Overview

MISSION

Peruvian Amazon Conservation, Inc. (PAC) offers charitable medical, educational, and organizational services coupled with rain forest conservation practices to help people to help themselves.

Yes, one person can make a difference. You have the power to change a life for the better.

Atun Cocha

BEGINNINGS

Eleanor Smithwick, PhD, the founder of Peruvian Amazon Conservation was born in Fort Lauderdale in 1940. In those days South Florida was still a magnificent subtropical jungle, abounding with live oaks, bald cypress trees, and cabbage palms, and other indigenous species. Bobcats, puma, deer, wild turkey, alligators and water birds were common visitors to rural backyards, including that of her family’s home and veterinary clinic. The beaches were clean and still largely natural. Sea oats, dune daisies, beach morning glories, sea grapes, coconut palms, ghost crabs, sea birds, perfect seashells, and an incredible diversity of other seashore life were common.

As a six-year-old, she watched baby sea turtles hatch on the beach. Confused, the tiny turtles scurried away from the faint sky light over the ocean toward the bright light of a public restroom, where they milled around on the floor underneath the artificial "sky" light. Touched by their plight, she scooped them into a beach towel and released them into the Atlantic Ocean. Affected by this and other incidences, she began to read avidly about jungle plants, animals, and peoples. By reading, she learned how to live in a tropical rain forest, and she dreamed of going to the Amazon. That dream, which was the real beginning of the PAC project, took 39 years to achieve.

For the next 15 years, Eleanor watched South Florida change steadily, year by year, from an environment rich in clean air, fresh water, open space, and incredible bio-diversity into a crowded jumble of high-rise buildings, tract houses, strip malls, transplanted landscaping, artificial light, concrete and asphalt "deserts", and people who seemed as burned out and used up, as the environment. Subtly but surely, this awareness continued to steer her toward the work that became PAC. However, for the next 30 years, education, careers, and a family put the vision on hold.

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PAC HISTORY & the AMAZONIAN CULTURE

Finally, in 1985 the vision began to unfold, when Dr. Smithwick took her first trip into the Peruvian Amazon. Those first weeks were like going back in time. Each year, she returned for 2-4 months to live among the people as they live. Eventually, her travels became centered in the small riverine communities located along the lower Napo River in the Amazon Basin of northeastern Peru. In 1987, she met Sr. Clever Hoyos R., a bilingual tour guide, who was born and raised the same area. Clever’s heritage conferred extraordinary insight into the minds, lives, and needs of these mestizo people (Hispanics of mixed tribal origin). He helped Dr. Smithwick to learn the regional dialect of Spanish and to understand the culture and beliefs of these people called ribereńos.

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Ribereńo communities consist of 35-55 mestizo families who live along the major waterways. They are transitional communities, which have neither the benefits of a traditional tribal community with its medicine man nor the benefits of modern civilization with its available medical care, except for annual immunizations and elementary schooling. Moreover, during the time of the conquistadors, a male dominance mentality infiltrated the tribal kinship and gradually spread into the culture of these mestizos. From that time onward, the roles of women were changed from valued, respected partners in the tribal community into undervalued, voiceless, domestic servants and reproductive slaves. Family life is totally subverted to the man’s expectations and needs, so they have little interest in or need for improvements.

Without the botanical contraceptives provided by a tribal medicine man, women had their first child at 12-13, then they gave birth every 1-2 years. By the time these women were 25 years old, they had 5-6 children. By the 10-12 childbirth, many of these under-nourished, over-worked women died of postpartum hemorrhage, and then the man took another girl and continued to produce children. If they were not abandoned, the stepchildren often were pushed aside or abused, as the new mother struggled to provide for her own children. Dr. Smithwick saw that with small changes in sanitation, nutrition, first aid, family planning, agricultural and economic practices, Amazonian peoples could help themselves to a better life.

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Eventually, Dr. Smithwick and Clever centered their work in Atún Cocha, a small mestizo village typical of this region. At all levels and in every way, the ribereńos living in this riverine community, which floods every year, seemed to have the most entrenched problems. They felt that if sustainable improvements could be achieved in such a under-developed community, then the project’s methods could become useful model for helping similar rain forest communities. Thus, Atún Cocha became the proving ground for program development, and Clever became a teaching assistant, a peer educator. In April 1989, tourists traveling in the Amazon learned about the work in Atún Cocha and contributed the first outside funding; thus, we became initially the Atún Cocha Project

The tropical rain forests of Peru are the largest and most pristine in the world. They contribute to the global water cycle, carbon dioxide- and nitrogen binding, temperature regulation, air purification, oxygen production, bio-diversity habitat, new medicines, and other essentials. However, we don’t own these rain forests. The people in these riverine communities are the owners and stewards of the forests surrounding their villages. We can’t save what we don’t own. If these rain forests, which are so essential to the global community, are to be saved, then the owners of these rain forests must learn to value and conserve them. PAC teaches people the value of their rain forests and how to conserve them as community–protected, extractive reserves

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Nevertheless, without family planning and without economic alternatives to selling the trees for money and without replanting trees, which have been cut for fuel, canoes, building materials and other needs, these rain forests will still not be saved. To think beyond the moment, to think for the future, and to plan wisely for grandchildren are not inherently a part of the ribereńo mentality. The small kinship groups, tribal taboos, and semi-nomadic life, which preserved the rain forest and its bio-diversity for thousands of years of human habitation, were lost when the tribal communities were lost. In these mestizo riverine communities, it became literally each man for himself. The family, the women, the children, the rivers, the rain forest, and the bio-diversity have all suffered for lack of understanding and thus of caring by the people, who live there and own their rain forest

Throughout the work, Clever Hoyos continued to develop as an intelligent and creative assistant, who quickly earned the respect everyone. He proved capable of managing the finances and of conducting projects without direct supervision. In December 1990, Dr. Smithwick asked him to join the project full time, to operate the field office in Iquitos, and to continue as a peer educator in Atún Cocha. In this way, the educational programs could be sustained throughout the year, even though Dr. Smithwick had to return to the States.

Their initial successes and the reliable assistance of Clever Hoyos convinced Dr. Smithwick that the objectives tested in the Atún Cocha Project could be accomplished and sustained. In December 1991, the Atún Cocha Project was incorporated as PERUVIAN AMAZON CONSERVATION, Inc., a non-profit corporation chartered in the State of Georgia (# K121475). PAC’s mission in the Amazon is to offer charitable medical, educational, and organizational services coupled with rain forest conservation, and thus to help people to help themselves to a better life and future, while preserving their tropical rain forests, rivers, and bio-diversity.

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Since 1993, PAC has provided free family planning, using Depo-Provera, a progesterone-based contraceptive that is injectible, well tested, safe, highly effective, and fully reversible.Posta Medica de PAC, our health post in Atún Cocha, has been fully operational since May 1998, and is administered daily by a registered Peruvian nurse with extensive experience. Our educational, medical, and organizational services are provided to the people without cost. However, to encourage the people to take more responsibility for their own lives, we ask a token contribution in money or barter items (fish, bananas, etc.) toward 50% of the cost of the medicine provided during treatment. This token payment encourages patients to take responsibility for their own well being, rather than just to expect handouts and/or to depend on welfare. However, no patient is denied medicine for the lack of a token payment.

On 21 May 1999, Peruvian Amazon Conservation, Inc. was recognized as a tax-exempt organization under IRS Code, section 501c3, and contributions to PAC are now tax deductible.

No project can turn back the clock, but model projects like PAC can show better ways to prevent further damage and loss. At least in the 14 villages (about 2,500 people) currently served by PAC, there have been sustainable improvements, especially among the women, children, and young families. Sustaining the rain forests and rivers and their amazing bio-diversity is clearly the most difficult task. Sustainable successes require peer educators, who live and work every day in every community in the Amazon.

See? One person can make a difference. You also have the power to change a life for the better.

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