In the 1980s a handful of Bolivian street children were taken on a field trip into the Amazon Basin. These children were blown away by what they saw – the trees, the flowers, the animals – but also by devastation from farming and illegal logging. When they saw a spider monkey, malnourished and trapped in a cage, the children rescued the monkey. Then they began to campaign; eventually they raised enough money to open the first sanctuary for wild animals in Bolivia. They called it Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi, which means sun, moon and stars in Quechua, Aymara and Chiriguano Guarani, symbolising hope for unification between Bolivia’s environment and its people. Now CIWY runs three refuges in different parts of Bolivia, rescuing exotic animals from captivity, rehabilitating and releasing where possible – where not, offering damaged creatures dignity and respect in environments as wild as possible.
I started working with CIWY in 2007 and, like countless other international volunteers, my experience (including the totally unexpected relationship I formed with a female puma) changed my life. But CIWY not only takes in animals and raises awareness with their volunteers; they also help underprivileged young Bolivians by providing them with safe homes, educations, the chance to learn about their environment and, ultimately, the chance to make a difference on their own. CIWY take their work out into local communities, and they are just beginning to bring the jungle into English speaking classrooms. We have created an educational resource pack that tells the story of CIWY – how it is possible for paws, claws, boots, roots, feathers and tails to live together, in harmony. If you are interested, please visit www.ciwy.org
Laura Coleman, CIWY