The Pan-Amazon project

My home is your home too: The Pan-Amazon project

By Mercedes Arango-Vasquez

I still remember the first time I crossed a border. I was a teenager, but I have very fresh memories of it. I remember the excitement mixed with anxiety; I remember all the unfamiliar faces, the different language, the clothes others were wearing – not exactly the same style that I had! I remember they were also looking at me, with something between intrigue and curiosity.

Then I needed to communicate. They were not able to understand me, even though I was speaking their language. How was that possible? I asked myself. I needed to repeat myself twice (or more) and when they finally understood what I needed, I was not able to understand what they were saying! A few of them reacted with patience, others with condescension, or even contempt.

It is not easy to fit into a different culture, with a different language and different traditions. There are several challenges to overcome as part of the integration process. In addition, there are difficulties such as discrimination and lack of opportunity. Indeed, crossing borders is not easy. Now, can you imagine facing those challenges inside your own country?

Students at Fr Constante Lauchsich Educational Unit in Cochabamba, Bolivia, display some local products.
(Photo: Neptalí Huayllani)

This is the reality for thousands of people around the world belonging to indigenous communities. From Nunavut to Patagonia, indigenous peoples are pushed to forget their roots and identity in order to fit in, to find their place in a “modern and globalized” society, to become part of a community that, after all their efforts, will not accept them fully, because of their differences.

This is also the reality for many indigenous peoples in the Amazon region. It is the reality behind a project called Caring for Our Common Home that Canadian Jesuits International (CJI) is supporting and that indigenous peoples in collaboration with the Pan-Amazonian Jesuit Service (SJPAM) and Fe y Alegría are implementing. The project aims to bridge borders, to promote indigenous languages and cultures, and to protect the Amazon region from destructive exploitation.

Indigenous peoples, like those in the Amazon region, are guardians of precious knowledge, including how to connect with the ecosystem in a sustainable way. It is fascinating to realize that these communities prospered for hundreds of years, without any kind of modern technology and in harmony with nature.

Together with globalization, the modern lifestyle has brought pollution and environmental degradation that are affecting societies all over the world. Not only in developing economies, but everywhere, people are exposed to the negative consequences of climate change. The international community needs to act fast to stop the climate change trend and to remediate the damage caused.

The Amazon is one of the richest ecosystems in the world; it is also a critical sink for capturing carbon dioxide, crucial for slowing down global warming. Our need for oxygen and our capacity to live in a healthy world depends of the preservation of rainforests, even if we are thousands of miles away. Considering its great benefits, we all should call the Amazon “our home.”

Children at Santa Maria Educational Unit participate in a drama about food.
(Photo: Elvira Noe Moye)

Under the motto “caring for our common home,” the Pan-Amazon project recognizes that the Amazon is crucial for our planet, and we all have an active role to play to preserve it. It acknowledges the importance of education based on equality and respect, forming citizens not only prepared to face the challenges of a globalized world, but also connected with their culture and traditional knowledge.

Fe y Alegría schools connect teachers, parents and students of seven different countries in South America to share knowledge and experiences on intercultural education, promoting a sustainable environment in the Pan-Amazon region, in solidarity with the poorest and most excluded peoples, including indigenous peoples. Through an appropriate model of education, students are challenged to look for new ways to build a fair society, linking biological, social and cultural diversity, where minorities feel represented and protected from environmental predation, violence and discrimination.

Change is part of life and, as human beings and societies, we are part of those changes. Adaptation and resilience will ensure our success in a changing world. We are challenged to address our preconceptions and to change. Change the way we see other people, change the way we engage with our environment, change the “I” for “we” and the “my” for “our.”

The Pan-Amazon Caring for Our Common Home initiative is one of three projects featured in CJI’s Giving Tuesday campaign called Bridging Borders. Please support this project by clicking here.


This article first appeared on the igNation website on 10 November 2018. It was the second in a series of five articles written for CJI’s Bridging Borders campaign. Mercedes Arango-Vasquez is the International Programs Coordinator at Canadian Jesuits International.

(Banner photo by Elvira Noe Moye: Students at Santa María Educational Unit in Trinidad, Bolivia, engage in group work)