In 2000, photographer Nancy McGirr launched the nonprofit Guaruma, opening a small office in the coastal city of La Ceiba. Her goal was to bring environmental education to youngsters deep in the rural watershed of the wild Rio Cangrejal. Two years later she was joined by Honduran Jose Herrero and they set out to replace sling shots with cameras.
Two tiny communities nestled in the watershed between two national parks share a school. Guaruma offers free after-school classes open to all students from elementary to high school. Before the non-profit came, only 10 % of the children graduated from elementary school. Eleven years since the inception of the afterschool program over 95% of the students continue on to attend middle school and high school.
Batten pointed out that this is the first literate generation of the area. Most adults work for large landowners in seasonal farming or construction. Wages range from $2.50 to $5 per day. Otherwise the people eke a living from the land, cutting into the jungle to grow avocados and mangos among other crops.
At Guaruma students are introduced to photography and encouraged to key in on the beauty that surrounds them. They hike into the jungle on picture safaris, snapping shots of insects, birds, and scenery. Through picture making, the students learn to pay attention to light and how it changes things. Many doors open as a result of this work. Back in the classroom, students play with their images on computers. Their own pictures become a gateway to learning the possibilities of technology.
Students are encouraged to put in three years of afterschool classes where they build skills in computers, photography, English and environmental sciences. The seeds Guaruma is planting have sprouted into small scale ecotourism. This became possible when the students took their budding environmental awareness home to their families. Some older students maintain scenic trails and lead ecotours, others give talks promoting the Guaruma program, greater sustainability and an appreciation for the jungle. A student-run graphic design program services small businesses in the community. A gifted few former students land jobs teaching at the school.
Guaruma introduces new crops that provide commercial products. Local farmers inspect experimental plots of earth where alternatives to slash and burn agriculture are explored. The non-profit also supports university level biological research programs to promote conservation efforts in the Pico Bonito National Park. Consider the terrific boost to this area, all started with an idea to teach children to see their world through the lens of a camera. Read more about the programs at Guaruma.