EcoLogic empowers rural and indigenous communities to restore and protect tropical ecosystems in Central America and Mexico. We do this by providing and facilitating knowledge, networks, incentives, and tools that promote the responsible use of the natural resources that surround communities in order to alleviate the major challenges they face. Through our work, we aim to nurture community awareness, expand local assets, and strengthen individual capabilities so that communities can manage their ecosystem by themselves to create a more sustainable landscape now and into the future.
An example of this ethos in action is found in the story of José Domingo and Samuel’s recent journey to Panama to attend a training hosted by the World Wildlife Fund’s Russel E. Train Education for Nature Program (EFN). The WWF-EFN’s mission is to “provide financial support to proven and potential conservation leaders in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to gain the skills and knowledge they need to address the conservation challenges in their home countries. EFN supports conservationists to pursue graduate studies, attend short-term training courses, and train local communities in WWF priority places.”
Also at EcoLogic, we are dedicated to amplifying the voices of communities and those involved in the daily process of making change happen. These doers and adopters are the catalysts that make EcoLogic’s projects people-powered endeavors. So, in this article, we will connect you to two leaders at EcoLogic, José Domingo Caal and Samuel Coc, Field Technicians for our work around the Amatique Bay in eastern Guatemala, so that they can tell and show you all about their training in Panama, what they learned, and how they will integrate their new knowledge into their daily work at EcoLogic.
We hope that you will follow the transcript below and whether you speak Spanish or not, click the sound clips out of curiosity and enjoy hearing José’s voice, his kindness, and his excitement—maybe you can catch some words from your days in high school Spanish! We also hope you notice the sounds of Guatemala in the background—it’s like taking a little trip from the comfort of your chair! Of course if you speak Spanish, that’s great—here’s an opportunity to hone your comprehension skills or just escuchar a nuestro compadre José Domingo!
Here’s a guide so you know who is who:
JD=José Domingo—Field Technician
RH= Riley Hunter—Communications Officer
CP= Chris Patterson—Director of Development and Communications
Photos provided by: Samuel Coc Yat—Field Technician
JD: Hey what’s up?
RH: Not much just here in the office, everything’s good, can you see me?
JD: Yes, clearly!
RH: Do you have video?
JD: No the connection is slow, so I’ll keep it off.
RH: Okay, no problem, where are you right now?
JD: I’m in a restaurant haha, do you hear the music?
RH: Buga Mama? Yes I hear it! I was just learning about that place! It seems awesome, it’s next to the water?
JD: Yes on the shore of the ocean.
RH: I hope to visit you there soon!
RH: How’s your day going?
JD: Well, thankfully, everything’s well!
JD: Yes working, fortunately it has rained a bit because there was a strong drought in the area and it hadn’t rained for 3 or 4 months!
RH: Oh seriously??
JD: Yes, there were some problems with the corn crops, but thankfully it rained a bit and it’s still raining. It started Monday and it’s been raining since.
RH: Ok, well we should get talking about the workshop in Panama
RH: So, do you think that it was fun? Or explain to me what the concept or goal of the training was? I don’t really know much about it to be honest.
JD: Well, in reality, to summarize it in one phrase I can say that it was a marvelous experience. Unique. Really, apart from getting to know Panama, we had the opportunity to exchange experiences with other people, for example from Colombia, what the situation was in Colombia, for example, the forest and the natural resources; we shared experiences with people from Peru and Ecuador…
RH: What part of Panama were you in?
JD: Well, we were in two different areas. We were in an area of dry forest and an area of tropical humid forest. So, the idea of the organizers of the course was to give us at least the knowledge of the differences between dry and humid forests and the characteristics of the two different types of forest. A dry forest is totally different than a humid forest. In the first days we were in…
JD: Do you hear me? Sorry the signal fell through…
RH: Yeah, that’s how it goes, no worries! We were talking about the workshop, no?
JD: Yes we were in an area in the Pacific and an area in the Atlantic. The Pacific area was more or less-dry forest and the Atlantic was humid forest. The Atlantic area was near the Panama Canal area, close to Panama City, 25 minutes or so.
RH: What was the objective for you or what was the objective of the program?
JD: The objective was to gain knowledge and experience about the new strategies and tools to be able to do our job of reforestation. There are different types of approaches to reforest areas, so our objective was to at least learn about research and different species, native and exotic ones, that they use in Panama and learn how we can take that knowledge back to our projects.
RH: So this workshop completed its objectives?
JD: Yes, definitely.
RH: You already told me a little, but can you describe a few of the points that you consider a success? Like you were telling me with the types of the native trees and such?
JD: Basically, what I liked about the course was that for example, many times when we talk about reforestation, we might immediately think about buying seeds and beginning planting trees. In reality, this is not what reforestation is. Reforestation or restoring a forest is really not always about buying seeds. Sometimes, for example, it’s about natural regeneration that simply is about leaving an area without human intervention. Sometimes this has less of a cost and this allows the area to recuperate. Apart from that, they showed us presentations about this and we got to know some areas where they were doing these types of projects. For example assisted regeneration, which is when you have to do maintenance and let the area naturally restore. There is also another type of reforestation that is called enrichment. This is where there is a necessity to plant and grow other species depending on the objective of the project. What is the objective of the organization, the farmer, or the farm? What is the objective of the family? Take EcoLogic for example, what is our objective for reforestation? If we want to protect and restore water sources, this is the objective of the restoration, so then we have to study the species that are going to function the best in a zone around watersheds. One can’t use exotic species in that area for example, so some of these issues maybe one might be fully aware of. These opportunities give us a new way of looking at how to better structure our projects and our interventions. This area that we work, Sarstoon for example, is a humid forest. They gave us some comprehensive documents about how to establish greenhouses and take them into the field, how to use the bags and the trays properly, etc. There are great tips and concepts of how to do the job more effectively, but also it stresses the importance to work with native species.
RH: And this different way of viewing restoration is something you’ll use? Or what is a good concept that you definitely are going to use in your daily work?
JD: To do an intervention inside of an area, for example if we want to do reforestation work, one has to have a lot of information and do studies, because this is what leads to successful projects. If one doesn’t have this information, you can try and try, but never achieve intended results. What we learned in Panama is that we have to do soil analyses, topography analyses, see if there are slopes or water sources in the area, and really to just do an inventory of the species that are already in the area and then we can make the decision to define the species that we are going to use and manage in the forest. Sometimes we just use the Primavera or the Golden tree, the Spanish cedar, or Honduran mahogany, because they are really popular in communities and they are potentially commercial, but we have to think about what we really want. If we are talking about microwatersheds, our intervention and our actions have to be related to this topic! We can’t just think of other species if they aren’t going to function and adapt to these watershed areas. I believe that it is something important that one can take into account and incorporate into ones work. We have to say, okay really we need all of the information before we proceed. In our case, we have written reports, we know the pH of the soil in the area, and we have a lot of information, but we really need to define what analyses we need to do, what our objectives really are, and incorporate those things into our project at the agricultural level.
JD: One of the great things about the course was when they showed us some pilot parcels of land and we did some groups exercises (we were in a group with a team from Ecuador). We all shared some experiences and did a final exercise where we had to demonstrate if we really had learned or not! Thankfully it went well haha! We did a project as if we were consultants for a foresting company and demonstrated what steps we would take to develop a sustainable strategy that would protect the forest against the company’s desire to just cut down trees in the forest. We got great reviews from the facilitators and our cohort as well.
RH: Was there a special moment or something that really caught your attention? It could be a person you met or something in particular you’ll remember.
JD: Really, more than anything else, they mentioned to us that, as graduates or participants of this course, we have the opportunity to continue to be in conversation with the best practitioners and organizations in our field of expertise. The director of the WWF also commented that this program is not something that we just come to and leave and it’s over, we have the possibility to continue progressing and learning, maybe enter a course to do a master’s degree or maybe the possibility to go to more conferences. So we have these possibilities for the future. They also mentioned that in the case that we are working on a big proposal, they can help us with translations or technical advice. They said if there is a project that we are managing that is related to the themes we learned in the course, they are totally available to help us. It just depends on us as leaders to put these proposals and work in place. This is a beautiful opportunity to continue growing and moving forward as an organization. I feel that this is not a course where we will go our separate ways and that’s the end of it; I believe that we must take advantage of these opportunities and spaces for collaboration between the WWF and the other people who came from organizations like ours all over the world.