VOLUNTEER

A chance to learn lessons from a world away

 

hmanes@ecoworksinternational.org

The MCIV groups of professionals who come to the United States as guests of our State Department bring abundance of riches to our doorsteps. Imagine spending a whole afternoon with a group of journalists or politicians or wildlife preservationists and forest rangers, each from a different country, and exchanging ideas and experiences with them that cover the entire spectrum of life.

These people come to America to see how we do what they also do in their countries. What have we to offer that could help them do their jobs better? What visits, connections and introductions would advance their agenda and aspirations? What experiences of success and failure could provide precious lessons? And, what can we learn from them?

In the process, we share our personal stories, our hopes and aspirations, and our families’ sagas, and friendships are born. At times, we share the same ethnic backgrounds or professions or have lived in the country where the visitors are from. At other times we discover worlds we know little about.

Earlier this month, I accompanied three members of the current delegation to a Jamaican restaurant in Wynwood, which is owned by Nadine Patrice. She is Haitian and her husband who is Jamaican. How Miami is that?

My guests were from Chad, Congo Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They were part of a group of 10 other visitors who all work in the field of the preservation of large mammals and their habitats. Their work ranges from conducting research, gathering statistics, tracking the animals with electronic tags; studying the effects of climate change on the forests and tundra, working with indigenous populations living off these areas; fighting poaching and encouraging of eco-tourism.

After each gave an overview of their specific responsibilities, the conversation moved onto the role of governments, the international community, and programs that can benefit tribal communities living off the forest.

My guests and I share the same language, French, and so we could speak without the halting exchanges that translation brings. And, I work with developing countries and have spent quite a bit of time in Africa. Our afternoon was like meeting old friends who live in the neighborhood — though we never had met before and our homes are thousands of miles apart.

Ecoworks International a Miami-based nonprofit that primarily works in Haiti, a country which is 97 percent deforested with devastating consequences. In Ganthier, where we work, flamingoes and caimans used to roam and birds used to sing. Today they have all disappeared because the trees are gone. During lunch our guests debated how to make the people who live in this region of Haiti take possession of their natural resources and protect them from further erosion and destruction. We promised to continue this conversation upon their return to Africa to support each other and follow our respective progress.

We then visited Books & Books where I thought our guests would benefit from seeing a model that could be adapted in their countries to raise money for their programs. Serendipitously, owner Mitch Kaplan was there, and we gained valuable advice from him as well.

Other places the group visited included the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Everglades National Park, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, and the Zoo Miami.

The matching up of host and guest never happens by chance. These visits are carefully orchestrated by the MCIV office in Miami under the direction of Annette Alvarez, its executive director. It does an excellent job in connecting guests with volunteers and of guiding the groups toward all the resources Miami has to offer.

Miami has extraordinary resources in many realms, and it takes a group of inquisitive visitors from Africa, Asia or Europe to make us rediscover them all over again.

Henryka Manès is executive director of Ecoworks International and an MCIV volunteer.

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