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WMA students trek to Amazon to study indigenous culture

Date: 7/9/2012

July 9, 2012

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — Eight Wilbraham & Monson Academy (WMA) students will be embarking on a journey that Meghan Rothschild, director of marketing, promised would be a life-changing experience for them.

The group of travelers will be heading to the Amazon from July 19 to Aug. 6 to learn about an area where the struggle between conservation and modernization is at its highest. Students will be visiting the Kamayura tribe, a small indigenous culture that faces deforestation, climate change, and lack of adequate food.

"I'm constantly telling people this isn't 19 days of vacation; it's 19 days of exploration. It's going to be pretty intense," Rothschild, who will be joining the students as one of four adult chaperones, said.

This year marks the fourth trip students have taken to the Amazon, where through a connection with Associate Head of School and Dean of Students Brian Easler, they will work with John Carter, founder and executive director of Aliança da Terra, a Brazilian conservation organization that aims to preserve some of the uniqueness of the area while still incorporating pieces of modern progress and culture.

"It's really about seeing the conflict between the two and seeing a culture that realistically won't exist in the near future," Rothschild said.

In the past, one of the pieces of modern society Carter and the students brought to the area and the aboriginal tribes that live in the region is better healthcare and they have been working to establish a medical center in the area. Currently, anyone in need of sophisticated medical technology must travel hundreds of miles to seek care.

WMA students Teresa Kennedy and Austin Little, both members of the class of 2012 who visited the Amazon last year, hosted a fund-raiser in January at the Village Store to support establishment of a health clinic for members of the Xavante tribe.

Rothschild said that the natives to the area have already begun to adapt to modern culture in some ways.

"These people have started wearing clothes when we're around after being naked essentially for thousands of years," she said. "They also provide us with a generator in the area we stay and have bathrooms, so we are starting to see more progressive, Westernized things."

Students and adults both have been vigorously preparing for the trip both physically and mentally.

"[The students] actually took a six-week course, which took place once a week for two- to two-and-a-half hours where they learned about everything from the carbon cycle to wildlife to entrepreneurship and became well educated on the supplies they would need," she said.

The group has also had to subject itself to a series of shots to prevent things that in America they most likely would never be exposed to.

"The latest and greatest adventure has been the shots," Rothschild said. "We've had shots for typhoid, yellow fever, rabies because of a recent outbreak there, and with the consent of parents and students, malaria."

Those stateside interested in the group's progress may follow along through the "Amazon Travel Blog 2012" on the WMA website,

"We have high-end satellite equipment and will be able to upload footage and pictures," Rothschild said. "We're hoping to upload two videos and photos a day and will also be available to do Skype interviews as well. It's going to be a lot like National Geographic because we'll be able to completely document and share our experiences."

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