Cool Earth works with indigenous communities to keep trees standing. Over the next few weeks we’re going to tell you Telma’s story and how she helps safeguard the endangered Amazon rainforest as part of her daily living.
Telma is 22 years old and already has two very young children.Â She lives in the Amazon with her husband, Micky, in a small wooden hut, just yards from her parents’ house and equally close to one of her older sisters, Chavoka, who herself has five sons and daughters between 2 and 14 years of age.
Most days, Telma will get up around 5am, an hour or so before the sun rises.Â It’s lovely and cool at this time of the morning, good for spinning cotton, fetching water from the river and stoking the fires to get breakfast cooking.Â By 6.30, Telma’s family will be eating roasted tubers from the manioc plant on woven reed mats around the fire.Â This is their staple food which they eat with every meal.Â If Micky or his father-in-law have been out fishing, they may also share out their catch after boiling or roasting it.Â Telma and her family are always very careful to make sure that everyone will get their share.Â There’s only one table in this sector of the village and few chairs, so most meals are eaten at ground level.
The rest of the morning is usually taken up with washing clothes on rocks by the river and looking after the children.Â For Telma, though, the afternoons these days are often spent on paperwork and meetings for her new job as treasurer of TSIMI (the Ashaninka Bioclimatic Association).Â In the last few months, Telma has learnt how to keep accounts and operate a bank account.Â Until a few weeks ago, she had never used a telephone.
Micky is roughly the same age, but has only just finished secondary education because he used to live about three hours walk through the forest, a long way from the school.Â A couple of months ago, Micky was bitten by a snake while he was working in their garden.Â The bite was so bad that the whole family travelled 100kms to find a specialist healer who put Micky on a special diet and told him to in particular to avoid eating chilli peppers, red meat and salt.Â In a couple of weeks, Micky recovered well and they have recently returned home to their village, Cutivireni.
When Telma was a small baby her mother and father were forced out of their village and away from their forest gardens by terrorists.Â Along with all their family and friends, many hundreds of Ashaninka fled from the violent invaders and made camp in the higher rainforest where they were relatively safe but had to survive by collecting fruits, grubs or hunting game like birds, deer or wild pigs with bow and arrows.Â The children were taught to play quietly by day and not make any noise at night, ensuring that the terrorists would never find them.
After nearly two years, the Ashaninka regained village sitesÂ and all their rainforest territory.Â Telma and her family were able to return to Cutivireni where they have lived happily ever since.Â This experience with the terrorists was the first time that the Ashaninka here had ever been pushed off their land, something they are determined will not happen again.
When a logging company arrived at Cutivireni at the start of 2008 offering the AshaninkaÂ leaders a lot of money for access to the best trees in their 33,000 hectare forest, the community were reluctant to allow the loggers.Â Not only did they fear that the logging machinery – chain saws, tractors and diggers – would frighten away all the game animals, but, remembering the time of terrorism,Â they were also worried about letting these outsiders into their territory.
One of the community leaders – Telma’s father, Cesar – decided to see if there was a better way for the community to make a living in fast changing times.Â He knew that the community needs money to survive these days.Â Their forests have less game than it did when Telma was a baby and the main river is polluted and now overfished.Â The Ashaninka also need money to buy school books, pencils, cooking pots, fish hooks, machetes, salt and other useful things which help them live more comfortably.
After several community meetings at Cutivireni, Cesar contacted Cool Earth via the community’sÂ solar powered satellite telephone.
With loggers banging on the doors of Cutivireni village, Telma’s father, Cesar, contacted CoolÂ Earth to see if there were alternatives to chopping down their forest, the source of the community’s food, building materials and medicines.
Understanding the urgency of the situation, within days Cool Earth reacted positively and were able to offer Telma’s father a much better proposal which combines an annual income for the community with rainforest protection and a participatory programme of training and investment of sustainable development.
Some of the initial support from Cool Earth was used to obtain a community canoe and outboard motor, particularly useful for transporting produce or people to the road-head for access to markets and shops, but also vital for unpredictable emergencies, such as accidents that require hospital treatment.Â Other funds went to equip a team of Ashaninka to mark the trees along the northern border of their rainforest territory to make sure that loggers who were operating in a neighbouring community didn’t take their trees by mistake.
Now, almost three years later, Telma herself is fully engaged in the ongoing project with Cool Earth.Â Â Last year she was elected as Treasurer for TSIMI, the indigenous association established by the Ashaninka to administer the income and funds from this partnership with Cool Earth to avoid deforestation.Â In the last three months, Telma has learned how to use a telephone for the first time and is now getting her head around how to manage a bank account.Â The nearest bank branch is over 100kms away, so for Telma to take money out of the bank means a journey of at least two or three days.
Sanctuary in the Forest: Telma’s Story 4
As one of the leaders of TSIMI, the Ashaninka Bioclimatic Association, Telma’s daily life involves activities that she would have never imagined herself doing just a few years ago. In the last six months or so she has:
been out to the nearest town to open a bank account
been on a field trip to another community to learn from them about sustainable forestry
attended training workshops on climate change and the importance of the rainforest to the wider world
learnt how to keep accounts and good records
learnt how to use a telephone
Â Learning to use a telephone was not that tricky. Telma has used a solar powered radio transmitter/receiver to stay in touch with other Ashaninka from other villages for many years. She just needed to learn a different way of speaking and to forget about saying “over and out” (in Spanish) every time she finishes saying something.
The solar radio is located under a tin roof outside her father’s house in her family’s (or clan’s) compound. A few yards away, beyond a large and very leafy mango tree, starts the steep descent to the Rio Ene, a large river and the traditional thoroughfare for the Ashaninka around here. The community’s solar powered telephone, on the other hand, is about a mile away right at the other end of a grassy airstrip, the community’s other occasional transport option. The airstrip has to be long enough at least for a small light aircraft to land and take off and wide enough for the wings of a plane not to touch any shrubs or vegetation along each side. The landing strip feels like several football pitches placed end to end. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to walk the strip from Telma’s house to the centro Cutivireni where you find the primary school, a community meeting space, the health post and most of the villager’s wooden-walled homes.
The last time Telma ventured into the forest was to visit her grandmother – a healer called Noemi. On route to Noemi’s village, Tinakreni, Telma visited a ‘tsimi’, one of a range of natural animal haunts that are spread around the Ashaninka’s land. Tsimi’s are usually based around either a cliff face or a water source. The Ashaninka see them as sanctuaries in the forest where it’s often possible to find animals or birds who go there to eat clay, lick minerals or simply drink good water. On this occasion, on the way to her grandmother’s house, Telma went off the path to find a tsimi that she had known as a little girl.
One of the closest tsimis to the main village of Cutivireni, she didn’t expect to find many animals there. Yet, as she rounded a rocky mound to quietly take a peek at a small spring below a small muddy cliff, she saw a family of wild peccaries splashing in the stream. These were “collared peccaries” (Tayassu tajacu), a rainforest pig that runs around in small family groups. The adult peccary was almost a meter long and half a meter tall, probably weighing around 15 kilos. After just a few seconds, the peccaries must have caught Telma’s human scent, since they ran off together, disappearing into the undergrowth in the opposite direction to where she was looking from.
Telma set off again in the direction of her grandmother’s house.
Over the coming weeks we will revisit Telma’s daily life and her work with TSIMI, part of Cool Earth’s project to help three Ashaninka communities conserve their forest.
Thanks for reading by kamran