit to the Community Education Center (CEC)…tears are now streaming down my face… the intent of our visit was to tour the center and learn about all the programming they do (including public health, education, conservation, agriculture, etc…). But, as we walked up to the “classroom” building, there was a group of about 30 students and the two teachers who accompanied them, who had just arrived to the CEC for an educational overnight program in GNP. They were singing and dancing as we approached. (The age of the kids ranged from 8-19 years old.) Their teachers had attended a workshop earlier to learn about the park, conservation biology, and the GNP restoration project. As a result of the workshop, the teachers then incorporated conservation and restoration into the curriculum with the knowledge that the students would have the opportunity to visit the park and learn more. As we entered the classroom, we were invited to sit down to witness a play the students had written that illustrated an anti-poaching message. As we sat there, no one in our group could understand a single word in the play (presented in Portuguese) but the students captured our hearts and we understood EVERY word. Following the performance, the teachers asked the kids if they wanted to sing and dance one more time…and they did. AND they sang in English! As the students and teachers danced and sang, the words washed over us, “We are happy to be together! We are happy, we are happy, we are happy to be together.” As tears rolled down my face, the joy, the message, the sparkle in so many eyes took my breath away. These kids who carry water every day, work in the fields, haul large packs of charcoal to light fires over which meals are cooked, and live in mud and thatched huts were “happy to be together.” What an astonishing message! And what an extraordinary lesson on “keeping life in perspective” for each of us as we sat there and soaked up every note, every word, and every dance step! I so wish everyone could experience the joy in their eyes as they sang and danced.

…My heart is overflowing now as I bring this entry to a close…

My life is forever changed as a result of this extraordinary opportunity! No words can possibly be adequate to express the depth at which I have been touched. Hopefully, I am able to carry out the lessons learned as I journey through this time called life.

An Incomplete Education
Posted 7/14/2016 at 10:00:08 AM by Ann Brokaw [staff member]
An Incomplete Education
 Thoughts from Cindy...


13.07.16

 

An Incomplete Education

 

We are all shackled by an incomplete education. Yesterday concluded a two-day faculty seminar on teaching for understanding. Our participants included faculty professors, museum curators, program Directors and a high school teacher, Alfredo, from neighboring Villa Gorongosa. The workshop was well received and the evaluations positive. The first day’s reflections included a comment that gave me pause by raising a question about the connection of our work to Mozambican classrooms. We’d been told that schools in Mozambique have many students and few resources. One participant described students constructing skeletons from scavenged cardboard boxes to study human anatomy.

 

Today we were privileged to visit Alfredo’s school. To get to Villa Gorongosa, we left the park along a narrow, bumpy dirt road to reach Highway 1 which stretches across the African continent from Cape Town to Cairo. Highway 1 is, for the most part, a 2-lane paved road until one reaches a pot hole nearly a meter deep and several meters wide, reducing the highway to a single lane. All along the highway, people were walking, riding bicycles and motorcycles, carrying goods to and from the Villa. One man, carrying three large loads of charcoal, was laboriously pushing his bicycle up the hill. Even though we were fifteen minutes by car from the Villa, countless women walked along the edge of the road, carrying infants on their back and five-gallon containers of water on their heads. It would be difficult to do much else in the course of a day beyond walking to the Villa and back with enough water to last until the next trip for water the next day.

 

When we arrived at the Alfredo’s secondary school, Escola Secundária Eduardo Mondlane Gorongosa, named after the first president to rule after the revolution (the equivalent of our George Washington), we were greeted by the Director of the school. Alfredo pointed him out as we got out of the trucks, smiling as he noted that Directors were always rotund. The Director greeted us warmly, showing us the main office and faculty room, both of which filled a space no larger than 10 x 20 feet. On the back wall hug a hang written poster of the periodic table. In the Director’s small office, he proudly displayed several plastic trophies of football (soccer) and academic accomplishments. His pride in his school and passion for his students was evident in each description.

 

On our way to the first classroom, we met several teachers. In Mozambique, teacher all wear white lab coats and as referred to as professors. They are treated with great respect by students and community. They led us to the first classroom. The walls were bare except for a green chalkboard mounted in the front of the room. The only furnishings were wooden desks comprised of a bench and narrow writing surface, each of which accommodated two students. There was no space for anything else. The classroom was full of at least 70 students in uniform. Each one was fully engaged in a lesson on geometry, all eyes focused on the single student drawing with a ruler and chalk on the board under the watchful eye of his professor. The Director introduced us as teachers form the United States coming to learn about their school. As we introduced ourselves, in unison every student repeated our names, laughing as they tried to pronounce the foreign sounds. I was struck by the singular focus of their attention. There was not a single student who was not giving us their full attention.

 

With great pride the Director then showed us the computer lab. Twenty-two computers obtained through a grant were arranged on each side of the narrow room. He explained how fortunate they were to have this many computers in the school. Each machine had several USB ports, but no DVD drive. Twenty-two computers for the 2,282 students. There was no internet access however. Alfredo explained that while internet was inexpensive, the school didn’t have enough money to pay for it. The computers were used to teach students how to use the computer as many had never seen a computer before.

 

Our next stop was the library. A room smaller than most faculty offices in the US, the back of the room housed the school’s collection of books on two small bookshelves. Five students filled every available desk in the library, carefully copying questions and writing answers from a workbook. Everything must be copied by hand as the few books available are used by all students.

 

In the courtyard, two students were engaged in a science experiment. Cut plastic pop bottles with a water plant in fresh water and mineral water, capped with a small drinking glass. They were trying to determine which type of water produced the greatest amount of oxygen. With their limited equipment, they had designed a good investigation.

 

As we left the school I was overwhelmed by the dedication of the teachers who provide education to so many with so little, the dedication of students who walk great distances to gain an education that will help lift them from poverty and subsistence living. Both teachers and students consider education a precious gift. There was absolutely no squandering of time or resources. There wasn’t a single student who was not fully attentive and engaged in their learning. It was, at times a stark contrast between Escola Eduardo Mondlane and our school in the US and was viscerally painful. If only my students could see what education looks like here!

 

In the classrooms, we were offered a chance to ask the students questions. When they were asked how many wanted to attend university after finishing high school, nearly all 70 hands were raised. The reality, though is that few will actually be able to attend university. Many will not pass the entrance exam. Those that do will likely be unable to afford the $2500/year tuition. Of the few that do. Most will be male.

 

Of the 2282 students in Escola Eduardo Mondlane, only 800 were female. Many will not finish because they are needed at home or will become mothers far too young. Educating girls in Mozambique is critical to solving the problems that communities face, including child and maternal health, early pregnancy and marriages, neonatal deaths and nutrition.

 

Yet, despite these realities and hardships, every student, every adult we met was filled with joy and vivacious life. The happiness of these generous and beautiful Mozambicans who do so much with so little have filled my heart and soul with more than words can describe.

Teaching Seminar in Gorongosa National Park
Posted 7/12/2016 at 9:50:17 AM by Ann Brokaw [staff member]
Teaching Seminar in Gorongosa National Park

Thoughts from Jennifer...

It is finally here! We are finally here. After months of planning, the reason we made this long voyage to Gorongosa--the HHMI BioInteractive Teaching for Understanding seminar--is underway. Participants include park staff from the Community Education Center and from Chitengo (where we are staying and the science program is based) who offer conservation programs to Mozambican youth, park and visiting scientists who teach courses focused on conservation biology and biodiversity to Mozambican college students (like the one we tagged along with to collect invertebrates and to see the zebras), and an impressive teacher from Villa Gorongosa whose school we will visit tomorrow. The teacher's name is Alfredo Jochoma and he is already cooking up a plan to share what he's learning about purposeful instructional design and strategies for formative assessment with his colleagues and school administration.

As I sit here in our seminar room, with its thatched roof and resident gecko making an occasional appearance from its home inside the wall-mounted fan/AC unit, I see warthogs, baboons, and vervet monkeys patrolling camp outside a set of glass doors on my left and waterbuck and impala crowding the grassy airstrip where our small plane landed five days ago out the doors on my right. The only thing keeping me from being distracted by all of this cool animal action is the commitment of the participants to get the most out of this experience--the first of its kind in the park. Their dedication to the mission of improving their teaching practice is admirable and yesterday they worked late into the evening until last beautiful Mozambican light.

The participants are not the only people in the room focusing their energies on improving science education. The facilitators, Ann, Cindy, and Valerie, have spent their entire careers tirelessly seeking out and taking advantage of opportunities to perfect their craft, a never ending quest because there will always be more to learn. And they know this, but they push on anyway because this is who they are. They are, all three, masterful educators, both of students and of other teachers. Their combined impact on the science education landscape in the US and now in Africa(!) is an accomplishment of which they should be extremely proud. Their generosity is inspirational and I do not take for granted that each has chosen to include me in her circle of friends. I am immeasurably lucky to be on this transformative journey with them "juntos" (together).


 

Update from the park
Posted 7/10/2016 at 9:56:52 AM by Ann Brokaw [staff member]
Update from the park
Greetings from Gorongosa - Val here! It's hard to believe that today was only our second full day here. We have been welcomed into the Conservation Biology workshop's field trips so we can observe in preparation of our seminar. It has been a great opportunity to get to know the Mozambican participants and share some awesome experiences with them. Yesterday we went insect collecting and today was a trip into the sanctuary in an attempt to see some of the Crawshay's Zebra that are slowly being reintroduced into the park. So, after a few hours of seminar planning in the morning, we tagged along on an amazing drive through the park seeing Impala leaping across the Savannah, Wildebeest nestled in a clump of trees, and a warthog or baboon here and there. The highlight of the afternoon was an intimate encounter with the magnificent zebra - they were a beautiful thing to see.

The finale of the day was a night drive into the park for a "Bush Dinner" with incredible food and great company lit by camp fire, oil lamps, and the brightest view of the Milky Way I have ever seen.

The next three days include final seminar planning and the two day teaching for understanding seminar. I'm excite to be able to contribute to the future success of the truly worthwhile work that is happening here in Gorongosa.
The Journey Begins
Posted 7/7/2016 at 11:09:58 AM by Ann Brokaw [staff member]
The Journey Begins
Words from Cindy, from Colorado...

It’s -39oC outside at 32994 ft, and I’m moving nearly 600 mi/hr. I’m a mere 6694 miles from completing the first of three legs of this journey, having already traveled 1298 miles.

I am going to Africa with three of my dearest friends and colleagues!!! Our journey will take us to Chitengo Camp in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. There we will facilitate a faculty seminar for university professors and local high school educators. For a glimpse into the seminar, I’ll share an email excerpt from the Biodiversity Science Education Program (BSEP) Director to the participants: The two-day faculty development workshop will focus on designing effective science education courses and implementing evidence-based teaching practices. The workshop will emphasize student learning experiences that: 1) model the practices of science, 2) offer students authentic opportunities to practice science, and 3) aim to produce scientific thinkers. The workshop will also cover meaningful assessment and evaluation, both in terms of learning outcomes as well as skills and attitudes important for emerging scientists. The results of this workshop will have a lasting impact on the various educational programs happening at the Park and the Mozambicans we reach out to.

A lasting impact. On the Gorongosa educational programs and the Mozambicans we serve.

We’ve spent countless hours preparing this seminar and I’m confident in our content and process. Yet sitting here in a plane somewhere over the Atlantic, I’m struck full force with the weight of both the potential and responsibility of this opportunity. I’m deeply humbled and moved by the opportunity to influence education at this scale.

A lasting impact. On me.

In the fall of 2011, I applied to travel to Africa with 14 other teachers. While that journey ended as a disappointed finalist for the fellowship, my application essay is as true today as it was nearly 5 years ago: I want to reinvigorate my teaching and learning with personal stories from the vanishing wild places on Earth. I’ve dreamed of experiencing Africa firsthand since elementary school when I followed the near disastrous sea voyage of five giraffes in route to the Denver Zoo. I am drawn to the diversity and complexity of Africa, both biologically and culturally. Its plants and animals represent the quintessential examples of ecological interactions.

I am going to Africa!!! This journey began late January with a day-long meeting with BSEP staff, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) staff and several educators to explore possibilities of collaboration. In the ensuing months, political and logistical uncertainties in Mozambique created some doubt that the seminar would occur. Since the final decision to proceed in the beginning of May, this moment has been ever-present in my thoughts. I’ve packed, unpacked and repacked my duffle at least a dozen times. While Duolingo says I’m 13% fluent in Portuguese, I doubt my ability to communicate with any degree of fluency. And now I’m writing on a plane bound for Johannesburg. It all feels a little surreal.

I’m excited to travel across the equator to the southern hemisphere for the first time. To see the termite mounds that pattern the landscape and prevent the savannah from transforming to desert. To see the diversity of plants and animals. To witness firsthand the restoration of Gorongosa National Park. To see large mammals – elephants, lions, hippos, waterbuck and baboons in their natural habitats. While we’ll be unable to travel to Mount Gorongosa as it’s presently a Renamo stronghold, I’ll live in its shadow, drinking the water released by its rainforests in aquifers stretching towards the Indian Ocean.

I know that I’ll not come home the same person who left, eager to impact education in Gorongosa. I’m certain Gorongosa will have a far greater impact on me than I could possibly ever hope to have on her. For now my goal is to try to quell my excitement enough to sleep so I can be fully present for every moment of this incredible journey.

First leg of the trip complete!
Posted 7/5/2016 at 11:11:07 AM by Ann Brokaw [staff member]
First leg of the trip complete!
We made it to JFK airport in NY today (7/5/16). We are putting finishing touches on the Seminar we are teaching while in Gorongosa National Park tonight, and head back to the airport tomorrow morning (7/6/16). First leg tomorrow is our 15 hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. Then to Beira, Mozambique. Then a flight on what we are guessing is a small aircraft into Gorongosa National Park (GNP).

Who are "we" you ask? The three teachers on the trip are Valerie May from Woodstock Academy in Connecticut (middle), Cindy Gay (left) from Steamboat Spring HS in Colorado, and me (Ann Brokaw, Rocky River High School, Ohio). The fourth member of our team who you will read about in this blog is Jennifer Bricken from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute where she is the Senior Outreach Manager for the BioInteractive Educational Resources Group.

So you will be hearing from all four of us over the next couple weeks! Stay tuned, we'll keep you posted as we make progress.