A new generation of youth leaders rising in the Amazon - the path of a young riverine woman

Maria Cunha was born in São Raimundo, a community on the banks of the Juruá river, in the Brazilian Amazon. At age 28, Maria is a volunteer environmental officer, a storyteller, and a leader in her community. 

As a teenager, Maria joined the Young Leaders project, implemented 10 years ago in Amazon Protected Areas. The program provided training to local adolescents and encouraged them to participate in community projects to improve their wellbeing. 

She attended a technical course in sustainable production and then helped to develop a wide range of initiatives in the community: from selective garbage collection to capacity building in wild pirarucu monitoring - one of the main sources of income local: “We don’t live in the forest because we have no choice. We live here because it is part of our ancestry, and our culture. We are guardians of the forest,” she sums up.

Nowadays Maria devotes her time to the Volunteer Environmental Officer (AAV) program, which seeks to nurture collective attitudes and raise awareness in the community about respect for the environment and citizenship rights and responsibilities. Environmental officers act as educators and help train youth, in particular, on the proper use of natural resources and on relevant legislation. The AVV program is sponsored by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA). 

"I live in the forest, and I am worried that deforestation and climate change might affect the balance of ecosystems," she adds. 

Maria says that the projects in which she took part as a teenager opened new horizons and new opportunities for her. "These programs can 'teach' to our youth, helping them to become future educators, workers, and leaders. I have become an empowered woman."

When the PCAB and USAID started supporting those projects, they grew stronger, and more youth could be included in the activities, meetings, and lectures. “I hope they will remain engaged and will continue living in the forest, pursuing quality of life and demanding access to better health and education," says Maria.

Projects – The community of São Raimundo, in the municipality of Carauari, state of Amazonas, was part of the Médio Juruá Territory Program. The program was financed by USAID, Natura, and Coca-Cola Brasil, and was coordinated by SITAWI (USAID implementing partner) in partnership with local associations belonging to the Médio Juruá Territory Forum. In addition to preserving biodiversity, it promoted the implementation of a Land Development Plan for the region. 

The Young Leaders (Jovens Protagonistas) program, implemented by ICMBio, seeks to strengthen community organization through the mobilization and training of youngsters, in particular those living in Protected Areas in the Amazon.