“For me, these programs hold a special place in my heart. I split my time living between Peru and Uganda, and I see, on a daily basis, the realities that many marginalized communities in the Global South experience. It’s real and it’s visceral, and the blind adoption of Westernization becomes necessitated as communities are subtly coerced to enter the global cash economy as they move from their rural villages to urban centers.
Working for various international NGOs involved in both development work and reforestation work I have noticed a trend. There’s a lot of speak in current discourse of the rampant loss of biodiversity in our world and the need for sustainable, economic development. And it’s true. But what is too often overlooked is the rapid loss of cultural diversity in our world, which is in fact being lost at a far faster rate than its bio counterpart. Little focus has been given to the dire need of cultural preservation work in global discourse and funding circles, despite recent reports by the UN of the important role culture plays in not only sustainable development, but in the role of proper management of environmental resources. Think of it this way: the breakdown of culture, which we are seeing in communities the world over, results in the breakdown of social structures that maintain age-old systems of social stewardship and environmental stewardship. When these social structures are lost, we see two fundamental things. When we see the breakdown of social stewardship, we see the breakdown of community, of vulnerable individuals no longer being taken care of by their community. Suddenly, poverty, homelessness, and all the harm that comes with it becomes more prevalent. Meanwhile, the breakdown of traditional environmental stewardship almost unanimously results in forest and land resources being desecrated in attempts for quick profit, usually with the manipulation of corporate and/or forces of the global cash economy. The result is that environmental degradation continues to rise, the negative effects of climate change are set in motion, and communities no longer have access to productive and life-giving systems of sustainable land-use systems.
What I’m getting at, is that both of these issues–the loss of biodiversity and the rise of global poverty–can at the their core be linked to the loss of traditional social structures that are upheld in integrity by the role of culture. When culture is strengthened and upheld, so too are communities’ resiliency and ability to adapt and deal with changing global trends. If there is one thing I have learned from living in an isolated area of the Peruvian Amazon or working day-in and day-out with traditional healers in Uganda near the border of Sudan, it is this: cultural preservation is the key, missing link to communities keeping the circle together for them to take ownership over the multitude of other pressing issues they face, and ultimately, that our world faces.”