When friends ask 12-year-old Wuilbar Espinal how he spent his summer vacation, they may be surprised at the answer. He went on a trip down the Amazon.
The trip was featured on the pilot for a new Nickelodeon adventure series called Nick News Adventure: Rollin’ Down the River: Kids Explore the Amazon. Wuilbar and his mother, Salvadora Espinal, joined host, Linda Elerbee, and five other children on the journey.
The trip was made possible through Wuilbar’s mentor, Jennifer Stewart. She works for the World Wildlife Fund, the organization that planned the trip.
“WWF has been working in the rain forest for more than 30 years and when Nickelodeon planned this series, they asked for our help,” Stewart said. “The producer talked about the age range of the kids he wanted to take on the trip and that he wanted them to come from diverse backgrounds and see this as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I thought immediately of Wuilbar.”
Stewart works with Wuilbar and his two sisters through the Campagna Center’s Wright To Read tutoring program. “I’ve been with the program for six years and was assigned to Wuilbar’s younger sister Bianca three years ago,” Stewart said. “When Wuilbar and his other sister, Cindy, realized that I was taking Bianca to the library every week, they wanted to come with me. I just sort of started helping all of them and it has gotten to be much more than a tutoring relationship.”
STEWART SUGGESTED WUILBAR for the adventure and he submitted an essay about the rain forest and a photograph of himself. “I was really lucky to be with Wuilbar when the producer called to tell him he was selected,” Stewart said. “He jumped three feet off the ground. It was great.”
So, in June, Wuilbar, his mother and Stewart joined the rest of the adventurers and began their journey. Each youngster kept both a video and a written journal of their experiences.
From Wuilbar’s journal: “Day 1, Sunday, June 20 Me and the other five kids have met each other and are about to arrive to the boat Turmalina … When we got to the boat, everybody was amazed of how big the ship was. We just explored the boat and played some cards to get to know each other better.
“Day 2. We woke up at six in the morning to bird watch … I was very tired. I wasn’t used to waking up that early. So then we went to the skiffs at like ten o’clock … We saw a squirrel monkey, a pink dolphin, parakeets, and a bird with a yellow head. We stayed on the boat the rest of the day.
“Day 6. There was a shaman that helped the sick people buy plants in the rain forest so we were talking about when he was a child and how illegal logging didn’t help him to find cures for sickness … Then the canopy walk was right after the shaman … we were 70 feet off the land … I wasn’t scared.
“Day 7. We woke up early, packed, got off the ship to a bus and from the bus to the store and then to an airport to Lima. I slept most of the way and then we said our good-by to Alsa, Sophia and Peter. This was the best trip I’ve ever been on,” he wrote.
It was a great trip for Stewart as well. “I went along to help with logistics but it was amazing for me to be able to experience the Amazon and the rain forest through Wuilbar and Salvadora’s eyes,” she said. “Salvadora had never been on such an adventure either and, at first, she was nervous. But then, she realized she could communicate with the crew of the boat and most of the others could not. They spoke Spanish, of course and Salvadora is from El Salvador.”
Wright To Read began 27 years ago and serves mostly elementary school students in Alexandria. “It’s a great organization and I have found it to be incredibly fulfilling,” Stewart said.
For more information on becoming a tutor with Wright to Read, go to www.campagnacenter.org or call Ginny Biggs at 703-549-0111 ex. 142.