Camila Cosse Braslavsky

About Me!

 / ©: Taken by Volunteer Aina
Me.
© Taken by Volunteer Aina
I am 25 years old, Argentinian, still studying and working my way through my Oriental Religions Studies Degree and my professional calling. Currently participating in the Explore! Program of WWF, on a field assignment in Madagascar.
I applied  to the WWF´s volunteer placement out of my eternal longing both for participating in conservation and sustainable development programs and travel across the world jumping from one adventure to another. I usually write about all the important, funny, emotional or ideological encounters that I have during my volunteer experiences and journeys.
WWF has given me the unparalleled opportunity to put my writings and photographs about their program on this website. I hope every reader enjoys through some of these articles a bit of the Malagasy culture with me and learns as I do about sustainable development, environmental conservation, and how to live a funny healthy committed life. Later on, photos and portraits will come to complete the articles in order to give a complete and enlightened picture of what we are doing here.

Special thanks to fellow Volunteer John Paul de Quay for his corrections, edits, insights and critics. These posts wouldn’t be as they are without him!
 / ©: Camila Cosse Braslavsky
© Camila Cosse Braslavsky

What does climate change actually means?

"I have been wondering myself this question for some time now. For me, before starting this program, climate change meant a shift in the seasons, and some catastrophic consequences for all human kind in a future very far away from my lifetime. "


But I have learned very fast, during these past months that climate change is an actual and current threat to the lives of many people. In the villages we have visited these past few weeks, the villagers have trouble making their crops grow without the rain- Rain that was supposed to have started months ago. The dry land is still waiting the water it needs to get the plants to grow.

These people rely on their land to give them the food they need every day. Large amounts of development countries populations’ don´t have access to supermarkets or industrialized products that grow regardless of the seasons or geographical locations. They truly and solely rely on the earth to produce what they will eat and feed their children with.

So what happens when rain doesn t come? What happens when the earth dries out in a season that is supposed to be generous and giving?

What happens, as we have seen, is that they simply have no food. They are forced to feed almost only on rice, which is an unhealthy diet if not accompanied with anything else, and they actually are hungry. In addition, this shift in the seasons also means less income, income that would have been provided by the crops, which means less money to spend in health, child care, construction etc. The conclusion to this is simply that millions of people around the globe have a much more difficult and miserable life that they used to have ten years ago, since they cannot rely on the seasons anymore. This also implies that they have to adapt fast to the new situation, which is not easy to do when your family have been living in the same way for as long as they can remember. And even if adaptability was easier, they would still need the means and the formation as to get pass the difficulties and incorporate new alternatives that would allow them to thrive despite of the drastic climate change consequences.

To this situation many organizations and governments are trying to bring alternative solutions for these populations despite the current environmental situation. They have been developing strategies for the past decades that will allow these marginalized communities to develop new “income producing activities” while caring about the environment. This is what we call “sustainable development”. And is currently in need to be developed because of the climate change consequences these communities have to face. 

 

Au pays du Mora Mora

 / ©: WWF Cosse Braslavsky
Mora Mora
© WWF Cosse Braslavsky
“Mora Mora” means “slowly slowly”. And it describes well the general feeling in Ivohibe and Madagascar, with it´s hot weather, rural rhythm and peacefulness.
We arrived about ten days ago and while the official program has yet to be sent we have already created bonds with our field agents. We have visited  the nearest villages in which the WWF has been working for a couple of years now and met the people and kids that live in them.

I have been particually drawn to the children´s contagious cheerfulness, which to be honest surprised me a little bit. I was expecting extreme poverty and the angry faces that it usually comes with. But I have found the kids here, at least in Ivohibe, to be full of character and joy. They wave their hands and cry with cheeky laughters as we pass by. They yell their hellos and then run away, showing a shyness that doesn’t quite hide their curiosity and wittiness. They ask what our names are from afar, as to keep a distance that their shouting’s try to traverse.

In the villages, a couple of miles away from our HQ, I found the children equally welcoming and curious. They start off very cautious and serious. But their stiffness fades away as soon as I get my camera out. They shy away between laughter and yellings, to come back running and crouch themselves together in front of my camera visor to look at themselves. They laugh at each other pointing to the camera and then ask for more pictures. The bolder ones smile at me now, and make funny faces as we bond in a way that no language can do.

I had noticed once before, with my nephews that speak German, which I scarcely do, that language is extremely overrated, especially with kids. You don´t need to speak in order to have great fun and understand each other. Very soon they start hiding behind the hay and popping out trying to scare us, yelling and laughing of their own game.

They look and seem so happy, despite the dirt and ripped clothes. This impression strengthens while we clean our feet in a water pond. They start jumping into the water for refreshment. Bounds and flips cover the air while they show of how well they can jump onto the water.

So while my fellow explorers pay loads of attention to the technical explanations of the field agents, I can´t help myself but to play around with them, take pictures and enjoy their curiosity and toughness. You can almost feel their strength while they walk with us; they don´t sweat a drop and have extra amounts of energy for running, playing, jumping, climbing up trees and coming back for more, yet again.

Concerning their strength; one of the things that amazes me most is how the little girls, of barely five or six years old, already carry their younger brothers on their back, in typical African fashion. They must be so strong! Imagine what kind of a strong woman that little girl will grow up to be, if at her young age she is already carrying a small boy around all day long. I leave the villages greatly humbled. I cannot imagine a life in which at five years old you are already responsible for another’s life. It puts into perspective so many tears wasted by irrelevant people and situations. Suddenly our work here becomes much more urgent as the need arises for easing the amount of work that those little girls and boys will do as they grow up. Hopefully once grown, their kids will be at school, enjoying themselves and learning their family trade, instead of solely caring for their little brothers and sisters.

Collaborative work: key for a field agent

 / ©: WWF Cosse Braslavsky


Collaborative and team work is, most of the time, not easy. However it is paramount in roder to build and promote sustainable projects and work in conservation. After my stay with the Madagascar field team I learned quite a few lessons on how to work in a team and what approach is by far the most productive. 

When trying to implement a project it is crucial to keep in mind that every conception that we have can be incorrect or misguided. One may work with people of our same field but have very different professional views of the same situation. In order to be productive it is important to remain open to other´s experiences and allow them to pass that experience to us. This does not mean to relinquish or change our views or opinions, but it does imply to be opened to the fact that for others might work with different data of have had a different set of working experiences. Theirs are as real and contingent as ours. Since is for everyone´s world´s that we are trying to come up with sustainable improvements: every one of us is part of the solution, every opinion and experience counts and should be taken into account.

If there is a true willingness to build a collaborative project for a common good, then there has to be a true commitment to compromise. And compromise does not mean to explain why our views are better and why others should compromise to our vision. Compromise means to find a middle point between others visions and ours and find solutions that address them all.

In addition to be open to others experiences, it is very important to be willing to challenge ourselves. This means approaching every disagreement with a self-defiant logic: Why do we have the opinion we have, and what is it in our personal and professional experience that has built this idea?

It is not an easy exercise since it implies to face the fact that not only we might be wrong but also to face the fact that we simply might not know where we stand. If this is not kept in mind, not only we are unable to properly process others suggestions but we remain ignorant on why we work as we do and how to improve. It is very easy to be open to learn new things; it is a bit harder to be open to re learn the things we think we already know. It is important to notice that by challenging our convictions and previous knowledge we do not un-do them: we put them under scrtutiny and eventually we even change them for fresh and improved, better informed ideas and prospects.

 Remaining open to other´s experiences while implementing a development project or program is key for this. Otherwise agencies end up proposing invasive projects that are not inclusive, do not take local communities into account and do not address their needs, and therefore are a waste of time, energy and resources.

To be sure and comfortable enough in your own skin so that you are actually willing to change, and therefore improve yourself; that is the key of self-challenge and growth that makes a good team and a good sustainable development agent.

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She is upfront.
© WWF Cosse Braslavsky

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We exist!
© WWF Cosse Braslavsky

El Sur También existe

The South also exists!
“El Sur también existe” is a phrase from Pablo Neruda, a very well-known Chilean Poet. It means “the South also exists”. It usually accompanies a Torres Garcia painting that draws attention to the Latin American Continent as it is depicted upside down. I wouldn’t dare to speak on the artists behalf but I do think that the statement refers, at least to some extent, to the fact that the North prospered to the detriment of the “rest of the world”. The Souths riches were harvested for other nations to profit. Neruda´s and Garcia´s artwork forcibly and purposefully encourages the discussion of such taboos regarding the exploitation of the South.
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Skinned Alive
© WWF Cosse Braslavsky

Skinned alive

"And the sight was heartbreaking. The forest stopped abruptly, right next to the highway and then the earth was flesh red, with bits taken out of it were someone had made a huge fire. Across the hills we could see the reddish flesh color of the land that had been burned. And it truly looked like it had been skinned alive."

Women´s strength

 / ©: WWF Cosse Braslavsky
Women´s strength
© WWF Cosse Braslavsky
"My deepest respect went for Malagasy women that work in the fields with their kids on their back, and who teach their little girls to care for their younger relatives in such a responsible and adult way."

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Setting the example
© WWF Cosse Braslavsky

The Explore! Program has given me the true meaning of “commitment”

An ant´s size step in the vision that is the size of an elephant!
We are currently working with a team of seven field agents. Their main work is to apply sustainable projects and strategies that aim to enhance and capitalize the villagers work. This way they don´t have to burn the remaining forest in order to either get their wood, food, or land for their cattle. Forests we all need to remain alive if we want to breathe clean air.
After 4 years,  here in Ivohibe, the WWF has managed to establish about eleven small groups of communities. These communities are to be given proper instruction in agroforestry and ecological techniques to improve their lifestyle without any aggression to the environment. This also benefits the communities since it makes it possible for them not to rely on the seasons anymore, which are drastically changing due to the climate change phenomenon.

This approach implies years of work, years spent meeting the leaders of each small village to convince them that what WWF has to offer is rentable and profitable for them. This is in combination with huge awareness campaigns, negotiating and exchange strategies  that aim to bring the communities and the conservation agencies closer together.

What does all of this actually means? It means that you have a 7 people team that spend their life in a small town far away from anywhere, sometimes even far from anyone, with very little (if that!) accommodations or communication facilities. They spend their time traveling into the most remote coins of the countryside and deep inside the jungle, to talk to the poorest villagers and try to explain them why they have to adapt some of their production techniques.

Four years: just for organizing and bringing together eleven communities to the common objective of a better management of the land, for themselves but also so that our planet´s resources don’t get over exploited any more. And it is just the first step.

After, there are years and years to come in which their products need to get into the market to generate income, proper and responsible consumption habits will have to be incorporated so that the profits don´t go to waste. It’s a project that aims to have, in fifty years, communities in Madagascar living and producing sustainably and in harmony with the nature.

These projects have to be thought in a scale of fifty years, the amount of commitment that this requires from the staff is almost beyond my capacity of imagination. Fifty years! I, who am in my twenties, will be retired by then! What kind of motivation makes that a team of people dedicate their life to such goals?

I don’t know for each individual’s motivation but I can clearly see that there is a commitment that goes beyond what they may see in their lifetime. It carries intrinsically within it the faith, that we, the next generation are worth all that hard work. Their commitment has the power to open a window of opportunity for our Planet too, if they succeed we can all have a better, healthier world, environmentally and socially so. I can only be humbled by these professionals, and only hope to someday become one of them.

 

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Bodies to endure it...
© WWF Cosse Braslavsky

Adaptation

“No hay mal que dure cien años ni cuerpo que lo resista” “There is no evil that lasts thousands of years, nor bodies to endure it."
It is a saying that I heard a long time ago in a folklore song of my country. I have to disagree with whoever said it. I think that some evils last much more than thousands of years and indeed there are bodies to endure them. Most of the time, this occurs because of the inability to adapt themselves instead of remaining passively in suffering.

Across my traveling’s and specifically in this Program I have seen how difficult it is for people to adapt. Of course, we are humans, we are known to adapt the world to us, not the other way around. Problem is, we have adapted it and changed it so much that we´ve tempered the thin balance it needs to remain healthy.

Due to global warming, seasons are changing, very fast, and that has direct consequences for our lives. For some people those consequences are much more serious than for others. It is not the same for those that have a hotter summer than for those who are suddenly flooded by massive storms all year around. However we do not know how dramatic the consequences for all of us can be if we do not adapt fast.

A specific example: the communities we are now working with here in Ivohibe, have harvested their crops in the same way for decades but in the past ten years the situation has changed drastically. They cannot rely on rain anymore as they previously could; the change in the seasons has altered directly their crops production. They have to work much harder for less results and this has a very direct consequence: malnutrition. Therefore, they need to adapt fast to face this situation. But what we have seen is that they struggle a lot with the new techniques and they are reluctant to change their approach to their work.

It was with a heavy heart that I came back from my three weeks field work assignment. It was truly heartbreaking to see how much these communities suffer because of their struggle and inability to adapt. I kept thinking on how to address this and the only think I could come up with is that we need to challenge ourselves more, and collaborate with others to develop new and better strategies to help this people to live, instead of surviving, and teach them, mostly by the example, how to adapt. Unfortunately, this also means to adapt and challenge ourselves: which is already a difficult task.

 

Their health is not negotiable

 / ©: WWF Cosse Braslavsky
Their health is not negotiable
© WWF Cosse Braslavsky
One of the toughest lessons I think the Explore! Program teaches to the participant´s is about the necessity, and complications, of collaborative work. In the PHCF project the WWF has established a group of communities to apply sustainable and sustainable agro- techniques. These techniques are designed to properly manage the forest resources, and at the same time, give to the local communities a source of income to give them autonomy and security threw the year.

One of the sin equanon conditions that WWF and the donors of this particular project, Air France and the Good Planet Foundation, apply is that the project is communitarian. A parcel of land is given to a group of the community that volunteered to work with the WWF. They have to manage it with a collaborative approach. This means that all the members have to work the land, share the profit and make the decisions as a group.
The WWF has encountered a severe difficulty with this. The members of these communities are used to work only as individuals, each of them addressing their own land and crops: hence they struggle to work together.

Since this is not the first time I see this, and solving this difficulty was crucial to make the project work I had to ask myself; why to work in a group in the first place?

One of my fellow volunteers, John, answered this in a very appropriate way, “More hands make a bigger and better work”. Easier said than done. We are attached to our ideas and it is very hard to make place for others into our conceptions. We want to make our projects and apply the things we think are best.

But first of all, what might be best for us is not necessarily the best for others, assuming again that we know what is best for us. A good project or program is one that addresses the common needs and inclusive solutions; therefore is representative of all the members that participate in it.

If these projects are for a common good that are to beneficiate all the community, why is this so hard?
To start with, these communities simply don´t have the habit of working as a unity. Neither haven´t they, yet, experienced the profit that working collaboratively and commonly brings, nor how much easier it makes the work for everyone.

It is to us, those that have the experience on how individualism failed, and continues to fail daily, on individual and global scale, to give the example and means to demonstrate how collaboration and team work are, simply, the most sustainable and rentable approaches to any kind of work.

Addressing this, and leading by the example, the WWF selected us, an international and homogenous team of volunteers to support the field staff in Ivohibe. We are representatives from five countries, and three continents, so that Europe, Latin America and Africa have representants in the Program. Each team member comes from a different academic field, from agroforestry to social sciences passing by art and paleontology. We are currently working together in the same project, for the social and enviromental health of local communities. 

 

 

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