The rainforest makes its entrance on the Zugerberg!

An indigenous leader in a classroom is not something that happens every day or any day.

23 November 2023

We believe that in education, there is a need for a complementary balance between embracing new technologies and maintaining a connection to our roots and Mother Nature. Both require careful consideration and responsibility.

We believe that learning is powerful when it grows out of experience. Books and research papers, presenting knowledge through the written word or charts and spreadsheets are important – they build essential analytical and critical thinking skills. But to learn about and appreciate the full impact of an event, a phenomenon, an issue – it makes a difference when you experience it.

The visit of Manari Ushigua to talk to the students at our Summer Sessions had this learning impact. Manari is the political and spiritual leader of the Sápara Nation in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The Sápara Nation is recognized by UNESCO as “an intangible cultural heritage of humanity”.  Manari is also a key figure in the indigenous movement of Ecuador, playing a crucial role in conserving over 276,000 hectares of primary forest threatened by extractive industries. Today, only 600 of his people remain.  

The Amazon is under threat. We know, it has been demonstrated undeniably, that the rest of the planet depends on the health of the rainforest to keep the planet’s climate more stable, and to preserve its essential ecological balance. But the Amazon feels like a long way away to many of us, including our children. The destruction continues and the lungs of the earth are at stake. 

So, Manari came to us. Through a powerful day of insightful sessions and special beautiful traditional ceremonies, he encouraged the audience – the students and the Summer Sessions staff – to truly grasp the enormity of the crisis on board. He demonstrated the deep compassion the Amazonian peoples express through their striving to save the forest. It is not simply for them; it is for the rest of humanity. Then, he used the power of experiential learning to make the message clear. He made everyone walk into the forest and learn to focus on the place – listen and understand the sounds of the birds, the scent of the air, the living trees. He shared with the students all his wisdom about the material world and mother nature, but also about the spiritual world and dreams.

There is something visceral here - you preserve something you feel connected to. This sort of learning gets to the heart.

During the day, the students also had the opportunity to learn about real life and the challenges of living in the Amazon. They worked on developing real strategies to find enough resources for everyone trying to preserve the rain forest by playing “Planet C-Play Again” a workshop developed by the ETH spin-off  “LEAF Inspiring Change”.

At the end of the day, Manari asked everyone to gather in a circle, eyes closed, and arms hooked to their friends. The tune of his ceremonial flute made of reed created that connection with each other, with the forest, with the earth, with the wild places, that is essential if we are to play a part in preserving them. 

This learning experience was one that is still being talked about. That is a mark of its impact. It is to be hoped that it remains with our students, and they go on to seek ways to make a difference.

Learning is a beautiful thing. It is even more beautiful when the accumulation of knowledge, the skills of clear thinking and the development of a strong value system, go hand in hand. All these elements are essential when the next generation is learning how to deal with the vast problems, they are facing in the world today.

For many students learning happens best away from the pressures of studying for exams. The pull of intrinsic motivation can be far stronger than the push of extrinsic factors like grade points. At our Institut Montana, this sort of learning is encouraged.

Our students spend a lot of time outdoors. The campus on the Zugerberg, the little mountain just outside Zug, is a world of alpine meadows and forests, abundant with wildlife and home to traditional, small-scale farming. Instinctively, we know that getting outdoors is good for our physical health. Now, science is finding evidence it is essential for the health of our brains too. 

If we think about it, we have known for a long time that the wild places are in danger and that doing anything about it requires important changes to our economies and our lifestyles. But that threat seems distant even though we know that it is imminent and accelerating. Air is jeopardized, water is disappearing, and the land burns. 

This is the world our students inherit, yet they have no real voice to talk about it.

Through this pioneering, educational project, we aimed to empower our students, providing them with a platform to speak out on important issues. They not only had the opportunity to meet a world leader but also interviewed him on our radio station. The students even had a chance to speak their minds on Swiss national TV. 

It is incredible to see the impact that can be achieved through education. The outcome of this project was truly amazing. It also reinforces our dedication to fostering a lifelong love of learning.  

Once again, thank you to all the passionate visionaries who made this project possible. In particular to the Bullens Heimann & Friends Foundation, and its co-founder Mrs. Nicole Heimann, a book author, Leadership Advisor, and Executive Coach for CEOs. Many thanks also to Mrs. Velia Tricoli, initiator of the Summer Sessions and Head of External Relations at Institut Montana.

(Photo: Lloyd Weber) 

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