ITD Partnership Strengthens Cultural, Environmental, and Sustainability Exchange

For three weeks in May, Cristian Velez from Iquitos, Peru and Carlos Macotela from San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico joined the Hitchcock Center staff to learn about educational methods and sustainability. Cristian and Carlos were participating in the Institute for Training and Development’s (ITD) Professional Fellows Program in Environmental Sustainability. The Professional Fellows Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, brings emerging leaders from around the world to the United States for intensive fellowships designed to gain knowledge of practices and techniques for working with different stakeholders toward environmental sustainability.

Cristian works with the Centro de Rescate Amazónico – CREA (Amazon Rescue Center) in Iquitos where he is a board member and general coordinator of environmental education. He is also, a co-founder and coordinator of “Community of Change Agents SalvaPlaneta (Save the Planet)”, which is made up of social and environmental ventures in the Peruvian Amazon. His job involves identifying potential members of the community, training them in leadership issues and coordinating strategies with them that allow the group to scale up the reach and impact of each project. The Rescue Center’s central work is rescuing animals with a particular focus on the Amazonian manatee in partnership with the Dallas World Aquarium.

Carlos is a consultant, instructor and adventure guide leader for PETRA Vertical, an eco-tourism company in Chiapas. He works on the Good Practices for Ecotourism Project sponsored by USAID through Conservation International, and coordinated by SEMARNAT, CONANP, SECTUR Chiapas, where he provides training on ecotourism best practices and implementation in several towns. He helped establish Caminando México AC, an organization that promotes contact with nature trough walking and trekking. He is a member of Grupo Escala Montañismo y Exploración AC that works to educate on the principle that in order to preserve something people need to get to know it and be in contact with it. It uses rock and tree climbing as an educational tool to generate emotions and experiences with people in the natural environment.

Both Cristian and Carlos worked with all Hitchcock Center staff and participated in a range of Hitchcock programs, including presenting on water in their local regions in the Center’s homeschool program and observing in the Nature Play Afterschool Program. They attended building tours and met with staff privately to learn and exchange ideas on environmental education, outreach, and organizational goals. As part of the ITD program, they visited Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., where they toured prominent landmarks, met with influential leaders, and presented their work. They had fun participating in a homestay with staff member Jessica Schultz to have a local cultural experience and hike a few local trails. As a culmination of their visit, each as prepared an action plan to implement in their communities.

Carlos’s action plan will work on educational efforts to change minds about tree management in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas. As a result of climate change, the frequency of tornadoes are increasing and posing a danger to residents and structures. In response, the local tree authority is commonly removing or taking the tops off of trees to reduce the danger. However, trees provide environmental services in the community and Carlos’ project will work on several fronts to raise awareness and change management patterns. He writes:

Step 1: Public environmental education campaign in order to raise awareness about the environmental services provided by urban trees in the city, including protection acting as buffers against atmospheric events such as tornados.
Step 2: Alliances between the local government and local foundations, business and NGO’s in order to have a collaboration to generate knowledge and technical skills to implement a safe and sustainable urban tree management program.
Step 3: Financing campaign to equip, train and certify crews in order to reduce risks of accident while working with trees.

Cristian’s action plan addresses the world-wide experience of nature deficit in which children and adults lose contact with nature and natural systems. Despite the fact that his home city of Iquitos is located in the Amazonian rainforest, there are problems faced both by those within the city and those in Amazon communities. Urban communities have no access to nature, a fear of nature, may not know Amazonian culture, and may illegally traffic wildlife as pets. Rural communities do have access and are fearless of nature, but are losing primary forest, are hunting wildlife to sell in the cities, and are embarrassed of Amazonian culture.

His project aims to provide connections with young people in the local communities using the Forest of the Grandfather Tree methodology in which one tree represents the foundation of the forest and life within it. He aims to implement the project by coordinating with local authorities, schools and communities and work within these venues to adapt Amazonian mythology to children’s stories. The project also aims to produce content as radio programs to communicate this message to more remote communities.

Thank you to the ITD Professional Fellows Program and to Carlos and Cristian for sharing their visit with us!

About ITD

ITD is one of several U.S.-based non-profit organizations and universities who were chosen to host professionals from Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay in the Spring and Fall of 2015. ITD’s program brings 32 young environmental professionals to Massachusetts, and sends ten American counterparts to Latin America. The program focuses on multi-stakeholder approaches to environmental sustainability. Selected participants are NGO leaders, government officials, community leaders, educators and environmental experts. Participants complete three-week fellowships with public and private host organizations throughout Western Massachusetts.

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