In my almost forty years on earth, the place I’m most connected to is the land of my birth and childhood. On the northeast shoulder of South America, there exists a small nation full of culture, pride and history. Its name is Suriname and it remains an enigma to the rest of the world. The most brag-worthy feature of my motherland would be her awe-inspiring rainforests. The majority of the country is still covered by a lush blanket of primary forest but protection of this asset is an ongoing struggle. Suriname is a developing country, which relies on its agricultural and mining sectors to keep its economy afloat.
Finding a balance between extractive-exploitation and conservation will continue to be one of Suriname’s biggest challenges. In this global epoch of major environmental concerns and climate change issues, it’s essential that people realize the benefits of Amazonia’s bounty: the forest is a mighty machine that can sequester the carbon dioxide we’ve all overburdened our atmosphere with!
In 1982, Suriname was destabilized by a military coup-d’état and the civil war that resulted. My parents decided to leave their lives behind. They packed up their two young children and immigrated to Canada. Since that time, the rainforests of Suriname have remained a crucial part of my identity. Like a divining rod, they drew me back for a second chapter once the political situation had improved.
Ten years ago, I had the great honour of working with an NGO to protect rainforests. We worked in partnership with indigenous people living in villages throughout remote southern jungles. With some logistical support and financial assistance from The Amazon Conservation Team, Suriname’s Amerindians fought for land rights by creating ethnographic maps, they preserved centuries of traditional knowledge by returning Shamans to their rightful place as trusted healers in the community, and they realized that embracing modern conveniences didn’t have to occur at the expense of their values and traditions. They’ve accomplished a lot but their work continues.
For the sake of humankind and the world, Rainforest Conservation remains my rally cry and the Amazonian forests will forever be home.