How Does it Feel to Attend a Summer School in the Amazon Rainforest? Here’s How…

By Harsh Vardhan Bhati

I am a 5th year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Jindal Global Law School, O. P. Jindal Global University, Sonepat. I am really thankful to Prof. Nawneet Vibhaw and Jindal Global Law School for giving me the opportunity to live this experience.

Prof. Nawneet Vibhaw provided me with this opportunity and referred me to the ‘Sustainable Leadership Program’ of the Amazon Summer School program, 2014.

I am really thankful to Prof. Ajay Pandey as well, because one of the reasons I was offered a fifty percent scholarship on the tuition fee was on account of partaking in the course ‘Rural Governance and Citizen Participation’ along with the ‘Cross-National Human Rights’ course organized through Cornell Law School, USA, at Jindal Global Law School.

Entering the Amazon Rainforest for me was one of the most enriching and enlightening experiences of my lifetime.

I resided in Manaus, Brasil, for the first four days and then moved into the Amazon Rainforest where I was lucky enough to witness the Native communities, who lived there for centuries undisturbed at mercy of the beautifully dense forest.

This was a beautiful opportunity for me to indulge myself in a culture and way of life far different from ours.

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India, like Brazil, is a developing nation. I was curious about the structure and the monitoring output mechanisms for the protection of the environment and also the conservation of the forest and how these could be used effectively through community participation to protect our own forests and wildlife.

I received an opportunity to visit the INPA forest fragment project, whereby I was bestowed upon the chance to meet Rita Mesquita, who is a researcher, specializing in forest regeneration and also handles education and outreach for the SI/INPA Forest Fragments project.

Amazon is the third largest political unit of South America but still they lack state laws designated to the sustainable energy and environment conservation. The INPA project worked on the production of Bio-mass and all the research and development of the same in a sustainable manner by conducting an in-depth research on trees and plants.

I got to work practically and help measure the height, age and energy production potential of the same. They also ensured the well-being of the forest they so dearly respected by ensuring the same was protected from illegal timber industries and saw mills. They also regulated and equated the pace of demands with the pace of solution or supply and ensured the necessary balance was struck.

The institution FAS, also known as Amazon Sustainable Foundation, is a private NGO, and Virgilio Viana, the CEO of FAS (PhD in evolutionary biology from Harvard University) worked with the public and government.

It helped monitoring and procuring funds for the betterment of natives and communities living in rainforest and Rio Negro River. The State of Amazonas received $20 million from the State government and $20 million from the Bradesco Bank for the better quality of life of river communities and for the conservation of forest.

When I was living in the rainforest with the communities, we used to have sessions with all the sustainable leaders who are working for the nature in private as well as public sector in Brazil. I would like to share my experiences with two of the sustainable leaders.

We had a session with Denis Minev, CFO of Bemol electronics and Former State Secretary for Planning and Economics Development of Amazonas.

He talked about multi-faceted sustainability and principles like the ‘polluter pay principle’, inter-generation equity have their roots in anthropocentric principles which basically focused on human needs and not based on Eco-centric principle.

He focused mainly on the geo-politics of the whole world and mentioned how it is disturbed. He was strongly supporting that “the environment is too important to be left just to the environmentalists. We should work as a union.”

Another session consisted of Pedro Sirgado, Executive Director at EDP institute and former deputy Director-General of the environment of the government of Portugal. He worked with the Private sector and stated that, Brazil needs 5000 MW energy every year in order to meet the shortage of energy.

The main problem they faced was the production of energy and whether the same was carried out in a sustainable and environment friendly manner or not. If they did not make 5000 MW energy every year, urban life and technology will stop and if they do produce this amount of energy, it cannot be produced solely on wind, hydro, thermal and solar power, so it will harm the environment.

It was really a great opportunity for me. I lived amongst indigenous communities and working for them made me realize all the issues from a deeper perspective, how they were satisfied and most content living in harmony with the forest and wildlife, much different from our technology-frenzied generation.

They got most of the things from the forest itself and maintained their families and livelihood from the same. But because of the intrusion of illegal activities and lack of strong laws in Amazon Rainforest, the situation only worsened for natives and tribes living in the forest.

All the illegal timber activities are using the expensive natural resources and exporting to other countries and because of that, tribes and communities are coming up with the issue of lack of job opportunities to survive and maintain their families.

First of all, the government and its current policies chased the betterment of urban areas solely.

The situation is such that all the natural resources of the Third World countries are being used by the First World countries and they are getting more powerful with less problems day-by-day while the developing countries are coming up with more issues like that of the population, economy, recession and conservation of wildlife.

Even though they know all the things they need to sustain a life as a normal human-being, can be achieved from forest and wildlife.

I opted for the opportunity to work as a volunteer in the community, where I volunteered to teach an art class to the children aged between 6-15 years in the community. All the communities were quite far away from Manaus, a normal boat takes more than 4 hours to reach Tumbira (one of the protected communities out of 16 communities is situated quite far from Manaus).

I personally visited more than 3 communities and convinced their parents to send their children for the art classes. All the other children above 15 get school education in the communities, they have video conferencing from Manaus and teachers teach all the students via video conferencing. They also have tutors living with them in the communities.

Even though I do not speak Portuguese, and the natives there spoke either the native tongue or Portuguese perfectly, but somehow, I still managed to make a strong connection and gained their trust and belief.

Language, I realized, is not a barrier for the likeminded humans battling the same cause.

This whole experience leaned more towards the practical aspects. This sort of an experience could only be achieved by living with the people who are suffering from the problem, and getting to know their issues first-hand.

Only then can one could fully understand the magnitude of the problem from its very grass root. I was there with 15 other participants who came from different corners of the world and shared the same passion for the conservation of wildlife.

Now comes the fun part, we used to sleep in hammocks in the open, under a blanket of stars. First thing in the morning was jumping from the trees into the river and crossing the black river from one side to the other. Just after morning trail in the forest, we used to have breakfast that was full of rich nutrients.

We were provided with meals four times a day, with fruits such as passion fruit, cupuaçu, kaju, açaí etc. that are indigenous to South America and are widely grown in the Amazon Rainforest. We were served Pirarucu, ancient air-breathing giant fish of Amazonian rivers and lakes.

It was delicious. I also had the unique opportunity to swim among the majestic Boto pink dolphins, in the black waters of Rio Negro. All these things were dream to me until I reached Tumbira and saw for myself how dreams can come true.

The National Geographic program named ‘Pacto com o Planeta’, was being shot at the Amazon Rainforest during my stay there. For the making of this program, Nat Geo’s team was present at Tumbira in the last days of the summer school and they interviewed me on how different I feel after living for 20 days in an environment that is alien to the urbanized world.

Here’s the link. (21-22 minutes)

I will not forget this experience and what it taught me. Someone once beautifully told me, “as long as one is not a tree, one can go wherever they feel free”. If I was not a part of Jindal Global Law School, I would have never received this opportunity in the first place. And, special thanks to my father for making this humble dream of mine an apparent reality.

See the detail of the programs here.

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