Familiar Strangers in the Forest

IMG_2054Deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle, an eclectic group spread across rough-hewn benches on a packed-earth floor, sipping fresh-made tea. They were gathered at a new site for conservation and education, the Las Piedras Amazon Center (LPAC). Rain drummed against a large tarp roof as the group of participants, from all over the world, sat elbow-to-elbow:

  • Twelve American college students, from many different disciplines
  • Nine Future Leaders—young Peruvian professionals and college students
  • Six local partners, from scientists to support staff
  • Two volunteers from Europe, accomplished professionals eager to share their expertise

The participants were gathered for a two-day workshop, focused on learning and telling some of the stories of the Madre de Dios rainforest, one of the most biodiverse places on earth. They were gathered to dialogue across political and cultural borders–an important task, requiring both small steps and big leaps of confidence.

The conversation focused on the intersection of ecotourism, sustainable farming, and wildlife conservation and kicked off with a panel discussion led by Dr. Jason Scullion (president of Wild Forest and Fauna), Luis Garcia (president of ARCAmazon), and Romulo (president of Palma Reale). Each panel member shared their nonprofit’s history and its mission.

They explained afresh that the challenges each of their organizations face share many commonalities: their dedication to the region and its diversity, the momentary setbacks their missions have faced, and what they hope to achieve. At each step of the way, they answered many student questions–about sustainability and opportunities, about environmental impact and networking potentials, about the rainforest and its inhabitants.

The incredible work showcased was invigorating; the interest in everyone’s faces was clear. Each new facet of the discussion hinted at the enormous promise the Las Piedras Amazon Center has for bringing far-flung people together.

For the next day of the workshop, everyone moved around and joined one of five different teams. Their objective? Simply to “tell a story, focusing on first impressions of the rainforest with the outside world.”

Introductions began, conversations started. As each group set to work, the writers had to work through different expectations of storytelling, different languages, different experiences and beliefs. Together, they wrote their stories in both English and Spanish, refining them in multiple stages with additional facts and context.

There was back and forth between people who had just met each other for the first time, brought together in an unfamiliar environment by their admiration for the beauty and thrill of the wild. There was a lot of awkward translation and searching for words, sustained by friendly smiles and genuine interest in how the other person saw the world. And as they worked, they discovered how many commonalities they had with each other, how familiar these former “strangers” began to feel.

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The workshop leaders initially thought that everyone would focus on their own stories, their own experiences. While those factors influenced the participants’ storytelling decisions, what was written was more imaginative, more surprising, than they first expected.

Read them here for yourself:

Of course, it’s hard to change the world in just two days of workshops. But stories were written on more than just paper as people shared email addresses and social media contacts. New narratives were written and the groundwork laid for many sequels to come–relationships that would give rise to new plotlines bridging continents, new character arcs in the endeavor to conserve the rainforest and support its inhabitants.

Community Team Field Update–Lessons from the Quechuan Caiman

The Community Team spent three days learning about how environmental and sociopolitical issues within Peru affect ARCAmazon and Lucerna. Both during that time and outside of it, they had the pleasure of expanding their knowledge and vocabulary, sometimes while interacting with dangerous critters. They each chose something that stuck out to them to share with all their lovely readers.

Photo by Luke Fisher
Photo by Luke Fisher

Swim Calmly
Luke

“I’m going to place it on the bank and it’s going to calmly swim into the water,” said Harry Turner, our intrepid badass wildlife expert as he clutched onto a hissing caiman. The caiman, a small crocodilian creature with razor sharp teeth and a snapping bite that could easily take off a human finger or hand, had scales so hard the only thing my imagination could compare it to was dragons I had seen in video games or movies.

Continue reading “Community Team Field Update–Lessons from the Quechuan Caiman”

People and Planet: Reconciling Conservation Goals with the Needs of Communities

Leaders of two different conservation initiatives in the Las Piedras hanging out with two of the younger members of the Lucerna community
Leaders of two different conservation initiatives in the Las Piedras hanging out with two of the younger members of the Lucerna community (Photo Credit: Casey Kelahan)

“Environmental problems are really social problems anyway. They begin with people as the cause and end with people as the victims.”  – Edmund Hillary

Casey: From the moment that we first sat down to decide on what we would discuss in our blog post, Luke and I knew immediately that we wanted to focus on Lucerna, the community immediately adjacent to ArcAmazon’s Las Piedras Amazon Center. For me, this was driven by a fascination with the dynamic between Lucerna and ArcAmazon, and how their relationship acts as a microcosm of the global challenges of conservation on the frontier. For Luke, well, I’ll let him tell you!

Luke: All of these environmental issues that organizations like ArcAmazon are tackling, at the end of the day, are about people— the people who live there that are affected by all of these things. It’s the community that is impacting the local forest, and on a larger scale, the world. Someone is chopping down these trees and someone is trying to protect them. I want to show both of these stories. 

Map from Wild Forests and Fauna showing the ArcAmazon concession and its proximity to the Lucerna community.
Map from Wild Forests and Fauna showing the ArcAmazon concession and its proximity to the Lucerna community.

Continue reading “People and Planet: Reconciling Conservation Goals with the Needs of Communities”