Stories from the Amazon

  • Achuar kids smiling
    A group of Achuar children gather around to wish us goodbye.

    Success of Trip Brings an Invitation to Return

    The wheels of our small plane hadn’t left the ground yet, but the wheels in my head were already spinning.

    The delivery of the school materials to the Achuar village of Tiinkias in Ecuador had been a success. It created hope in the eyes of the people living in a small village in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest. And sometimes the smallest piece of hope is what keeps us going.

    I’ve also come to appreciate if something positive and large is going to happen, it comes with the support and encouragement of many.

    “The school materials are not a gift from me. They are a statement from students, schools, organizations and individuals who believe in you and wish to protect the rain forest.” That was the message I had delivered to the Tiinkias community.

    With my face pressed against the plastic window of the plane, I took a moment of silence to give thanks and feel the gratitude for all who stepped up to the call for support.

    From the young students who brought small ziplock bags of coins, to the parents, teachers, staff and friends who share in the belief that we can make a positive impact – I’m very grateful.

    The world is not going to be transformed in one step. Instead it happens with the many small steps taken together in a common belief that the world is good and life is a gift. Thank you to all who participated in whatever way you did.

    My empathy could only take me so far in my appreciation of what faces the Achuar. I’ve never experienced the effect of an outside force that was determined to come to the place where I live and destroy the land that has been my home for generations.

    And no matter how much the oil companies promise to take care of the environment, their track record in the Amazon Rainforest is dismal and suggests otherwise. In the Amazon of northern Ecuador, 30,000 people can’t drink their water because of oil extraction.

    Watching the events that unfolded around the BP Gulf disaster doesn’t exactly instill much faith either.

    I imagine the oil companies are hoping we slip into a state of resignation and just give up hope for saving the rainforest. All my life I’ve been doing things people told me I couldn’t do, so the oil companies’ tactic only inspires me to become more determined.

    Achuar village and Dean getting his face painted
    Outside the window of our plane, we view an Achuar village carved out of the Amazon Rain Forest in Ecuador (left).
    Dean gets his face painted by the Achuar as a welcoming gesture in the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador (right).

    The next day I sat at a long table surrounded by Achuar leaders in Puyo, Ecuador.

    “Yatzoro,” they greeted me by addressing me as “brother.”

    They were pleased to learn of the success in Tiinkias and eager to discuss how we might expand the idea to other Achuar villages.

    “We invite you to come back to the rainforest, to visit other villages that have schools,” said one of the Achuar leaders. “Let us create a project that inspires people to take action.”

    I accept. On April 1, I will return to the rainforest to connect with more Achuar villages.

    So now I am back home in the United States, presenting in schools and making plans to return to the rain forest of Ecuador.

    Recently, I received an email from a high school student. Kayla Reynolds in Huxley, Iowa, had listened to one of my presentations.

    Reynolds wrote to express how much she appreciated the program.

    I replied with a question, “Why did you like the presentation?”

    She answered, “I liked that you weren't afraid to chase your dreams, and I think a lot of people struggle with that. You just kind of gave people hope.”

    At that moment, a thought became clear. Now it’s time to figure out how to link these two worlds of hope into one.

    Fremont Tribune

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