Visiting Suriname's Most Remote Village

Author: 
Steven Leeflang
Date: 
Saturday, May 16, 2015

Field work in Suriname comes at a hefty price—more than 60 percent of ACT-Suriname’s budget goes toward chartered flights to the country’s interior.

For this reason, our field staff make the most of their time during each community visit. On a recent four-day trip to the village of Sipaliwini—affectionately called Sipa—our team worked long hours with ACT’s Indigenous Park Guards (IPGs), documenting the local environment and culture and working with children at the local school.

Steven Leeflang, Communications Officer of ACT-Suriname. Click to enlarge

Sipa is a two-hour flight from Suriname’s capital Paramaribo and sits just 30 kilometers from the border of Brazil. Residents of Sipaliwini speak Trio and Portuguese, thanks to close contact with villages on the other side of the border.  Many of them also speak Sranan Tongo, the lingua franca of Suriname. Many Trio have family in both Suriname and Brazil, and they stay in contact via periodic visits made by foot or canoe, as well as occasional calls from three UHF radios.

On a visit in May 2015, ACT Suriname representatives included Johan Hardjopawiro, Katia Delvoye and Steven Leeflang. Johan worked with the IPGs; Katia focused on educational initiatives; and Steven documented the trip, the cultural landscape, and local species for ACT’s biodiversity database with photographs and video.

Work with the Indigenous Park Guards

Johan, ACT Suriname’s field operation supporting officer, had two primary objectives on the trip: to hire new IPGs, and to check in on the IPGs’ camera trap program.

Johan Hardjopawiro, ACT's field operation supporting officer, demonstrates the use of camera traps to Sipaliwini Indigenous Park Guard Koeki Upirasi. Click to enlarge

Interviewing candidates was not easy. Some did not speak Sranan Tongo, hence Johan had to enlist the help of a local woman named Steffie who speaks Dutch, Sranan Tongo and Trio.

After this work was done, Johan travelled into the forest accompanied by IPGs Koeki Upirasi and Arie Panare to provide additional training for the camera trap program. After a two hour hike, Koeki and Arie enthusiastically tried their new skills, including recording new data. The IPGs typically take their notes in Trio, because it is the most common language in Sipa.

Camera trapping is part of ACT Suriname’s biodiversity program and allows IPGs to record long-term structural data that can be used to identify trends and make decisions about local management programs. The data also gives local communities insight into the types and population sizes of animal species in the area—important information for food security.

School children of the Berrie Wijten school in Sipaliwini examine the new Junior Park Ranger Series booklet on local plants. Click to enlarge

Work With Local Schools

The Berrie Wijten School is a single building with four classrooms. Established and supported by local foundations, the school employs two teachers, Susan Ipiaachpe and Ricki Merekeru, and has no contact with the Ministry of Education in Suriname. Susan and Ricki, both indigenous, teach students second- and third-grade curriculum daily from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

On her visit, Education and Outreach Coordinator Katia Delvoye met with students and conducted lessons with the plant and animal books in ACT’s Junior Park Ranger Series—educational resources designed through a collaboration with local communities.

Katia Delvoye, ACT-Suriname Education and Outreach Coordinator demonstrates the new Junior Park Ranger Series materials together with Sipaliwini school teacher Susan Ipiaachpe. Click to enlarge

Students became more and more excited as they looked through the books and recognized familiar animals, plants, and people. One child even recognized a drawing of his grandfather—a respected shaman in the village of Kwamalasamutu.

After finishing her presentation in both classes, Katia hung a poster—one of the accompanying educational materials from the plant book—on the classroom wall. These posters can be used in combination with the book during lessons.

Finally, the children made paper snakes and drew pictures of local species—activities described in ACT’s animal book.  Some of their drawings may be used in “My Environment”, the final installment in the Junior Park Ranger Series.

Dutch version can be read on the ACT-Suriname website.