Rangers of Kalebaskreek learning how to count parrots - in the field....
We at One Earth Conservation often summarize our style of conservation as just showing up. We go to areas where there are no or little parrot conservation work being done and we see what is going on with the parrots and the people. We then listen to the people to learn about their needs and the needs of the parrots. If there seems to be something we can all offer each other, One Earth Conservation then slowly grows our conservation program in conjunction with those who live with the parrots.
This just showing up is harder than it sounds. First it requires a lot of preparation so that you have the tools to move with fluidity as the needs arises. This includes learning about the cultures and languages of the people; the ecology, behavior, identifying sounds and characteristics of resident parrots; and all you can about yourself so you can be present to the often chaotic and uncertain circumstances of going somewhere you’ve never been before. One has to know and love oneself as much as possible as a means for doing the same for others of all species. It’s a constant learning process and it means showing up, even when it’s hard to do so. It’s a challenge being present, for it means holding tenderly the suffering and tragedy of the people and parrots around you; the destruction of local ecosystems, cultures, and populations; the surprises and confusion of navigating other customs and languages; and of course the ever-present field conditions of insects, weather, and often lack of food, water, and places to sleep.
In the farm....
More and more over the years, I have come to trust the process of showing up as a conservation activity because it always seems to work out. By working out I mean that beauty and interconnection prevails to the point that we find a way to care for each other and the earth, often in long-term conservation projects. Perhaps I trust it too much, because even though there is a lot of preparing to do, I don’t overly prepare. I know that no matter what I do in advance things will arise that will throw all plans awry. So why plan too hard for things one cannot foresee?
It was with this gestalt that I went to Kalebaskreek, Suriname to do a training in parrot monitoring and conservation, and to set the foundation for a conservation plan for the years to come. I had been to the village twice before (blogs) and we had courted each other to see if a parrot conservation project would be possible. We all agreed it could, though no details had been confirmed or agreed to. So, I showed up with some copies of our data collecting forms, extra binoculars, parrot ID sheets, and, of course, a hammock. Even if the conservation project wouldn’t “take” I know I would sleep well and dry!
On the river....
Talking with the Captain (Chief) of the village when we first arrived, on a whim I thought to inquire if there was a projector in the village. I have hours of lectures for training parrot conservationists and such equipment could prove helpful. I almost didn't ask because the community only has electricity supplied by a gas generator for certain hours of the day. Also, I had brought one before to this village and it hadn’t worked, so I didn’t bother bringing one this time. “You wouldn’t have a projector by any chance?” I asked. “I do,” said the Captain, or the equivalent of it because she was speaking a mix of Dutch and Sranan Tongo. “It’s old and I’ve never tried it before,” she continued. Now we just needed electricity, and for the ancient technology to come through for us.
Later that first afternoon, when we first met with the 12 gathered potential rangers and community members to kick off the training, I asked, “Does anyone have a generator we can use?” “I do,” said one ranger.” I then asked if anyone had a boat, we could use that would hold 12 rangers to do river counting of parrots, “I do,” said another. We tried out both the projector and the generator, after splicing old electrical cords together, and what do you know…it worked! The community members said they'd like to have both field and classroom training. So just like that we had a schedule of lectures and field excursions, with the result being one of the most fruitful parrot trainings I have ever been a part of.
And in the classroom.
A key component of our success was Stevo Oldenstam. Only a few weeks earlier I had asked him if he could help me with the training. He had been with me on previous trips, as I don’t speak Dutch or Sranan Tongo, but this time I thought I could go alone and rely on someone in the village who spoke a bit of English to help out with translating. I decided I might need more help, as community life can be complicated. So with little warning, when I asked him if he could come, Stevo said “I will.”
I believe it was the capacity of those gathered with the “I do” and “I will” energy that allowed us to accomplish so much with basically so little. This is a low budget project for now, which is how all our projects start, and it depends heavily on the collaboration and ingenuity of those who involved. And, boy, how the people came through!
We were able to train each other much more than I thought we could. I learned so much about their work and daily life, for One Earth Conservation needs to know how people live to have conservation integrate with who they are. It was decided that the rangers who fished for a living, would combine their parrot patrols and counts with their river fishing trips. We co-developed a work plan, a conservation plan, a village agreement, and a safety plan – in only three days! The rangers chose a coordinator, a mother of three, who said, “I’ve never had a job before,” as she smiled, which caused my eyes to as well with tears. Now she is communicating with me weekly sending data sheets, photos and videos, and reports on what people are doing. These rangers, and by extension this village, is well on its way, as I have been told, to establishing the first ever species-specific conservation project in Suriname.
Graduating class of parrot rangers in November, 2022
I now trust more than ever that one just has to show up in life to see what happens, and then cocreate out of that context. But it does take something else – a perfect desire, or perhaps, an expressed intention. Before the more formal part of the training started, I asked why they were participating in the training. If we could hear each other, perhaps we could make our goals happen. I was surprised by the number of people who said they wanted to see beauty and learn about the wonderful birds around them. They wanted to learn and they wanted to protect. I was surprised because this had been a major hub of parrot trapping only a year ago. The human desire to live and live well, and for others to live and live well, gave us the creative juice to send us on our way.
As I write this, I am on my way to One Earth Conservation’s Parrot Pilgrimage in Nicaragua. And according to my growing trust, I will just let things happened. Yes, I have gear, training tools, a schedule, a plan, and, as always, my hammock. But I don’t know really what is going to happen. It depends on who shows up and how we show up.
But if we do show up, we can save life, and be saved by life, without knowing what next lies on the road ahead of us.
In solidarity on the journey,
Stevo and I were on our way back to Paramaribo when he slammed on the breaks to rescue this snake that had been slightly injured on the side of the road. He caught the snake and then we released her several miles away in a safer area.