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Day 6 of the 2015 Advice Project Summit (Planting Trees, Exploring Gender, Art, & Yoga)

Today was another exciting, jam-packed day! We starting off with yoga, art, a volunteer project to help reforest the area, and a workshop about gender and empathy, and finished the day with an evening hike through the forest and a boat ride to see a variety of wild animals and insects. Learn a little more about these activities, below…


Saskia Layden, founder of the Human Plant Project, is leading our group in daily yoga and meditation rituals. Many people in our group had never practiced yoga, and experiencing it for the first time in the rainforest – with the sounds of noisy parrots and insects – is a wonderful way to start the morning and focus on the day before us. Saskia has us thinking in new, mindful ways, and she works hard to direct our attention towards being filled with gratitude for the amazing opportunities we’ll have over the next two weeks together in the rainforest.


Today we started our big volunteer project – planting 200 chihuahuaco seeds! During the rubber boom, and well into the present, this large hardwood species of tree has been cut down by loggers. When mature, these towering trees harbor numerous species of animals and other plants, and they contribute to the overall health of the forest.

Today we broke up into two groups – the first group gathered many large bags of mud from the river banks and carried it to tree nurseries built by Inotawa Expeditions, while the second group filled small planting bags. In the next many days, we’ll hike through the forest to gather chihuahuaco seeds, and then will plant them back at the nursery. After we leave the rainforest, Inotawa will watch over the seeds until the new plantlings are ready to plant in the forest.

Over the next 150 years, the chihuahuaco trees will plant will mature. Long after we’re gone, they will remain – living symbols of our wish to conserve the rainforest for future generations. Planting trees that will provide the breath of our planet, promote biodiversity, and increase the chances that planet Earth will survive, is an important job. We are thankful for this opportunity to help in such a big way while also having the chance to learn more about the beautiful rainforest.


Artist and Spanish teacher, Linda Sutherland, started working with us today on a week-long art project. We were each given a set of Matroyshka dolls (Russian nesting dolls), and told to imagine that each one represents either a part of ourselves, a member of our families, or the important women in our personal histories. We then were at liberty to draw or paint these representations directly onto the blank, wooden dolls. At the end of our time together, we can then bring our dolls home as reminders of some of the ideas we thought about during our summit, and hopefully, we’ll have a deeper understanding of how we’re connected to our histories (and herstories!).


Our young leader, Hannah Miller, bridges the gap between our adult leaders and our youth fellows, and today, she led us in a henna project. A paste that is bought in a cone-shaped tube, henna was first applied as a Hindu Vedic ritual that focused on the idea of “awakening the inner light.” While in ancient times it was used by both men and women, today it is used traditionally by women during festive occasions such as weddings and ceremonies. Hannah showed us how to use the henna to draw designs, and we eagerly got to work decorating each other’s arms, legs, necks, and feet.


In today’s workshop, Advice Project founder, Melissa Banigan, started a discussion about biology, gender expression, gender identity, and empathy. She said that some of the material might make people uncomfortable because of what we’ve been taught in our cultures, churches, schools, families, or communities, and that some ideas up for discussion might even be “taboo.” Melissa went on by saying that despite any discomfort, it’s important for us to have a big conversation about the complexities of gender, because in our world, people who are not white-cis-males have a tremendous amount of privilege, and to fight against the status quo, we must have an understanding of what we’re up against, and also of the terms and issues traditionally discussed.

Yesterday, Melissa had each member of the group take ownership of her own story by writing a byline. Today, she took it one step further by having each of us write about a stereotype that bothers and affects us – she had us think about the person or group of people who propagate these stereotypes, and to try to consider how culture and society supports their views.

Melissa told us that in the days to come, we’ll take charge of our narratives and tackle stereotypes, but that we’ll do it responsibly, namely by looking at all sides of an argument or problem, and then trying to come up with solutions that are – even at their most revolutionary – measured and just. She suggested that writers who understand all sides of a story not only makes them better writers, but better humans. Why? Because by better understanding what we’re up against, we can more clearly state our own argument so that all sides are inclined to listen. A big mistake many writers so, she said, is to “preach to the choir” rather than start positive dialogues.


Winter in Peru falls during June, July, and August, which means the sun goes down before dinner. This evening we took a hike through the forest, listening to the awakening tree frogs and insects, spied on a number of nocturnal creatures that were sleepily emerging, and then boarded a boat to see what wildlife we might encounter on the river. We saw a number of white caimans, and then turned off the boat’s motor for awhile. In silence – with only the sounds of bubbling water beneath our small craft – we floated lazily down the river and turned our heads towards the sky. There, we saw a river of stars – the Milky Way – and constellations seen only in the Southern Hemisphere such as the Southern Cross. It was a beautiful, awe-inspiring way to end another remarkable day in the jungle.

#yoga #reforestation #volunteering #jungle

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