Into the rainforest of Suriname
DOB Ecology Field Trip to the Surinamese Amazon
‘Our original plan for 2020 was to visit all DOB Ecology programmes. Obviously, because of Corona, that plan did not make it past early March. Luckily, the February field visit survived: a special trip, with Johan and Paul from the Advisory Council, to our friends from the Amazon Conservation Team in Suriname — visiting the indigenous communities of the Northeast Amazon, in the South of Surinam.’ Here, Maas shares a few highlights of the fieldvisit, with thanks to Felipe for his extensive written report.
The Amazon is a beautiful, intimidating and amazing place — it always takes your breath away. We had the added privilege to be guided by Mark Plotkin, co-founder of ACT, Minu Parahoe, the director of ACT in Suriname and several of her fantastic team, including Bruce Hoffman and Felipe Samper.
No hiding form each other
A key part of any field visit is getting to know the people from the organization much better. There is no hiding from each other when travelling together through the rainforest for a full week! We were very impressed by all of the ACT team members: knowledgeable, passionate, energetic, inquisitive and full of purpose. It was a joy to see them in action, knowing, of course, that whatever the plan on paper, it’s the people and their dedication that ultimately determine the success of a programme.
Protect the forest by supporting the people
First on our itinerary was a visit to Curuni village in the Southwest of the country – a two hours flight in the one-engine Cessna Caravan, with a continuous and stunning aerial view of the largely pristine forests of Suriname. Welcomed by the Captain, we held a krutu – a meeting to express mutual gratitude, discuss recent developments and ACT activities in the village, and talk about the future of the village. Curuni is one of the most isolated villages in Southern Suriname and highly threatened – weak social development, lack of a clean water system, poor medical services and her proximity to the Guyana military border post and disputed territory. With such threats, the village is a high priority for ACTs Life Plan Process – an integral approach to strengthen the social fabric of the community. This includes support with the development of the value chain of the Brazil nut, mediate with the Government on the installment of a water system, strengthen the community against the negative consequences of the planned road – to name but a few pressing examples. Here, in a nutshell, we saw the basic vision of ACT at work, and the reason for DOB Ecology’s support: the most effective way to protect the forest is to support the people who live there, and to build resilience and self-reliance. When the people thrive, the forest thrives, and vice versa.
Insight in community challenges
We travelled onwards for two additional short stops. First, even further South, to the village of Sipalawini, very close to the border with Brazil. And to Tepu – a predominantly Trio Indigenous community at the Tapanahony River, northeast from Sipalawini. While both stops were short, we spoke to the authorities and the ACT station coordinators – getting a good insight into the developments and problems experienced by the communities. We ended the busy day by flying back to the center of Surinam to Awaradam – an idyllic place with nice cabins on the river -- surrounded by lush rainforest.
Awaradam turned out to be the perfect location for the DOB Ecology delegation and the whole ACT team to digest the past few days, to reflect on the krutu’s and the stories we’ve heard. And to dive deeper into the strategy and milestones implementing the programme supported by DOB Ecology. This is not the place to summarize all our findings and discussions (and I won’t tell you the story where I got bitten by a big black Scorpion and nearly perished). Three quick points instead.
- Our trip confirmed that this programme is one of the most complicated in our portfolio. A broad set of challenges (water, food security, mining, road constructions, economic development, governance) is mixed with complex issues around land rights and cultural heritage.
- ACT is clearly the organization that can make it happen. We saw that the local and indigenous communities trusted the people from ACT and saw clear evidence of the integrity, skills and track record of the team.
- This field visit confirmed not just the beauty of the Surinamese rainforest and its people, but the need and urgency of our support. Helping to conserve these forests and the communities that live there, is an investment at the heart of DOB Ecology’s mission.