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Scholar Highlights for Week Ending September 14, 2012

September 17, 2012


  • This Wednesday, we took our first excursion to the forest. Since many of the Amazon Region has been interrupted due to infrastructure by the Brazilian government, much of the forest is separated into fragments. We drove about 3 hours out of the city of Belem, to the Bragavas region and visited the forest fragment named Sao Francisco do Para. While there, we visited primary and secondary forest; completed a mini independent study project and visited a area that is experimenting with a new form of sustainable agriculture.
  • On the first day, Wednesday, we visited a primary and secondary forest of various years. In the primary forest, we learned how scientist measure biodiversity. We also learned about the carbon cycle, nutrient cycle, and energy intake of these terrestrial ecosystems. Often times to measure the frequency of various trees, scientist will mark trees at 10cm DBH; DBH is a measurement used that stands means the tree is at least 10 cm in diameter at breast height. We also discussed the soil; even though the soil of the Amazon is fairly poor nutrient wise, it can replenish  those few nutrients rapidly because of the decomposition rate due to the moisture and heat.
  • Next, we walked farther down to visit Slash and burn plots as well as secondary forest. The slash and burn method is a common and ancient form of agriculture. Farmers will cut all the trees down in a area and burn the remaining shrubbery in order to clear the land. When doing this, not only due they release tons of carbon into the air due to the cutting and the burning, but also slowly destroy soil fertility. When burning the  plot, you lose about 96% of your nutrients from that soil. Often times, farmers will plant the Manioc plant, which is the main cash crop of the Amazon region. The monoculture here even further destroys soil fertility because each plant is competing for and depleting the same resource. These fields are often used for 2-3 growing cycles and then will lay fallow. The fallow period allows shrubbery and trees to regrow. We moved farther down the road to visit plots of land that have been allowed to regrow into secondary forest. Even though the slash and burn process is a very destructive process, forest are very resilient and the majority of the time, can began to regrow.
  • The next day, we headed back into the forest from our ‘hotel’ and conducted a project measuring the effect of natural and man-made gaps(roads) on the vegetation of the forest floor. We measured out six 5×5 meter control plots and  six 5×5 meter gap plots and compared the vegetation in each. Since gaps affect sunlight, we knew that this would have more of an affect on the shrubbery and the smaller plants then larger tress. Our director wanted us to complete this project in a logical manner and using only the resources that were given to us. We decided to count the non-woody vegetation that reached to our hips.  My group will make a formal presentation on Monday to our teachers and program director.
  • On the last day, Friday, we drove about another hour to visit the Tipitamba project in Igarape, Acu. This project partners with the local university to practice more sustainable ways of familial agriculutre. Since northern Brazil is much more rural than southern, farming is still a very common and somewhat profitable way of life for many rural families. For the last 22 years, the university has partnered with about 40 families in 5 different rural regions to experiment and perfect the method of “chop” agriculture. Instead of cutting all the trees and burning the rubbage, the farmers will use a machine that chops all the vegetation in a certain plot. Instead of burning the rubbage, they leave it on the ground in order for it to not only protect the soil but also eventually decompose and replenish nutrients to the soil. In ares where the trees and shrubbery have been chopped, farmers plant manioc, acai, graviola, and maracuja in various plots. This not only helps the plants to have less competition for resources but also extends the life of the soil. Using this practice, farmers are able to plant on the same plot for 10-20 years at least. This practice not only maintains soil fertility and replenishes resources but also reduce the amount of carbon released into the air. During this practice, the soil only loses about 46% of its nutrients, compared to 96% with the slash and burn method. I’m not sure if this is what I want to do my project in but I definitely thought this was a very interesting project; not only are they making farming more economical and sustainable, but they are also reducing their overall carbon footprint.


  • This week I learned a lot about the health systems of Arica and Chile. I learned about the development of the systems and the challenges they face. I visited a clinic whose main focus was prevention of sickness. I learned how their Day of Independence, 18 of September, is celebrated. In contrast, I learned about when the government was taken over by the military, a sensitive subject for most people. I finished the week by shadowing a nurse.
  • Chile has Familiar Health Centers whose main focus is on prevention of illnesses by informing and providing free preventive health care. For example, I visited, San Miguel de Azapa (Rural health clinic), and they provided services for mothers up to 6 years after their pregnancy and for the children until they were 6 years old. They also provide the mothers with diaries and calendars in order to keep track of eating habits, doctor visits, and etcetera. I liked that the facility did everything to make it accessible to their patients. For emergencies they have ambulances and even “taxis” to pick up the patients. Furthermore, all disciplines are located in one place so a family does not have to go to more than one place: dentist, nutritionist, optometrist, and matron (midwife).
  • Another expect of San Miguel de Azapa clinic that I like is that they serve a lot of non-citizens. Arica is a city in the furthest north of Chile. Arica shares boarders with Peru and Bolivia, and as a result the clinic serves people from these regions also. They also serve the indigenous groups for instance the Aymara’s from Peru. What is interesting is that the indigenous have different beliefs and ways of dealing with their health, so the clinic treats these people different than the other patients based on their cultural beliefs.
  • I had the experience to shadow a nurse in another clinic with the focus on health prevention. I noticed how the nurses in Arica have more responsibilities than a nurse in the U.S. I was in the section of the clinic that cared for patients with diabetes. The nurse that I was shadowing was responsible for checking the feet and caring for the ulcers on the foot. There are five stages of ulcer development. The clinic handled stages one to three, stages four and five would need to be handled in a hospital. I noticed that patient’s privacy is not respected as much as it is in the U.S.
  • On the 18 of September is Chile’s Independence Day and they celebrate big. This entire week people have been preparing for the occasion. The national dance in Chile is called the Cuaca; it is danced with a female and a man and the dance around in circles. The women wear dresses that poof at the bottom and hold handkerchiefs in their hands, and the men wear ponchos and boots with spurs. Also, like any celebration food is also really important. Some typical Chilean dishes are choclo (mashed corn), mousse de guayaba, pico sour (alcoholic beverage), empanadas, and salsa. I listened to two of the most popular songs of Chile, “Si vas para Chile” and “Gracias a la vida”.
  • This week was excellent. I learned a lot of things and was able to experience the culture; I actually felt immersed in the culture of the people of Chile. I went into clinics talked to the health professionals and patients, learned the Cauca, listened to music from Chile, tasted typical Chilean foods (and even cooked some dishes), I learned of the history of Chile and was able to ask my parents how they actually felt about what happened. Next week I will be traveling to Tacna, Peru and will be able to experience a different culture.
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