Internet access in indigenous villages minimizes the impact of COVID-19 isolation

The COVID-19 increased isolation of remote indigenous villages in the Amazon, as communications became more difficult. The impact was much more intense on communities far from urban centers, in particular those only accessible by boat. With the goal of connecting these communities and bringing them closer together, the Nossa Floresta Nossa Casa project (Our Forest, Our Home) started providing internet access to indigenous lands in the state of Rondônia.

In total, 10 satellite internet points will be installed – five at the Rio Branco Indigenous Land, the most remote area within the Tupi Mosaic; two at Tubarão/Latundê; and one at Rio Mequéns. Two other points are already operating at the Mariano and Kwazá villages in the Rio São Pedro Indigenous Land. 

Nossa Floresta Nossa Casa is coordinated by the Communities and Territorial Governance Initiative (ICGT-FT, learn more about it here) and run by Forest Trends, a PCAB’s implementing partners. The project's goal is to develop indigenous socio biodiversity value chains in the Amazon, promoting income generation, conservation and sustainable land use opportunities in an area of approximately 1.5 million hectares.

Fábio Wesley de Melo, Technical Assistant of Forest Trends, says that social isolation made it almost impossible for remote villages to receive help, including medical support, or keeping up with commercial activities, such as selling Brazil nuts and handicrafts. Trade was one of the most affected sectors in the Amazon region. 

In addition, technical assistance and support for economic initiatives – which had been carried out continuously by the ICGT-FT team until March 2020 – had to be interrupted during the pandemic. Since then, all communication has relied on internet connectivity.

“Many towns remained in lockdown, and trade slowed down. Some villages were completely isolated, without any communication, accelerating the demand for internet access,” explained Melo.

The idea is to install internet points in communal areas in each village, such as schools or other similar facilities. In the first six months, all internet bills – ranging from R$180 to R$290 a month – will be picked up by the project.

“We are encouraging them to develop their own management process. In many villages, people do not have enough income to pay monthly fees. So, we are encouraging them to focus on management, and try to share the costs later”, explained Melo.

Support – Nossa Floresta Nossa Casa also had to adapt to COVID-19 measures in 2020, investing more in communication and adapting their methodologies to work remotely.

Thanks to the Ikea Foundation, which provides direct support and complementary resources to Nossa Floresta Nossa Casa, some measures were introduced to meet the demands of local indigenous peoples during the health emergency. This included food security, providing support to those struggling financially, and launching an information campaign on COVID-19 preventive measures, highlighting the importance of staying in the indigenous villages. Leaflets and cards were distributed in the whole area (see examples here). 

The ICGT-FT team also produced a video to raise awareness about the severity of the pandemic among the local population (watch it here).

In February, the ICHT-FT team launched the third stage of the campaign, encouraging vaccination against the new coronavirus in indigenous lands. They are also distributing information and audiovisual materials prepared by partners with simplified scientific information on immunization. Brazil started its COVID-19 vaccination program in January, and listed indigenous peoples as a priority group.