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GAIA’S DREAM

This project began under a tree, in a dream. The dream was that one day a Nepali girl, maybe the daughter of a farmer, someone who was inculcated never to dream, could walk from the banks of the mighty Koshi to the white ridges of Kanchenjunga. On this journey, she would experience the tonics and perfumes of thousands of wild plants, sleep amidst the distant call of jackals that were thought to be extinct, and see grass birds and sand pipers, ground pheasants and vultures. She would see that the world is never truly dark as the sun and moon paint the mountains with the same light that reflects from stars. At last she would place her small hand on a blue-white glacier, the first she had ever seen, wishing it was not the last.

It was this dream of her journey that inspired the idea of islands of biodiversity floating in mountains, worlds unto themselves, each a beautiful fable with characters and plots, heroes and villains. If the islands could connect with slender trails that dipped and curled from cool springs and waterfalls to deep, silent, still forests, to loud river gorges, we could create a powerful scaffolding for a new kind of education without inculcation. It was all five of her senses that guided the trail, and marked it with hundreds of tiny experiences that sparked new curiosity, fueling new dreams.

What if she herself designed those islands, thinking not just of human beings but of all the jackals and ground pheasants and vultures, as ‘Learning Grounds’ from her own imagination, sparked by dreams of her own while slumbering under a tree herself.

This girl, who we have dubbed Gaia, needs our help to sow the canopy of that dream:

Join us in making this dream a reality

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THE VERTICAL UNIVERSITY PROJECT

The idea of the vertical university is actually quite simple. It is to create a sort of “living classroom” in the form of an 25,000 foot continuous vertical forest corridor stretching from Koshi Tappu (220 feet), Nepal’s largest aquatic bird sanctuary, to Mt. Kanchenjunga (28,169 feet), the world’s third tallest peak, as a vessel to teach and conserve the 6,600 flowering plant species, 800 bird species and 180 mammals that are found in eastern Nepal. In a mountainous country like Nepal, where there is exceptional biological, climatic, and cultural diversity from the tropical plains to the alpine Himalayas, conventional education paradigms where students sit in a stationary classroom, divorced from their surroundings, make little sense.

The “professors” of the vertical university may not have a Ph.D. and in fact may never have set foot in school, but as indigenous farmers, they possess intricate, intergenerational knowledge about local fauna and flora which is critical for Nepal’s youth to attain. The vertical university will deepen place-based skills in sustainable technology, craft, and medicinal plants, and seeks to conserve and activate local knowledge while also creating sustainable livelihood opportunities. It does this through establishing “learning grounds,” which are micro-conservation hubs — the “classrooms” of the university throughout different locations across the landscape.

“Our hope is that one day, a Nepali student could walk from Koshi Tappu to Kanchenjunga, across 118 different forest types, and learn from local farmers about the deep physical and biological diversity of the landscape through place-based education.”

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LEARNING GROUNDS PLOTS

8

BELT YOUTH FELLOWS

660

PLANT SPECIES IDENTIFIED

150

ACRES OF COMMUNITY LAND TRUST

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KEY PROJECT AREAS

BIODIVERSITY INVENTORY
CONSERVATION PLANNING AND DESIGN
INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE PORTAL
KEYSTONE SPECIES RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION
SPRINGS RESEARCH AND REVIVAL
AWARENESS AND EDUCATION PROGRAM
BELT CAMPUSES
BELT SCHOOLS PROGRAM
LEARNING GROUNDS DESIGN AND BUILD
PLACE-BASED OUTDOOR EDUCATION CURRICULUM DESIGN
PLANT TRAILS
BELT FARMERS
BELT FELLOWS
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