Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Surviving COVID in the Bolivian Amazon
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The people Hayley Stuart want to help live in an extremely remote area. PHOTO: Hayley Stuart
   
Friday, November 27, 2020
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Hayley Stuart went to Bolivia two years ago to save a river and a national park in the Amazon.

The daughter of Ketchum residents Charles and Mimi Stuart, she is currently working on a documentary, “Still River, Silent Jungle,” that she filmed during a 10-day whitewater kayaking expedition down the remote Tuichi River. Her goal: to bring attention to the river and Madidi National Park, which are threatened by the proposed Chepete-Bala dam.

Now, she wants to save a people from COVID.

 
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Overlookng the Tuichi River in Bolivia. PHOTO: Kalob Grady
 

Stuart is trying to raise $25,000 by Nov 31 for 18 communities that live in the Beni River Basin. COVID has disrupted their food chain.

Stuart has been working with two professors from Pace University and the University of Maryland to help the communities survive so they can continue defending their sacred ancestral lands.

Donations will go to supplying them with medicine, food and crop seed.

“When I started this project back in 2018, the idea was to help empower local communities who were trying to develop eco-tourism and defend their ancestral territories against the Chepete-Bala dam proposals,” Stuart said. “Adding in a pandemic and a new administration that pushes extractive industries on top of that has put enormous pressures on these communities, and they are struggling to weather the storm.

 
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The people try to be as self-sufficient as possible, but COVID-19 has disrupted their food supply, just as it did the United States’ in the early days of the pandemic.
 

“These are people who thrive on fish from the river, plantains from their farm and only go into town for the necessities. But, now with COVID, family members have returned from the cities to take refuge in ancestral lands. And without eco-tourism they have no means to support themselves.”

The communities receive no aid from the government and are at the constant mercy of the elements, said Stuart.

“When I visited them in 2018, one village leader was excited to show us their newly rebuilt village, which had been washed away in a river flood two years before. Another leader lamented to us that just two days before our arrival a jaguar had eaten half of their pigs. In other words, life is not easy out there!” she added.

Stuart and the professors have created a gofundme page and also have a fiscal sponsor, Rios to Rivers, who is helping with donors who would like to make a tax-deductible donation.

The money will go to the local organization, The Commonwealth of the Beni River Basin Communities, which represents the 18 communities that live along the rivers in the Bolivian Amazon and that have been defending the region against the dam proposals and illegal poaching, gold mining, and logging.

To watch a minute-long video, go to https://vimeo.com/465440523/4fa2c15162

To donate and find out more information, visit https://gf.me/u/y24gyq

To make a tax-deductible donation, email Weston Boyles at weston.boyles@riostorivers.org and cc hayleym.stuart1@gmail.com. Rios to Rivers, which is helping with tax-deductible donations, can be accessed at:

http://www.riostorivers.org/rios-to-rivers-river-running-exchange--cultural---environmental-education.html

 

 

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