HEBRON – An audible groan could be heard throughout Lydia Eusden’s 5th-grade class Friday afternoon when they were told their pen pals in Peru started school at 7 a.m.

“Going to school in the jungle is a privilege,” explained Sara Wright, who was dressed in a Lakota-Sioux dress of tanned deer hide and wore a beaded Morning Star necklace.

Wright, a resident of Bryant Pond who teaches women’s studies and English at the University of Maine and Central Maine Community College, came to the fifth-grade class Friday to show students what life was like for the students of El Chino School in Peru, who have become pen pals of the Hebron Station students.

She described the school as a long, dark building where the children all dressed in immaculate school uniforms of white and navy blue either walked in from the community or paddled by a dug-out canoe in rivers that often have crocodiles in them. There is only one teacher, she said, for the scores of children who work in groups and together quietly throughout the school day.

“Their walls are filled with everything,” she said of the bright colors and pictures and star charts that cover the classroom walls.

Wright’s connection to the jungle began with a grant she received to study medicinal plants.

“I ended up on a reserve at a lodge that is run by an Indian woman who is married to an American biologist,” she explained of the lodge.

The research lodge is about a four-hour boat ride from Iquitos or 95 miles after you go up the mouth of the Amazon as far as you can go, she said.

The Indian woman, whose name is Dolly Beaver, was a jungle girl whose fierce love of her people made her vow to do something to help them, Wright said. She said Dolly wanted to develop what she called a “sustainable micro industry.” So she created Amazon Rainforest baskets and cloth art. Women on the reserve make the baskets and textiles. They are sold in the United States through word of mouth.

As the relationship developed between Wright and Dolly Beaver, a plan was hatched at Eusden’s urging, who saw the art, to start an exchange program between the jungle students and those at Hebron Station School.

“I’ve been selling the art by word of mouth. Lydia met somebody who had bought one. She fell in love with it,” Wright said. The Hebron Elementary School teacher then asked if the reserve women could create a cloth art picture of what school life is like for the children.

“It was Lydia’s idea to set up the exchange,” she said.

For the past two years, the children have been writing letters and Hebron students have sent small toiletries, school supplies and other items to the jungle students at Christmas time.

“Culturally, it seems like a really, really important thing to do,” said Wright, who has some Passamoquoddy Indian blood in her.

Eusden said the project allows her to strengthen curriculum in language arts, non-fiction reading and geography with her students.

Wright went back to the jungle this summer to collect the first of the pen pal letters. “It’s wonderful for both sets of children,” she said. Eusden also asked that a school photograph be taken and that each child write something about themselves. “The children in the jungle were absolutely fascinated by this process,” she said.

The students have received letters from the El Chino School students that have been translated. The beautiful penmanship relays messages that are personal and heartfelt from the students. “I want to wish you good health always,” wrote one girl to a Hebron student “…I, my friend, help my mother in the house. I help her in the kitchen, washing clothes and keep watch on my little sisters … I plant and harvest a small farm…”

In return the Hebron students have written letters to their Peruvian pen pals that will be sent there sometime this winter along with Christmas baskets filled with items such as pencils and small toiletries.

Wright said another teacher is interested in the project. “It’s a grassroots thing. It’s about creating meaning and also creating a growth experience for children who have been culturalized into a culture where toothpaste and pencils are not part of their Christmas. It’s a wonderful way to raise awareness,” she said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.