PCAB impacts on the daily lives of young people from traditional communities in the Amazon

PCAB: Transforming Lives

Providing training to young people (as a means to inspire them to stay in their local communities) and facilitating the development of new youth leadership are important aspects of the Partnership for the Conservation of Amazon Biodiversity (PCAB). It is also essential for strengthening the way of life and management practices of traditional peoples, including indigenous, riverine and quilombola communities.

Projects supported by the PCAB and USAID/Brazil in 2020, 503 groups association and/or organizations received training in sustainable natural resources management and/or in biodiversity conservation. Youngsters from 15 to 29 years old represented 75.38% of people trained or who benefited from initiatives related to the private sector engagement.

In this edition, we will take you to the states of Pará, Roraima and Amazonas to meet Maria HelenaAlcebiasCésar Henrique and João Paulo, who will describe how their involvement in projects supported by USAID/Brazil has changed their lives.

1 - More independent communities

"It is very gratifying when a community tells us that, thanks to the mapping and other work carried out by the Guajarina Team, they were able to proceed with their land-titling processes, or managed to demand public policies to improve their community structure." This is how Maria Helena Cunha dos Santos said she felt when describing her work with quilombola communities in the state of Pará. 

She is one of the members of a youth group called Guajarina Team, created in 2018 as a result of the Sharing Worlds program, a partnership between ECAM, USAID/Brazil, Google Earth Outreach, and local associations such as CONAQ (National Coordination Office of Black Rural Quilombola Communities).

The program was built on the New Technologies and Traditional Peoples program. It trained community representatives – mainly young people – and provided them with the tools to carry out socioeconomic data surveys in their own territories. They also produced maps that show the location and boundaries of quilombola areas in the Amazon. 

Currently, the Guajarina Team is present in 57 quilombola communities in Pará, assisting in the georeferencing of territories, and training young people on how to improve their infrastructure, including schools, water supply, and sanitation services. 

Maria Helena, 27, lives in the Ramal de Piratuba community in the municipality of Abaetetuba, 123 km from state capital Belém. Her community is among those that have already obtained a land title. She recalls, however, that several others are still fighting for this recognition. "Titling is an important instrument for preserving the land, especially in the face of constant threats from land grabbers and deforesters," she said.

Maria Helena has a degree in Agronomy from the Federal University of Pará, and is now pursuing a master's degree at the Federal Rural University of the Amazon. She says that studying has opened up her horizons, and enabled her to have a broader view of society. "In the past, young people hardly ever got involved. Today, they pursue their studies, and want to return to their communities to contribute to improving the place where they were born. Our connection with the land is very strong – it is part of us," she added.

According to her, young quilombolas have also been seeking to combine technical and traditional knowledge, preserving quilombola culture and customs. "Our elders are the guardians of our people's knowledge. We have a duty to listen to them." 

When asked about what it has meant to participate in this process, Maria Helena concluded saying that "All of this has given me a lot of knowledge and a desire to help our communities improve their quality of life, in addition to getting their long-awaited title".

2 - Protected territories

The constant struggle for territorial protection as a means of preventing illegal deforestation and mining from advancing into indigenous lands (TIs) in the Amazon is a challenge faced by the people living in Raposa Serra do Sol, in the state of Roraima. In this context, training has helped young leaders take on an increasingly important role in promoting their own self-determination and guarding their land against invasion.

"Protecting our land comes first because, without our land, there is no access to education, to a better quality of life, to communication... These territories were conquered by our elders after much struggle, and even today they are still under constant threat," summarized young indigenous leader Alcebias Mota Constantino, of the Sapará people. 

Constantino is the state coordinator of the Indigenous Council of Roraima Youth Group (CIR). He points out that one of the ways to empower young people in the face of challenges is to train them. "Our role is to incorporate new tools. In the past, they hit our people with weapons. Today, we are attacked with paper and ink – so we are learning to use paper and ink, too. Our youth are studying to be lawyers, doctors, agronomists, and, with that, adapting to the new times," he said.

Constantino is now 25. He recalls that he has been participating in indigenous youth movements for over a decade. "Through projects supported by the PCAB, we have been exchanging knowledge and dealing with topics ranging from sustainability to political training." 

One such example is the Bem-Viver project, which promotes the well-being of indigenous peoples in Roraima. It is a PCAB project implemented by the CIR, the Brazilian Education Institute (IEB) and NGO Nature and Culture International (NCI). It aims to improve the territorial governance and environmental management of indigenous lands in the state of Roraima, in addition to promoting income generation through the sustainable development of production chains. 

Roraima has 32 indigenous lands and 246 indigenous communities, comprising a population of about 50 thousand people. Constantino says that one of the difficulties they face today is traveling between these territories. “Young people today want to have access to information, and exchange knowledge about their identities – each with their own different way of life and organization,” he added. According to him, one of the next steps is to set up a database to have more information on the youngsters participating in the group.

When talking about the future, Constantino says he hopes that young people will increasingly take on a leading role in their communities, defending their territories and preserving the culture of their people. "My role as a project leader means that I spend time away from the village. Once, when I came back, one of my daughters hugged me and said: 'The day your fight ends, mine will start'. I was moved because it shows that I have already planted a seed, a message of unity and strength."

3 - New leadership

Showing how riverine groups in the Amazon can act to strengthen sustainable value chains, preserving, for example, the wild pirarucu. Exchanging experiences on ways to minimize climate-change impacts on traditional agriculture. Finding ways to improve the infrastructure of communities so as to contribute to the quality of life of residents. All of this with the participation of young people.

These goals are present in the life of voluntary environmental officers, such as César Henrique Cunha and João Paulo Menezes, two young leaders from the São Raimundo community, in the municipality of Carauari, in Médio Juruá.

“Our focus is to keep our youth in their communities, aware of their role in improving local life. We show them that we have a history to write here in the Amazon, and that it only depends on us,” said Henrique.

Both are engaged in the education efforts of the Médio Juruá Territory Project, managed by SITAWI and supported by USAID/Brazil in partnership with Natura and Coca-Cola Brazil. It also involves local associations and entities.

About 130 young people attended environmental training programs in Médio Juruá communities before the COVID-19 pandemic. With the social isolation imposed by the pandemic, joint workshops were replaced with individual activities developed in each of the communities. 

“Today, we see that young people seek to have an active role in their communities, including by attending events as community representatives. We are gradually seeing a new way of thinking,” said João Paulo.

Both see leadership training and capacity building as a way to preserve the standing forest and its biodiversity. “We draw attention to Amazon priorities. Our message to our youth is not to give up on their dreams and efforts aimed at creating a better future for the forest and for Brazil," concluded Henrique.