La Reserva Forest Foundation (LRFF) works closely with local communities to ensure that our projects deliver the best possible social and environmental outcomes. However, we’re always looking for new opportunities to learn more about the communities where we work in order to better serve their needs. This summer, Global Giving provided us with the opportunity to do just that through their newly released program and Storytelling Fund (see an announcement regarding the launch of the fund and related program at http://tools.blog.globalgiving.org/2014/04/17/announcing-the-community-feedback-fund/).
After applying to the fund and receiving a generous $1,300 grant to undertake the project, LRFF reached out to local high schools in two of the communities where we work to recruit student volunteers. Eager to learn more about their communities (and excited to earn a small stipend for their efforts), each volunteer went through a training that introduced them to LRFF, the Storytelling Fund, the importance of social science research and their assignments over the next several weeks. After practicing with each other and gaining some experience in a quick trial run, we sent the volunteers out into their communities to conduct interviews using prepared questionnaires with two main prompts:
(1) Please tell a story about a time when a person or an organization tried to help someone or change something in your community.
(2) Please tell a story about a time when you had to choose between protecting the environment and maintaining a livelihood. Include if/how individuals or organizations were involved in the conflict.
The results? LRFF has already collected over 130 stories addressing topics from volcanic eruptions and earthquakes to arsenic in the groundwater. Some of the stories are optimistic – promising tales of the recovery of iguanas or scarlet macaws – while others sadly document the degradation of tropical forests or long-abandoned community centers. But however different the stories may be, they all remind us of one thing: the undertakings of non-profits, other organizations and individuals do not always align with the interests of local communities, and this misalignment is often to the detriment of the intervening body, the communities themselves, or both. For LRFF, this makes listening to the communities where we work as critical to the realization of our own mission as it is to addressing the concerns of the communities we seek to serve. Now, as we sift through the stories and prepare to organize and analyze the data they contain, we hope to pan out the clues that will lead us to these win-win scenarios for tropical forests and local livelihoods alike.
We hope you continue to follow us in this endeavor to see what secrets the stories reveal!
We had a distinguished visitor in March, Ron Jones. Ron learned about La Reserva almost a year ago and contacted us, interested in partnering with us to help plant even more trees. All of our contact was via internet and it wasn't until the end of February that he was able to make the trip to Costa Rica from Florida to meet us face to face.
I took Ron all over the area showing him the projects we have planted to date and our crowning glory, the one that I am most proud of, the Rio Sol Biological Corridor. This project, "38 Hectares of Valuable Resources for the Maleku", was part of the Rio Sol project because we reforested the remaining 14 hectares of Marvin's farm still in pasture. The other 28 hectares are covered with a majestic, primary forest, are at the headwaters of the Rio Sol and also the "spring" or source of all the potable water flowing down to the three Maleku villages.
On the day we visited, before meeting with the Maleku Tribal Council in the afternoon, we went out to check on the nurseries for the next project we will plant when the rainy season begins. It's 6000+ trees in a continuous biological corridor on two different farms owned by Elias Cruz. The project was posted on Global Giving, "For The Monkeys" but was fully funded by our corporate sponsor Strack Premium Transportation. You can see in the photos how the nurseries look, lots of trees and lots of work went into creating the shady bower for the baby tree's protection.
On the way back to meet with the Tribal Council we drove over the Rio Celeste and Ron thought the river was contaminated because of the bright blue color. He was amazed that it was naturally turquoise and shared a photo with us from the bridge.
Speaking with the Tribal Council secretary and treasurer, Emigdio Cruz and Alfredo Acosta, respectively, Ron wanted to know how we can help the tribe, what are their needs and biggest issues. I mentioned that from the very beginning, when we first contacted them, the Maleku have said they want their decreed territory returned to them however possible and when returned they would partner with LRFF to reforest 2/3's of it. The governement of Costa Rica decreed 3000 hectares as Maleku territory in 1976 but to date have not expropriated the lands owned by the non-indigenous landowners. This is still their biggest issue and that's what this project is all about.
Because LRFF is founded on only "positive action" the best solution we could come up with is to attempt to buy some of the lands back via donations from people around the world who understand and appreciate the plight of this tribe. Then, hopefully, after buying back a couple of farms the government will be exposed and pressured into doing whatever is necessary to return this small portion of the Maleku's original 60,000 hectares to them. Marvin wants to sell, is begging to sell the property! This is our chance...if we can come up with even part of the full amount needed we can probably bargain with Marvin and get the first farm back to the people who truly own it.
Our last progress report recounted the great success we’ve seen in tree development in just two years time at Marvin’s 14 hectares which were planted in December of 2011. This report is about the BIG picture up at Marvin’s and how it affects the Maleku indigenous tribe.
In 1976 the Costa Rican government decreed 3000 hectares as the tribe’s legal territory, what the government felt was owed them after the Maleku were slaughtered in the mid 1800’s and lost all 60,000 hectares that were their original territory. At present the Maleku are only in possession of approximately 600 hectares. Since the decree the lands that are illegally owned by non-indigenous landowners have never been expropriated and given back to the Maleku tribe.
When La Reserva Forest Foundation originally met with the Maleku tribesmen our first priority was to find a way to return those 3000 hectares back to them and reforest 2000 hectares of it. Marvin Castro, owner of the “38 Hectares of Valuable Resources”, is a non-indigenous landowner willing to sell the property and that’s how this project took shape. The idea is that in “buying” back just a few of the properties in non-indigenous hands via private donations the government would be shamed into action.
One of LRFF’s most important founding principles is positive action which prohibits us from making a stink, demonstrating, creating lawsuits, etc. Our only recourse is through other people’s generosity and true intentions to help this group of people who are in danger of extinction.
Marvin’s property is the source of all the potable water flowing from the mountain springs on his property to the three Maleku “palenques” (villages) below. Currently the water coop has its tanks there and they’re planning to build a larger tank that will take advantage of more gravity flow to the villages
The Maleku tribal council, who would administer the any new lands added to the Maleku territory have lost much of their hope in the last two years. I know that if we could find a sponsor or buyer, even on a recurring donation scheme, Marvin would give over possession of the property and we could then return the first 38 Hectares of Valuable Resources to the Maleku and give them strength to move onward and upward with their projects. They can do it, their spirit can be found in this little prayer written by my late friend and project participant, Isidro Acosta. First in Maleku then translated into English for you…
A Maleku Prayer
Nini cani carinabaqui casasaja tocuba, mi jani juaquini frurucu falla taqui.
Nini cani paca nuerra nuerra, mi jani juaquini fruru falla taqui.
Nini cani ucurrique patuco lasuf y jani jerronca tuni, mi jani juaquini fruruquini falla taqui.
Nini cani macaloc puro tocuba, mi jani juaquini fruru falla taqui.
Nini charagtoco ton chaja y artenhepue, mi jani juaquini fruru falla taqui.
Nini pilihiora, mi jani juaquini fruru fall taqui.
To the old god, you give me strength all of my days.
To the great god, you give me strength all of my days.
To the god of the Rio Frio with the tail of a shark, you give me strength all of my days.
To the tree with the warm glowing brass color, you give me strength all of my days.
To the toucan singing in the Tamarind tree, you give me strength all of my days.
To the hummingbird, you give me strength all of my days.
Thank you so much everyone for your continued support and generosity…
YOU GIVE ME STRENGTH ALL OF MY DAYS.
Last Thursday, October 3, 2013, we performed the latest quarterly inspection of the Rio Sol Biological Corridor project of which “38 Hectares of Valuable Resources for the Maleku” is a part. In case you don’t remember LRFF planted about 17,000 trees of over 110 species on 14 hectares (35 acres) of this property owned by Marvin Castro in Viento Fresco at the Maleku Reserve in Guatuso, Costa Rica.
Here is a link to the video that I made while up at the property last Thursday http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDLg6b9JZ8Q&feature=em-upload_owner. I was so inspired by the progress of the reforested area that I documented it almost entirely on video. We show the different types of Cacao we planted here and the sheer lushness of the new forest, filled with life.
As we climbed up the hill where we planted in December 2011 my friend and LRFF’s field director, Jimmy Acosta, mentioned taking a photo from the same exact place during the planting. He searched through his little phone and found it. By looking at it we could situate ourselves almost perfectly in the same exact spot to capture an awesomely, inspirational set of before and after photos. They are included here.
Now we need to help the Maleku purchase back the reforested farm from Marvin Castro who isn’t a Maleku tribe member. This is the plight of the Maleku. The Tribal Council is working to recuperate their legal territory but the Costa Rican government doesn’t help them even though all the reserve lands (3000 hectares or 9000 acres)have been decreed theirs. The only way to move most of the non-indigenous landowners out is to buy back the land. Hopefully this report and the amazing photos showing just how quickly the carbon sequestering forests can be restored will urge you to act today. Share this project with friends and family, give us a leg up, if you can’t personally contribute. The well-being of indigenous people is our future and responsibility.
LET’S GET PLANTING!!
We are at $525! The trees planted at Marvin’s now almost two years ago are thriving. LRFF representatives went to check up on the property in June and early July, and were able to report great progress.
While seeing the property in July, a group of nine of us went up to the Maleku lands to honor all of the landowners who participated in the Rio Sol Biological Corridor project. Andres who works at HP in San Jose with his wife and two young children, volunteers Tom, Tammy, and Courtney, and Roberta and Dan, the back bone of LRFF completed the convoy. Andres and Roberta participated in HP’s Scope-A-Thon which helped identify LRFF’s greatest need. Very cool!
We caravanned from LRFF into the hills behind the other side of Lake Arenal to Guatuso. We drove deep into Maleku land and then hiked even further to three separate places to see how the trees were doing after two years of growth and establishment. We were disheartened to find out that someone had used Root Out herbicide at one of the locations, and to find that cows and horses had been in Marvin’s again. I’m realizing more and more that people are going to do what they’re going to do, and a contract sometimes can’t even keep them tame. Thankfully, on Marvin’s property, the horses weren’t harming any of the trees, and we located where the cows were coming from. Then, we all went to have a Tilapia lunch under an authentic Maleku Rancho, a large hut with a roof made of palm leaves with two open sides. The fish was very boney and we all had fun trying our own techniques of picking them out. Roberta presented the land owners with certificates. Even though I couldn’t understand their Spanish acceptance speeches, I could see in their faces that they were honored and very proud of their contributions. We took photos of everyone together: gringos, Ticos, Maleku, and all. To finish the day, we shot a bow and arrow, and all had a grand time.
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