Skip to Main Content
project dragonfly icon

Guyana: Local Wisdom & Conservation

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

Course Overview

Guyana is a lush and remarkably intact country in northeastern South America. Covering an extraordinary 80% of the country, Guyana’s rainforests 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 Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, 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 Details
In-person travel dates: June 5-14, 2024
Students arrive at least one day before and depart on last day of course
On the Web: Pre-travel preparations: February-March
Login to online course: April
Summer course: May 16-August 9
Fall course: Late August- early December
Credits: Summer course: 5 graduate credits
Follow-on Fall course: 2 graduate credits
All Miami University credits can be applied to the GFP or AIP (or other programs if approved)
Costs: Summer course: $3,550* + $500 additional transportation fee + your own airfare to Georgetown, Guyana.
* $3,550 calculated as = $455 per credit tuition x 5 graduate credits + $1100 program fee + $175 Miami global fee


Course Themes

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

A typical day 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
Katie Krafte on an Earth Expeditions trip to Guyana

Planned Sites

Google Earth image of Guyana with two locations marked. A second image shows the marked locations zoomed in and labeled Iwokrama Forest and North Rupununi

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.)

2024 Costs

In addition to covering the price for five graduate credits of Miami University tuition, field course costs cover all basic expenses, including:

  • Meals (incidental snacks and drinks not included)
  • Lodging
  • Field station fees
  • Course activities (optional activities are not included)
  • Ground transportation (van, boat, train, etc., as needed)
  • Park entrance and guide fees

Course costs do not cover personal expenses, such as airfare to the course, personal gifts, or ancillary costs, such as passport fees, country entry fees, required course readers, and any additional course texts.

Airfare: To estimate fares applicants may wish to visit an online fare finder or call a travel agent. Bear in mind that airlines have seasonal fluctuations in fares.

Miami University also requires all international workshop participants to purchase travel health insurance for about $40. (Successful applicants will receive more details in their Web-Based Learning Community course workshop.) In some classes an additional textbook is required. In some countries, you may have to pay entrance and departure taxes/fees at the airport.

*NOTE: The Guyana course carries a required extra charge to cover additional course support costs.

Because of support from Miami University, the course costs listed above are a fraction of actual program costs. Earth Expeditions recommends that accepted applicants to the program check with their school district or employer to see if professional development funds are available to further offset costs. 

We offer some further ideas on Helping to Fund your Degree and Scholarships for Current Dragonfly Students

U.S. Students and Students Living Abroad

To support involvement by a broad range of professionals nationally and globally, Miami University discounts tuition for participants accepted to an Earth Expeditions graduate course. Applicants must be over the age of 18 and hold bachelor’s degrees. Upon successful completion of both the field and Web-based components of the Earth Expeditions course, participants earn seven graduate credit hours.

Students Seeking Undergraduate Credit

Undergraduate students at Miami University or elsewhere may apply for an Earth Expeditions course and earn five credits for the field component, with the option to complete two additional credits for the fall Web component. Normal Miami tuition rates apply, as do eligible summer tuition waivers and scholarships. Contact Project Dragonfly for more information.

Course Options for Miami Students

Are you a current Miami University undergrad or grad student interested in participating? Check out our Miami Students page to learn more about program requirements.

*Note that costs shown above are for graduate students only. Course costs for undergraduate students are based on each student’s tuition rate. If you have questions regarding your tuition promise rate, please contact the Bursar.

Inquiry & Action Follow-on Course

The 2-credit follow-on course, Inquiry & Action, puts the Earth Expeditions course ideas and concepts into practice. Students in this course will choose a research topic and construct a multidisciplinary semester-long project of their choice that includes inquiry-driven learning, participatory education, and community-based conservation to experience and promote action in real-world contexts. Students will connect and collaborate with peers and their instructional team throughout the semester working to make a positive difference in their local communities. This class is a required part of the Global Field Program (GFP) master's course sequence. Inquiry & Action is recommended though optional for non-GFP students.

Course cost: $910 (2 credits)


Do you have questions? Go to our Frequently Asked Questions page for some answers.

Check out another EE!

A marine landscape in Baja

Baja: Field Methods

Experience the spectacular desert and marine landscapes of two richly diverse biosphere reserves through ecological and social field methods.
Galápagos giant tortoise

Galápagos: Islands of Change

Visit the realm of giant tortoises; study the forces of evolutionary, geologic, and social change; contribute to sustainable solutions for this astounding archipelago.

Apply to Earth Expeditions