Earth Expeditions
Kaieteur Falls, a majestic waterfall
Chestnut-billed toucan perched in tree
Assorted hand-woven traditional Makushi basketry
Makushi girl with binoculars
Children from local wildlife club on an outing

Course Overview

Experience one of the greatest examples of primary rain forest in the world. Learn how indigenous Makushi communities are building a sustainable future.

Guyana is a lush and remarkably intact country in northeastern South America. Covering an extraordinary 80% of the country, Guyana’s rain forests are part of the Guiana Shield considered one of the last four Frontier Forests in the world. Guyana is famous for its relative abundance of iconic Amazonian species such as jaguars, arapaima (a “living fossil” and one of the largest freshwater fishes in the world), harpy eagles, giant anteaters, giant river otter, and the giant water lily.

Guyana is also culturally and ethnically diverse and includes indigenous peoples such as the Arawak, Wai Wai, Carib, Akawaio, Arecuna, Patamona, Wapishana, Makushi, and Warao. We will be spending most of our time with the Makushi, the dominant group in the North Rupununi area, a group that has lived in these forests and savannas for thousands of years.

The Makushi and their lands face a striking transition as the forces of development provide new opportunities and challenges. Perhaps the greatest challenge is the rapid extinction of traditional knowledge and practices. Local Makushi leaders believe that both indigenous and outside perspectives must be considered to ensure a sustainable future that protects the ecology of their lands and the social integrity of their communities.

Building on a partnership with the Chicago Zoological Society - Brookfield Zoo, this course focuses on the traditional ecological knowledge of the Makushi and the potential of local wisdom to guide conservation initiatives. The Makushi have a long tradition of managing their resources creatively by proudly embracing their traditional culture. Conscious of the value of indigenous and non-indigenous knowledge, Guyana’s Makushi people are becoming masters of straddling both worlds.

The concept of local knowledge and wisdom applies to every community, a point we will explore as we consider our own role in place-based conservation and participatory education.

Prior to and following the field experience in Guyana, students will complete coursework via Dragonfly Workshops' Web-Based Learning Community as they apply experiences to their home institutions.

Course Themes

  • Traditional knowledge
  • Rain forest and savannah ecology
  • Makushi culture
  • Sustainability and community-based enterprise
  • Inquiry-driven learning
  • Community-based conservation and participatory education

A typical Earth Expeditions day in Guyana is likely to include:

  • Lectures and study at field conservation sites
  • Open inquiries
  • Interactions with Guyanese scientists, Makushi leaders, and community members
  • Student-led discussions of key course topics
  • Journal writing
  • Exploring with local wildlife clubs

". . . what we experienced in . . . Guyana is the 'best case scenario' of community based conservation. This was a really amazing experience - far surpassing any expectations."

Planned Sites in Guyana

Iwokrama Forest

The Iwokrama International Centre (IIC), the largest environmental organization in Guyana, manages the nearly one-million-acre Iwokrama Forest. The Iwokrama Forest ecosystem is located at the juncture of Amazonian and Guianan flora and fauna. As a result, it contains high species richness and several species of animals that are threatened or extinct across most of their former geographic ranges. The Iwokrama Forest has the highest species richness for fish and bats for any area its size in the world. It also has extraordinarily high bird diversity.

Iwokrama builds partnerships with local communities, government, academic institutions, international agencies and the private sector, and they evaluate the social, economic, and ecological changes that occur as a result of business development. Their goal is to become a model for business development that results in the worldwide conservation of tropical forests.

North Rupununi

Iwokrama International Centre (IIC) works closely with the North Rupununi Makushi communities, assisting with planning and coordination of education, development, cultural, and research programs. In a decade of collaborative work, IIC and the community leaders have been preparing young Makushis to manage natural resources effectively through innovative, grassroots enterprises.

Rupununi people still hunt, fish, and farm for a living, and they recognize the importance of using local knowledge for research and management. Some have acquired technical skills in forestry, natural resource management, and agriculture at the Bina Hill Training Institute, an Amerindian institution “home sown and home grown." Community conservation leaders, with support from IIC and village councils, have also joined wildlife clubs promoting environmental approaches that combine traditional knowledge and scientific techniques.

(Course locations are subject to change.)

Dragonfly Workshops Web-Based Learning Community

Upon acceptance into the program, students will join instructors and classmates in Dragonfly Workshops' collaborative Web community to complete pre-trip assignments. After returning home, students will continue to work in their Web-based community through early December to develop projects initiated in the field, discuss assignments, and exchange ideas. All students should expect to spend two to three hours a week contributing to their Web-Based Learning Community from their home or school computer. Navigating the Web platform is easy--it's designed for people with no prior computer experience. To learn more about this unique Web experience, visit

More Information

For more information on the admissions process, physical requirements, and more, please visit Admissions and/or FAQs.

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Course Details

Notes from the Field

Earth Expeditions, Guyana

Over the rainbow, Keituer Falls, Guyana

Katie Krafte

Middle School Science Teacher from Chapel Hill, North Carolina

"I find the ecology so fascinating and could read about jaguars, monkeys, caiman, etc. forever and be very happy. But to implement real change in communities around the world, we need to understand, appreciate, and work with people. The people I met had such a profound impact on me. They shaped our knowledge, our course, and our experience in such an amazing way."

Program Costs