Young Protagonists: youth show their responsibility with the socio-environmental struggle in the Mid-Juruá region

Youngsters who participated in a leadership training project in 2010 articulate the continuity of the proposal in view of the future of social movements

By Maria Cunha

To become the protagonists of their own stories, the young people had to fight for recognition and trust from their communities, institutions, and their families. The biggest obstacle faced by these young people was to overcome the “barrier” of prejudice that youth is just a phase of “fun” without responsibilities and without compromise. Known as “The Protagonists of the Mid-Juruá”, the youth of the Mid-Juruá region achieved an important legacy in the region.

The longing for new opportunities and the appreciation of their potentials made young people mobilize in search of opportunities beyond sport and leisure. They were looking for something that brought a differentiated knowledge, prepared youth to deal with the present and the future of their communities. Most importantly, opportunities to encourage the local youth to look to the Mid-Juruá as a whole, not only as a region, but as a path of transformation. Opportunities which would make them remain in their communities, gaining better knowledge and quality of life, mainly to gain space in the social movements of the region.

In this search, the Project Young Protagonists emerged, which was already an existing initiative in the municipality of Tefé. In 2010, Rose Batista, the manager of the Mid-Juruá Extractive Reserve by the time, brought the proposal to the youth of the region. The young people reacted very well to the idea and threw themselves at the opportunity to shape a different future for youth in the region. A proposal was built to be worked for three years together with the managers and young people of the two conservation units of the region: Mid-Juruá Extractive Reserve (Resex Mid-Juruá) and Uacari Sustainable Development Reserve (RDS Uacari). Thus, the project “Young Protagonists from Mid-Juruá” was formed. With ten modules composed of different themes constructed by the young people themselves such as: history of the creation of conservation units in the region, leadership training, prejudice, STDs, violence, environmental education, among others linked to workshops such as theater, dance, and art.

“I am very grateful that the project has crossed my path, I always put the Young Protagonists first in my life, because it was from them that I got recognition, and changed my life for the better. I became the complete opposite of who I was. This project, for me, I will always see as the basis of everything I have achieved and that I am today. I have no words to describe the positive impact that The Young Protagonists brought me”, reports Marcos Aurélio Carmo de Souza, a young man from the Bauana Community, RDS Uacari.

Young Protagonists meeting brings together young people from different communities in 2010. Photo: Raimundo Cunha.

This process of knowledge and new experiences was essential to build a new consciousness and a new thought for the youth of the Mid-Juruá, and especially to be able to engage the young ones in the social movements of the region. The beginning of this “trusted responsibility” began with the mobilization and organization of the meetings that were led by the youngsters themselves, with the support of the conservation unit management and partners.

From there, the youth have been building confidence in themselves and becoming more capable. Ozangela Cunha, young protagonist of the São Raimundo Community, Mid-Juruá Extractive Reserve, states that “Young Protagonists was a school of experiences and learnings, making young people great leaders for their communities, references and mobilizers”.

The project was not a process of continuous training, but a one-off training, which was necessary at the time for the Mid-Juruá to count on empowered young people and knowledge multipliers.

“The Young Protagonists changed my life, turned me into an empowered young man. I got rid of my shyness and gained space within my region. I managed to get great opportunities after the project and this helped me grow professionally and as a person. The Young Protagonists project broke an important taboo that existed in our region between who the young people were considered to be and who we became today, and this interaction between communities which the project provided was fundamental for us to know each other, and understand each other and thus, together, shape a different future as we did through the project”,  reports José da Cruz Lima de Lima from Comunidade Liberdade at the Mid- Juruá Extractivist Reserve.

Thus, the group of young people who went through this process of awareness and learning, broadened their horizons and today help in the mobilization, organization and management within their conservation units and communities. 

Young Protagonists Meeting gathered young people from different communities in 2010. Photo: Raimundo Cunha.

The future of the Young Protagonists from Mid-Juruá – what are the thoughts for the next ten years?

With the closure of the Young Protagonists, which was a very good project, but unfortunately did not  last long, Mid-Juruá went without a flow of incentive to train new leaders and keep the young people engaged.  The institutions that operate in the Mid-Juruá region came together to think about a proposal for continuous training in the region and that represents a process of training in the model of what was the Basic Education Movement (MEB), created by the Catholic Church in 1961. The MEB has developed an essential social work in the Region of the Mid-Juruá and the educational system is used as an example for the institutions that  are working together on this proposal to be implemented in the region. 

”This new training project, we already think about it with a different perception from what the Young Protagonists used to be. We think of a project that is, besides fitting a training format that only offers continuous training, a 10 year project that at the end will be prepared to train other groups. We know that there are young people all the time and the idea is to have ongoing work with these young people, so that it is not necessary to go back to the beginning. The Young Protagonists did an incredible job with young people. These young people are making their contribution today, and now we feel the need to do a new job starting from scratch with another youth”, explains Raimundo Cunha, president of AMECSARA (Association of Extractive Residents from the São Raimundo Community).

This new project in process, which does not yet have a defined name, provides for a continuous way of work, not only with youth, but with community leaders, representatives of institutions, veterans, community teachers, adolescents, and children as well. AMECSARA, like other institutions, intends to provide a positive social evolution to the Mid-Juruá region, within three to five years.  Most importantly, training people from the communities to be fully able to contribute to the Mid-Juruá, not only as a young mobilizer, community leader, or a person that can manage associations or organized groups,  but that can contribute more broadly, becoming opinion leaders and young people who can be hired to carry out work inside or outside these institutions. In addition, train people capable of filling this space currently occupied by people hired from outside the region. As well as planning the continuity of this work, aiming that these trained youngsters can lead the training of other groups of young people.

The project foresees internships in the associations, empowering them more widely, so that young people are prepared for the future management of these institutions. “We see this project as a preparation to empower young people to actually contribute to the Mid-Juruá in all aspects and not just at the social level,” adds Raimundo Cunha.

The enthusiasm and expectation for this new initiative is already huge. The consultants who are working on the project proposal, together with the proposing team, went to the São Raimundo community and, between December 8 and 9, 2022, the young people of the São Raimundo community, the representatives of other communities, as well as teachers, leaders and representatives of partnership institutions elaborated the themes that can make up the methodology of the course. It was a moment of reflection, exchange of experiences, and a lot of expectation for what is to come. The meeting was supported by Instituto Juruá, ICMBio, AMECSARA and Comunidade São Raimundo.

First meeting with young people at the Comunidade São Raimundo to elaborate the themes that can make up the methodology of the new youth project, still under construction. Photo: Raimundo Cunha.

“My expectation with this new project for the Mid-Juruá is that I can become a future manager of my unit, without having to leave my region to learn about being a manager”, this is what Francisco Lucas expects, a young man from the São Raimundo community.

The Mid-Juruá region is already a reference of sustainability and social organization, and it is working on the present to build an important future, not only for the region, but believing that the future of the Amazon is to work first with the people who live there today, so that there is an Amazon tomorrow, with people ready to guarantee its survival.

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