Climate Change in Peru

A couple of summers ago, I spent ten weeks in Pullcapa, Peru. I was a mere time zone away from everything I knew; at the same time, I was in a completely different world. I worked at a grassroots nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of the indigenous Shipibo-Conibo population. In this space, I was ready to delve into global health, improve my Spanish, and appreciate Peruvian culture through meeting people and exploring my environment.

Outside of organizing health literacy workshops, running pap smear campaigns for women, and delving into nonprofit management, I spend my time by the water. My favorite moments are spent swimming in Ucayali River, the life source for the communities in Pucallpa and a tributary of the Amazon River. In the afternoon sun, my friends and I dipped in and out of the water at the perfect level: deep enough to swim, but shallow enough to stand. In moments like those, I could not help but think what it means to be alive, surrounded by nature and all its beauty.

When I came back to America, people asked me about my most memorable moment. While I thought about the warm people and delicious seafood, I was drawn to the moment that left me speechless: standing below a massive tree in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.

In Nuevo Saposoa, a community known as “guardians of the forest,” people fight for conservation of the Amazon. Here, I was awed by Shihuahuaco, a tree reaching over sixty feet in height and one of the few survivors of illegal logging. Along with other youth in the community, I learned about Shipibo-Conibo culture, heritage, and livelihood so inherently linked to the environment. This singular Shihuahuaco tree had wood serving as diabetic medications, red berries used for jewelry to be sold as a source of income, and branches that contained fresh water to drink.

So privileged I was to see firsthand the sharp consequences of climate change. It is a reminder that the time to speak up and act is now.

Ellen Zhang
Troy, Michigan


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