Location: Talamanca, Costa Rica.
By Kim Karris | MA Candidate Sustainable Natural Resource Management UPEACE
As part of the Water Security and Peace class, Professor Brian Dowd-Uribe organized a trip for twenty students to visit the Bribri community in Talamanca, Costa Rica. The indigenous community lives on the Sixaola River that separates Costa Rica and Panama and with the support of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, is taking part in the Bi-national Commission of the Sixaola River Basin – a new governance initiative to share planning and management of the trans-boundary watershed.
"Getting in to the field is an important aspect of our curriculum here at UPEACE. It is one thing to study water governance in the classroom. It is a much deeper learning experience to learn from people and communities who are involved in these processes", said Brian Dowd-Uribe, Professor at the Department of Environment and Development at University for Peace.
After a bus-ride from Ciudad Colon to the town of Talamanca, students were led on motorized canoes down the river to the farming community of the Bribri and were met by Prishka, a local Bribri woman and leader. While dinner was being prepared, she led a discussion about the history of their community, their spiritual traditions, water security and their relationship with the river.
As Jes Walton, graduate student in the Natural Resources and Sustainable Development programme, described it “I was looking around the thatch structure as we ate a locally sourced dinner prepared by our Bribri hosts under the light of a single solar powered bulb, and thought to myself that this is what it's all about! I've always read about indigenous cosmo-visions and approaches to natural resources, but to hear it and see it in person was incredible.”
After breakfast the next day, students learned how to grind raw cacao grown on the Bribri farm and then enjoyed some homemade chocolate. The day included a walk to the newly constructed bridge, a tour of the tree nursery, and lessons in tree grafting. For lunch, students were joined by Panamanian members of the Bi-national Commission, who explained their role as “champions” in working for the joint conservation and protection of the Sixaola River.
A last stop at a nearby banana plantation allowed students to see firsthand the relationship between agriculture and water use. They left with organic pumpkins in hand from farm owner Don Carlos. Students returned from the trip to Talamanca with a contextual example of how trans-boundary water basins affect real-life communities and the complex dynamic between community, local, and bi-national governance.