World Land Trust (WLT) has partnered with Guatemalan NGO Fundacion Para El Ecodesarrollo y la Conservacion (FUNDAECO) for the past 10 years and has funded a range of land purchase projects to protect some of the last remaining wetlands and tropical forests in Caribbean Guatemala. In a country where local communities have lived in remote areas for centuries, FUNDAECO know that any conservation measures must have the total support of the people who live there. Consequently, FUNDAECO’s policy very much hinges on balancing the needs of the local people with the necessary measures to protect wilderness and wildlife.
Earlier this month, Viv Burton, WLT’s Partnership Coordinator, visited Guatemala with corporate supporter Chris Money, Co-founder of eco-friendly nappy company, Kit & Kin. They were there to visit the FUNDAECO’s Women for Biodiversity project, which works to empower young women living in communities in reserve areas to give them access to education and health care.
While female empowerment may seem somewhat removed from WLT’s main mission to save habitats and wildlife, in fact the second bullet point in our mission statement is:
- To develop partnerships with local individuals, communities and organisations to engage support and commitment among the people who live in project areas
The focus of FUNDAECO’s Women for Biodiversity project recognises that as mothers and providers of family care it is women who are most directly affected by environmental degradation. By supporting their access to education and health, and empowering them about the important role they play in their reproductive rights, they can have more control over their future, impacting positively not only their families, but their communities too.
Karen Dubois. Director of FUNDAECO’s Programme for Healthy and Empowered Women and Girls, lives in Puerto Barrios, Izabal, in Caribbean Guatemala, where FUNDAECO have created a nature reserve protecting tropical forest surrounded by a network of wildlife rich lagoons. About her work Karen says: “If women and girls are not given access to education and do not have control over their reproductive health, we cannot build sustainable communities to protect the environment nor ensure their basic human rights. My job is to support them and look at their greatest needs.” Image: Association for Leadership in Guatemala
Kit & Kin was created in 2017 by Chris and his co-founder Emma Bunton (Spice Girl, TV and radio presenter, and UNICEF ambassador). Chris comes with 15 years’ experience working in the mother and baby industry for some of the world’s leading brands, and both he and Emma were passionate about developing a natural, gentle and sustainable range of nappies and other infant care; from this Kit & Kin was born. Kit & Kin made an early commitment pledging that for every 10 customers that buy a Kit & Kin nappy subscription they would fund the purchase and protection of one acre of tropical rainforest though WLT’s Buy an Acre programme. Since then they have added further support for Buy an Acre. In 2019, they launched their clothing and babywear range and requested that sponsorship from these products went to support FUNDAECO’s education work with young women in protected areas. They will be donating £20,000 in 2019 which will support 10 student scholarships with FUNDAECO.
“Visiting some of the remote communities with Karen Dubois and other FUNDAECO staff was an emotional rollercoaster for Chris and myself,” said Viv. “Our FUNDAECO friends translated the Qeqchi dialect spoken by the indigenous Mayan communities who were very welcoming, inviting us into their homes and, in one community, proudly showing us their new oven and bake house where they made empanadas once a week for themselves and other nearby communities. It was clear that while they live in what seems like a tropical paradise, life is hard. Their diet, whilst including fish from the lagoon, is very limited and they have next to no communications – little electricity, no television, very few cell phones and perhaps one battery-operated radio.”
Students from Mayan communities who have been selected to receive scholarships for further education. The reality is that it isn’t unusual for girls to have their first child at 12 and with no access to family planning they could go on to have a dozen or more children. This is why FUNDAECO are pioneering their education programme to give young women an opportunity to make their life choices. Image: FUNDAECO
Viv reported: “We met some of the youngsters, aged between 13 and 16, who were benefitting from education scholarships provided by FUNDAECO, and their development and confidence was clear to see. They felt lucky to have this opportunity and had ambitions to become doctors and nurses, some within the local communities, others wanting to move away, and ecotourism and hospitality options were also a possibility for them. The scholarships last until they are 16 and if they and their teachers feel they might go on to university, other scholarships are available for them at that point. Amid the happy smiles of most of the students it was sad to see a 13-year old whose eyes welled up because she felt guilty about leaving her mum at home to look after their household full of a young family.”
Rio Dulce, part of the Conservation Coast, protected by FUNDAECO is a paradise where the forest comes down to the water, edged with mangroves. Communities living here have little by way of communications and have a very limited diet, with next to no opportunities for education or health care. Image: FUNDAECO
After the visit, Chris said, “It was an experience I will never forget and it’s clear that we have an opportunity to better the lives of many people which is an incredibly exciting prospect for not only me but our team back in the UK. Kit & Kin is committing to fund ten students through their education as a starter and I very much hope that as our brand grows we can multiply this number by ten to make a real impact for the young people living in these wonderful forests.”
It costs £300 to fund one student for one year, if you would like to help, or know of other who may like to, please contact Viv Burton at WLT: firstname.lastname@example.org
As well as land purchase, WLT has also funded tree planting and carbon offsetting projects and in autumn 2017, our Big Match Fortnight raised £600,000 to create a new core reserve in the Sierra Santa Cruz region.