Rainforest Reflections: A Message of Hope
by Randall H. Johnson"WE ARE ALL INTERCONNECTED AS IF ONE BEATING CELL", observes Roxanne Kremer, the dynamic Founder and Executive Director of The International Society for the Preservation of the Tropical Rainforest (ISPTR), an American non-profit organization. Speaking of the rainforest, Roxanne likes to quote, "Kill a part of that cell and the whole cell eventually dies." Using this truism as a clarion call to action, our small team of volunteer naturalists has been hard at work on the frontlines of the Amazon Basin for more than ten years developing innovative pilot projects, setting up forest reserves and wildlife sanctuaries for the benefit of current and future generations of indigenous people, and protecting the fauna and flora of the world's largest remaining tropical rainforest. As Roxanne commented in an interview at the 1992 Earth Summit Conference in Rio de Janeiro, "We have been working as though our lives depended on it because, in a very real sense, they do."
So do the lives of many other species. Through one of our international projects, the Preservation of the Amazonian River Dolphin (PARD), we are using the charismatic appeal of the intelligent, threatened pink dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) to focus global attention on the dire consequences of deforestation and habitat destruction by making them the "ambassadors of the rainforest". Also, these friendly cetaceans figure prominently in a carefully-managed program of educational conservation tourism which Roxanne implemented several years ago. "This concept makes the dolphins and other rainforest animals more economically important alive than dead", she explains, "and at the same time it puts food on the kitchen table at a village level."
Since 1982, ISPTR/PARD has made significant progress in shaping positive environmental attitudes and initiating various conservation programs, especially in Peru, as this is one of the few Amazonian countries where one can still find pristine forests, clean unpolluted rivers and abundant wildlife. In addition to creating protected community reserves and faunal sanctuaries, we annually distribute thousands of pounds of donated clothing, medicine and educational materials among local Indians and river people. Over the years, our foundation has committed thousands of dollars (most of which came out of Roxanne's "little old lady money") toward the purchase of relief medical aid in response to diverse epidemics that threatened the towns and villages along the Peruvian Amazon River. In 1991, we opened an outpost medical clinic at our 346-acre research base camp which is located on the Yarapa River, approximately 150 kilometers upstream of Iquitos, where the local people are now receiving dependable medical care from David Olive, our 24 hour nurse on duty, and sometimes from the Peruvian Navy doctors.
Furthermore, ISPTR/PARD helps to create jobs and cooperative businesses that enable people to support themselves and their families without damaging the rainforest's fragile ecosystem. "There has to be an exchange of energy for energy," Roxanne cautions, "otherwise human dignity is lost. When we can set up a 'cottage industry' or trading post, we are helping these people to make the transition from charity to self-sufficiency. They come from a whole other strength and are the true gardeners of the rainforest."
In keeping with this philosophical commitment, Roxanne Kremer and volunteers campaigned at the Earth Summit Conference for an effective Forest Principles Declaration in which the rights of the world's traditional forest peoples would not only be honored but also vigorously protected. After discussing the fundamental issues with 54 Brazilian Kayapo Indians, including Chief Raoni, they organized one of the largest UNCED-related press conferences and arranged for 11 Kayapos to gain entrance to the Riocentro complex under Roxanne's passport. Once inside, they read their impassioned statement before hundreds of reporters. Afterwards, their statement was given to U.S. delegate Donald Edwards who then presented it to President George Bush for his consideration. The press conference attracted international media attention and was aired on CNN for more than four minutes. After the press conference, Roxanne led the Kayapo Indians to sign their names to the Earth Pledge at the Rio de Janero Earth Summit.
At a time when the world seems poised on the brink of environmental catastrophe, it is easy to succumb to feelings of despair and hopelessness. Yes, there are complex problems to be solved an serious challenges to be faced head-on. By opening our hearts, rolling up our sleeves and working with the people at governmental and village levels, ISPTR/PARD is exerting a powerful influence on the fate of the rainforest and all of its inhabitants. Despite the prophesies of some of the doomsayers, there is hope for these magnificent repositories of biological diversity because we are making a difference and you can make a difference too.
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