From and for youth: Young leaders from the Amazon outline their priorities

 From and for youth: Young leaders from the Amazon outline their priorities

General - 19 September, 2023

After participating in a youth exchange in June 2023 youth leaders from the Amazonia in Bolivia, Colombia and Suriname proposed three strategic actions to be included in programmes in the region. The actions relate to knowledge, inclusion and incidence, and well-being.

The exchange included youth representatives from the community forestry organizations Central Indigena de Comuniades Originarias de Lomerio CICOL (Lomerio) and the Asosiacion Forestal Indigena Guaraya AFIG (Bolivia); one female youth leader from the women’s association Canasto de la Abundancia Moniya Kriga, from Solano (Colombia); the national youth representative of the Organización de Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonía Colombiana (OPIAC); and two youth leaders from the Association of Saamaka Authorities (VSG) in Suriname. They met in Santa Cruz de La Sierra, Bolivia, to discuss their experiences as youth leaders in their countries. Together, they jointly defined strategic actions they feel should be the focus of youth initiatives in the work carried out by Tropenbos International in the Amazon region.

Connecting with each other

The five-day exchange started in the region of Lomerio in Bolivia. During the first two days the participants had the opportunity to learn from each other’s communities and get to know the Monkoxi Indigenous people through a cultural presentation and meeting.

During an evening group session the Indigenous youth from Colombia shared tobacco (rapé and ambil) and the Indigenous youth from Bolivia shared coca leaves. This cultural practice increased the respect for each other’s culture, helped to overcome the language barrier and allowed participants to connect with each other. In these sessions people exchanged their personal experiences as leaders and also shared stories and the traditions and local knowledge they learned from their elders.

Each day the sense of unity among the group kept growing.

On the third day participants had the opportunity to share information about their work. Hector from Colombia explained the work of OPIAC and the role of the youth representative within that organization. Tatiana, from the women’s association of Solano, shared the process of working with Indigenous women and the challenges they face in having a voice. Samunda and Kisron from Suriname shared the VSG’s struggles to get Saamaka land rights legally recognized and the role that the Saamaka youth is playing in this effort. Wilver from Guarayos shared information about the territorial management system and the process and challenges of the Guarayos people . Freddy from Lomerio explained the community forest management plans; this also included a field visit to a community forest. The visit left everyone inspired and with the knowledge of how forest management can be a strategy to conserve forests and lands and to generate sustainable economic benefits.

SUB: Hector presenting the proposed strategies

Towards a joint proposal

On the last day, and with all these shared experiences as context, the group worked to identify three strategic actions from and for Amazon youth, which they presented to the Tropenbos International network. The strategic actions relate to knowledge, inclusion and incidence, and well-being.

Know to defend: It is very important for Amazon youth and children to get to know their territory, not only from the biophysical perspective but also in terms of traditional knowledge from elders, and the governance structures that support the self-determination of its people. The youth assert that when the youth (and children) know their ancestral land and the history and challenges they have endured to obtain rights to it, they will feel more attached and will care more about it. They emphasized the importance of inter-generational exchanges and discussions with leaders on political aspects of the territory. Further, they stressed the need for youth to be the researchers in their own territories (investigación propia), noting the work on participatory research that Tropenbos Colombia carries out with youth in the Colombian Amazon . Finally, they proposed that academic programmes should include the promotion and protection of cultural identity. Nowadays, many youth leave their communities and go to the cities to continue with their education, which is contributing to a sense of detachment from their ancestral lands and culture.

Inclusion and incidence: Youth in all programmes should have an opportunity to formulate their own agenda (environmental and political) on relevant topics at the local, national and international level. In negotiation and decision-making, youth should have the chance for meaningful inclusion and participation. To make this a reality it is necessary to strengthen youth’s communication and negotiation skills — this will boost their confidence and increase their advocacy capacities. The exchange participants also discussed the need to increase their technical capacity in order to monitor the state of the natural resources within their territories and to take action on threats to these resources.

Vivir bonito (to have well-being): This relates to land, territory, territoriality, management, economy and livelihoods, as well as physical and mental health. The cultural meaning of these aspects, which is needed for vivir bonito in accordance with local identity, is getting lost or gradually being Westernized. Amazon youth urgently call for support to strengthen the economy through productive initiatives (emprendimientos) that do not disrupt — but on the contrary, strengthen — their cultural identity and sense of belonging.

Moving forward as a team

At the end of the exchange, the participants agreed to form a core group to start working on some of these strategic actions, and above all to be united in the defence of their territories. The youth believe that if they are connected, they can share solutions when there is a threat to their territories and can create a regional awareness. They also feel if they collaborate with a common agenda, and they have the skills and opportunities to participate in civic processes, their voices will be heard.

The motivation of this youth group did not stop at the end of the exchange. They established a permanent communication channel and have continued their contact with each other. They have already met once online and are now co-developing a proposal to have a second meeting. The goal is to work on a joint work agenda for the Amazon region within the framework of the strategic actions formulated and within the scope of Tropenbos International’s work in the Amazon region.

The youth exchange was organized by IBIF, Tropenbos Colombia and Tropenbos International as part of the programme Forests for a Just Future of the Green Livelihoods Alliance.