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The young Brazilians fighting for the Amazon

Vitoria Velez

Agence France-Presse

Carauari, Brazil  /  Fri, April 3, 2020  /  08:03 am
The young Brazilians fighting for the Amazon

Twenty-six-year-old Maria Cunha, who lives in Sao Raimundo, municipality of Carauari, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon Forest, poses for pictures on March 15, 2020. (AFP/Florence Goisnard)

Maria dreams of being the next Greta Thunberg. Kelita is studying in the first-ever university program in the Amazon. Fabio is helping his family do its part to fight climate change through sustainable agriculture.

A new generation of young Brazilians from the Amazon region are seeking to reshape the fight for the world's largest rainforest, which is shrinking before their eyes.

The first Youth of the Forest Conference recently brought together 287 of them to discuss what they can do to fight rampant wildfires, deforestation from logging, farming and mining, and apathy about the rapid loss of one of Earth's most important natural resources.

AFP profiles three of them.

Read also: 'Activism works': Greta Thunberg rallies UK school strikers

Amazonian Greta

Maria Cunha, 26, is from Sao Raimundo, a small village in a protected reserve whose residents live off fishing and gathering.

A volunteer forest ranger with a degree in sustainable production techniques, she says saving the Amazon will require working with the people who know it best: its inhabitants.

"We are the guardians of the forest. We live here and depend on the rainforest for practically everything. If we don't protect our forests, how will we live?" she added.

She is already seeing the impact of climate change at home, she said: hotter weather, lower water levels on the rivers, fewer fish.

Animals are feeling the impact, too.

"They come into our yard looking for food because they can't find enough, because of fires and deforestation," she said.

She fears it could "all disappear in the near future" if others her age don't act.

She sees Thunberg, the 17-year-old Swedish climate activist, as a role model.

"I dream of being the next Greta, an empowered girl fighting for her rights," she said.

Prodigal daughter

Kelita do Carmo left the rainforest at 13 years old, moving to the city of Manaus, to work as a nanny.

Eight months later, she was back home in Bauana, a village of stilt houses on the banks of the Jurua River.

"I learned to appreciate things here," she said.

Now 22, she is studying to become a teacher, part of the first-ever degree program offered in the rainforest.

Twenty-two-year-old Kelita do Carmo (C) sits in class in the small faculty built by the Sustainable Amazon Foundation in the municipality of Carauari, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon Forest, on March 15, 2020. Twenty-two-year-old Kelita do Carmo (C) sits in class in the small faculty built by the Sustainable Amazon Foundation in the municipality of Carauari, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon Forest, on March 15, 2020. (AFP/Florence Goisnard)

The program aims to supply teachers to far-flung rainforest villages. It is a joint project by the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation -- which sponsored the Youth of the Forest Conference -- and Amazonas State University in Manaus.

It includes coursework on sustainable agriculture and the environment.

Read also: Young people take to the streets for climate: Who are they?

Farmer, math whizz

Fabio Gondim dreams of becoming a math teacher one day.

At 16 years old, he is already an expert farmer.

Sixteen-year-old Fabio Gondim, who lives in the community of Bauana, municipality of Carauari, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon Forest, picks acai fruit on March 14, 2020. Sixteen-year-old Fabio Gondim, who lives in the community of Bauana, municipality of Carauari, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon Forest, picks acai fruit on March 14, 2020. (AFP/Florence Goisnard)

He helps his family harvest acai, a fruit in high demand for its health properties, and cassava, which they use to make flour. 

A natural athlete, he can scale a 10-meter acai palm in a flash.

"It never crossed my mind to leave" the rainforest, he said.

"I wouldn't want to live in the city. Everything is easier here. The forest provides our food and our income."

He is helping his family adopt more sustainable farming techniques, such as clearing fewer trees to farm cassava.

"We have to keep fighting for the Amazon," he said.

"It's what's sustaining the world."

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