Exploring the Amani rainforest

by Christina Finocchi
Haven of Peace Academy, Tanzania

As a teacher, we look for those opportunities for learning to come alive for our students. We aim to build background knowledge, teach the content, and find ways for our students to apply their newly acquired learning.

I had an incredible privilege of experiencing and sharing experiential learning like none other. Eighteen children, six chaperones, and myself were in the Amani rainforest for three days.

Amani rainforest class trip 3Day 1: We left early Monday morning for our nine-hour bus ride to Emau Hill. We arrived at about 5:30 p.m. anxious to get off the bus and start our adventure. After settling into our tents and a eating a delicious dinner, we headed off on our first hike, a chameleon and frog night hike. Without the lights of the city and the overshadowing of the forest canopy, it was so dark. Our guide, Jon, was knowledgeable and he had an eye for spotting nocturnal rainforest creatures both big and small. We saw pygmy chameleons, three-horned chameleons, tree frogs, banana slugs, and so much more.

Day 2: The next day we set out for a very full day of hiking, exploring, and discovering the diversity within Amani. Our first hike was 14 km through the mountains to see many plants such as tree nuts, strawberry plants, epiphytes, and banana trees. Then we found our way to the tea plantations where we learned about the process of harvesting tea, how the workers pick the tea, and the effects of different methods of tea harvesting. At the end of long hike we had a picnic lunch before heading to the butterfly farm. The butterfly farm was small and simple, but it really opened up our eyes to how the various butterflies help the local villages. During our school lessons, we had an opportunity to study butterflies and even take a walk to look for them, but at the conservation center we were able to see each of the stages of the life cycle up close. Once we left the butterfly farm we headed back to camp for an hour of rest before the next big challenge, Mbole Hill.

Amani rainforest class trip 2Mbole Hill really brought out encouragement and teamwork in our entire group. The first kilometer was an easy slope, for the most part. Then all of sudden Jon turned towards what looked like a small open area of trees going straight up. What we soon realized was that this was actually our path up Mbole Hill.

Let the climbing begin! When the going got tough we got going! One of the children was having a tough time getting up, but the others rallied around him, took his pack to lighten his load, and encouraged him all the way up to the top! We made it! God’s glory and awesome wonder awaited us to be seen and taken in by all. It was a spectacular moment!

Psalm 121 really spoke loud and clear after our hike up. I love when God inspires with His word before you even have the opportunity to experience what is to come. Our devotion on the mountaintop was a great reminder that our help comes from the Lord. Sometimes that help is sent through a tree perfectly placed, a friend willing to encourage, or just the inner motivation to press on!

Psalm 121

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?

2 My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

3 He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.

4 Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.

6 The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.

8 The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.

Day 3: Most of us slept quite soundly after such a long day on Tuesday. The excitement was in the air from the time everyone woke up! Do we get to go? Is the weather gong to permit us to actual hike to a real waterfall? I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Amani rainforest class trip 1Our day began with the guided violet hike. We actually traveled the same route we did our first night, but this time saw what life was like in the daylight. My personal favorite part of this hike was when our snack came straight from the forest trees and floor. Cinnamon bark and donkey weed (shamrock) were among the snacks of choice. We also visited the Women’s Center before heading back to camp for a geocaching chameleon challenge and lunch. The Women’s Center empowers local women with work, crafting things from beautiful material and selling it to provide for their families.

After lunch, we headed by van to the highly awaited waterfall. We pulled up, got out, and peered down the very steep descent. We hiked up the mountain yesterday. We can surely conquer this challenge too! So we did! It was worth it!

Our final evening was spent around the campfire roasting marshmallows and having fun. We culminated this incredible trip with a time of worship in both Swahili and English and a devotion led by Mr. Bramsen and Mr. Pickel.

Day 4: We said goodbye and thank you to the staff at Emau Hill with a special song written by grade 5 and our very talented Miss Eli. Then back on the bus for our trip home.