Our First Visit to a Remote Riverside Community: How Conservation Empowerment Begins

Our First Visit to a Remote Riverside Community: How Conservation Empowerment Begins

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Women for Conservation strives to forge new sustainability partnerships with rural communities across Colombia, especially in areas where women and children are underserved. This month, we partnered with Fundación ProAves to lead a workshop for the Timbiquí Santa María community in the department of Cauca in western Colombia. The goal of the workshop was to share the importance of birds and birdwatching, and to seek support from women in the community interested in leading conservation initiatives. Women for Conservation aims to work synergistically with people in remote areas through integrated conservation-development programs that benefit both human and ecological communities. 

Less than three miles from the Pacific Ocean, along the Rio Timbiquí, this community is primarily composed of Afro-Colombian people. There are approximately 4.5 million people with African heritage living in Colombia, primarily the descendants of enslaved peoples brought to South America in the 16th century to mine, work on plantations, and otherwise serve Spanish colonists. Due to this legacy of colonialism and ongoing racism that continues today, Black people in Colombia are often discriminated against and underserved. Therefore it is exceptionally important for Women for Conservation to reach these communities in remote areas, to promote alternative livelihood opportunities while educating people about the unique flora and fauna where they live. 

We understand that conservation can be economically fruitful, especially where community-led ecotourism and the creation of sustainable products are concerned. It can be a way for people to not only celebrate and protect their lands and waters, but also benefit financially from sustainable living and market practices. We and our partner ProAves are particularly concerned with empowering women to create self-driven processes that allow them to preserve both their traditions and territories.

The workshop, attended mainly by women and youth, raised awareness about the importance of caring for local fauna, especially birds. Participants learned about the biology of birds and how to use binoculars and field guides to identify key species. Songbirds, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers were spotted during the fieldwork portion of the workshop. The second priority of the meeting was a community discussion on how Women for Conservation and ProAves could support local initiatives that highlight the traditions of the Santa María community. Participants also brainstormed ways that waste can be reduced in this lowland area, as trash and other contaminants easily wash into the river and are carried out to sea, damaging marine ecosystems.

This is just the beginning of our collaboration with the people of Santa María in Timbiquí. We look forward to supporting the community in conservation and sustainable development efforts that they themselves self-direct. It is critical that people on the ground feel ownership over their projects, as this is the only way that initiatives take root and grow to benefit people and wildlife for years to come. 

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