A Peque-peque boat in the Ucayali river

A Peque-peque boat in the Ucayali river

I have been in love with the Amazon rainforest since childhood. My earliest memories about it come from my father, who used to work in Iquitos when I was little. He used to tell us the stories he had heard indigenous people tell in the mining camps he was working at at the time. Stories about pink dolphins seducing women and drowning them in rivers, of little children separated from their mothers who had turned into birds, and of strange spirits that transformed into family members to draw people into the depths of the jungle.
For me it was a fantasy until the first time we were able to visit him. Of course I was excited to see my father, something I only had the chance to do a couple of weekends a month, but my real excitement came from finally seeing this place. Iquitos is a very unique town that was created by the rubber industry of the early 20th century. Beautiful buildings, a boardwalk that looked into the Amazon river and the most unique fruits I had ever eaten. No roads led to that town, only huge rivers and planes.
My mother worked at a travel agency at the time (she still does) and was able to book us a few days at a rainforest lodge deep inside the jungle. If Iquitos had impressed me, this left me speechless. The fantasy inspired by nature documentaries and my dad’s stories turned into reality and it was even better than I imagined. Huge trees, immense rivers and life were everywhere. I remember the first time I saw fireflies in the jungle, the colorful birds and vines I could swing from. I wanted to stay there forever.
But of course I had to go back to Lima. My old friends school and TV set were waiting for me. We went back several times and I got my dose of green infinity every year until my dad decided to work in places that were closer to home. I never got to see it again for more than 10 years.
On 2011, after my first semester of teaching away from home, my mother was tired of not seeing me at home so she offered a trip to anywhere in Peru for the winter break. She offered Cusco, which is where everyone seems to want to go. But no, little boy wanted to go to the Amazon again; my fix of jungle was long overdue. We took a wonderful trip to the Inkaterra lodge in the Tambopata National Park, a very fancy place, considering its location. Again I saw the huge trees, the huge insects, caimans and colorful birds. Again I walked the winding trails with rubber boots on. “Don’t leave the trail, you’ll get lost in the jungle”, I always love to hear that from the guides in the forest.
But, as always, I had to go back home, back to school, to teach this time. After my third semester as a teacher I started planning my return to the rainforest, this time for a longer time. I knew I needed a long vacation after finishing my two years as a teacher so I grabbed a map. Road trips are not possible in the Peruvian Amazon, there are no roads. The closest thing was the rivers, so I decided to make my vacations a long riverboat trip. I planned the whole thing, including a budget, a schedule on an Excel spreadsheet and a huge map I printed. I recruited two of my best friends, they had also taught for two years and were up for an adventure.
So, on January 9th 2013, we started our month long trip to the Amazon. We took a long bus to the highland jungle and from there we took another bus and two riverboats to Iquitos, from where we went to Colombia and Brazil via another riverboat. I felt like I was back home, back to my favorite place on earth. But we also started noticing the bad side, the side you don’t see as a child: loads of trash were thrown into the rivers, poverty was tragic and the educational infrastructure was unbelievably miserable. What was paradise for me when I was a child had turned out to be another sewer of contamination and irresponsibility for “civilization”. That’s when it came to me: something has to be done here and I will be part of it.
After even more travelling and lots of rain we left the jungle and got back to Lima. Coming back to the chaos of the city hit me hard and I got my first migraine ever. I felt like my head was being run over by a truck, I was prescribed very heavy painkillers. This painful experience was what finally convinced me to want to leave the city. It might’ve been the heavy medication but I became convinced that the rainforest was the future for me.
So, after 10 months as an Atlas Corps Fellow in the US were through, job search time came. That’s when I found out about the crees foundation , a nonprofit organization based in the UK which has been supporting rainforest sustainability through research, education, and environment-related community initiatives in the Manu Biosphere Reserve for 10 years. Having been a teacher for two years and sitting in a state university in the US, the first thing that called my attention on their website was the tab that said “Education”. I was glad to find out that crees foundation works with the community of Salvación, the main town around Manu, to provide students at the only higher education institute in the province with the tools to use their environment both sustainably and to their maximum advantage. Their main focus with this was to establish livelihoods which link rainforest protection and economic prosperity, to provide an alternative for locals who supported their family by logging and other destructive activities. The next tab I clicked, of course, was “Jobs” and was astounded to find that they were looking for someone to be their Education and Entrepreneurship Officer. The job description ended with this question: “Do you have what it takes to build education through business in the Amazon Rainforest?”
Nothing could’ve been better! The job combined my passion for the Amazon, my experience in education and my recent experience with social entrepreneurship at UMD. It felt like the perfect next step in my career path: entrepreneurship for development at Intituto Invertir education in vulnerable contexts at Enseña Perú education for social entrepreneurship at the CSVC social entrepreneurship education for development in an endangered natural reserve in Peru for the crees foundation. I took quite some time to write my cover letter and sent it over crossing my fingers.
Today, April 17th 2014, at 10 am in the morning, after a long and uncertain interview process, I got the news. I am going to be EEO for the crees foundation. I have high-fived everyone I’ve seen today. I am looking forward to applying all the experience in social entrepreneurship education I have gotten as an Atlas Corps fellow to my role in Salvación and I hope to help the IESTP Manu to take its first steps towards becoming the center of a social entrepreneurship movement in the province. Hopefully, it will become an example for other educational institutions in surrounding areas and natural reserves in my country.
Despite all the risks, challenges and difficulties this position will bring to my life, I couldn’t be happier. I am about to change my life again, about to take it closer to my rainforest fantasy. Not everything around that is perfect, I could write another two pages about why it isn’t but that’s what a life of service brings to you: change, love, happiness and small salaries.

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