‘Why Chile?’ we are often asked. The Alzar School returns to Chile each semester because it offers an amazing classroom for our students. Traveling to South America, students are met with a warm and welcoming culture that allows them to practice their Spanish speaking skills and make connections with locals. Beyond these wonderful people and cultures (stay tuned for a blog post about the Mapuche people,) Chile’s expansive geography and rich history provide endless lessons. Exploring Chilean Patagonia, in particular, gives our students a first-hand perspective on the contemporary and universal issue of land conservation. And this spring, Alzar School students are lucky to experience a historical moment for Chile and for the world.
On January 29, 2018, Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet and Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, President and CEO of Tompkins Conservation, came together to form five new national parks in Chile and expand three others. After decades of planning, restoration and negotiations (read more about the history of Patagonia Park,) the Chilean government and Tompkins Conservation have formalized the world's largest expansion of a national park system through the donation of private land!
The recent donation from Tompkins Foundation of over 1 million acres marks a momentous milestone for conservation and sets a president for private organizations. With this latest donation, Kristine, her late husband, Doug, and their foundation have helped to conserve more than 13 million acres of unique ecosystems in Argentina and Chile. In Chile alone, these newly formed parks will cover more than three times the area of Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks combined, roughly the size of Switzerland.
In her recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Kristine explains the motivation behind their conservation efforts. “We believe that the transfer of private lands to the national park system is an act of democracy. A country’s natural masterpieces are best held and protected by the public for the common good. They should be available to all people to enjoy, to remember that they are part of something much larger than themselves. National parks, monuments and other public lands remind us that regardless of race, economic standing or citizenship, we all depend on a healthy planet for our survival.”
Alzar School students will continue to trek through the natural wonders of the new Patagonia National Park this week, taking in views of expansive valleys, glaciated mountains and, roaming wildlife. As they explore these far reaches of the world they will also gain a lesson in the value of natural environments and the roles in which governments, private foundations and they themselves can plan in preserving and maintaining wild spaces.