Honey Bee Initiative goes to the Amazon

This story was originally published in the Feb. 23. print issue of Fourth Estate.

Mason’s Honey Bee Initiative will be offering a new course that goes to the Amazon Rainforest to teach local communities beekeeping.

The course, titled “The Importance of the Amazon in the Modern World,” will offer three credits and count for NCLC 398, BIOL 440, or EVPP 495 or 505. This is the first time this course is being offered to students at Mason and will take place this summer from July 7-21. The course is open to eight students and will be led by German Perilla, the director of the Honey Bee Initiative. While the course focuses on beekeeping, there will be aspects of art, community health and tropical medicine, tropical ecology, education and nutrition.

According to Perilla, the multidisciplinary course involves working in the Amazon in Peru, Colombia and El Salvador with people who live in the jungle and helps to provide economic opportunity for these people through beekeeping.

Perilla said that students will teach the locals to develop a conservation plan that is sustainable for their community, and the course participants learn to teach and empower the locals to defend their resources.

The course also focuses on teaching women in the community beekeeping skills because, as Perilla said, women in those communities have little power. He said that if they can teach women a skill that is valuable to the community, they will gain more strength and leadership.

Perilla and Kathleen Curtis, the assistant director of the Honey Bee Initiative, said they decided to bring the course and beekeeping to the Amazon because the rainforest is severely threatened, and through this course they hope to protect and restore it. They stress that they try to do this in a non-interfering way.

“The Amazon is probably one of the most unique environments on the planet and one that has the highest threats on the planet,” Perilla said. “We need to understand the need to save the Amazon. We can’t wait until tomorrow because then it is going to be too late.”

“We are there to council, but we don’t leave a lasting footprint,” Curtis said. “All the equipment is made there, we use the local people who know how to do the woodworking, and the things that we provide them are mostly knowledge. It is requested and accomplished by the people in the community.”

Perilla and Curtis said the course is for anyone who is interested, no matter their major, but warn that the trip is not always comfortable, as the course involves hiking through the jungle. They said those in delicate health would have trouble because it is a physically demanding trip.

“Through beekeeping, we can teach them empowerment in the community,” Perilla said. “We can build capacity in the community, not only in the beekeeping world, but we can teach them how to have a business plan, how to sell, how to make projections in business, and that will actually help them in everything they do, not just beekeeping.”

Perilla said that beekeeping can benefit the communities in a number of ways, but bees benefit from this project as well. When bees flourish, the community in which they live will flourish, Perilla said.

This course came about with the establishment of the Honey Bee Initiative on Mason’s campus. Curtis said the purpose of the Honey Bee initiative is to expose and educate students about beekeeping and why bees are good for the way people live. She also said it teaches students how beekeeping fits into our world and teaches people about sustainability, as well as connect students to nature.

The Initiative was created by Perilla and Curtis, building its first observation yard for the bees with a grant from the Patriot Green Fund. The New Century College then picked up the initiative and started offering the class.

The Initiative was also created do to the fact that bees are dying at an alarming rate in America, among other countries.

“At this point, there is a crisis in the bee world, and it is mostly in developed countries. It is called Colony Collapse Disorder. This disorder is the name to describe the disappearance of bees,” Perilla said. “Bees are dying in numbers that are very unusual. There are many reasons why this is happening such as lack of nutrition and diseases.”

As for their future goals, Perilla said as long as they have the will to do it, they will continue the Honey Bee Initiative, and as Perilla said, beekeeping is a universal activity.

“The sky’s the limit. We don’t have set goals. We’re just working on taking baby steps and getting people’s attention,” Perilla said. “As long as we have the strength and the energy to be able to do this, we will continue to do it.”

Featured photo credit: Sean Winters. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License. No changes made.