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There and back again and again....

Hey, guys!

My name is Russell, and I’m back at Iracambi once again. As a 29-year-old, there are few things that allow me to say, “back in my day”, and yet I find myself repeatedly saying that sentence while I’m here. Back in my day… more than 10 years ago… 

Iracambi has long held a special place in my heart since the first time I visited with my father and a group of college students he brought for a mentored field experience. That was 12 years ago, and I was 17 at the time. That first short visit set the stage for a long relationship with Iracambi that would evolve and impact my life in ways that I could have never imagined. The following year I graduated from high school and embarked on a gap year in Brazil during which I stayed at Iracambi for 3 months as volunteer coordinator. 

For most of that time I was alone at the research center with one or two other volunteers until, towards the end of my stay we hosted a group of 30 volunteers who were students of engineering and architecture.  What a change from a few lonely volunteers to a full house! It was during that time that we all worked together to build the Casa da Floresta (Forest House) using sustainable construction techniques such as cured bamboo walls and wattle and daub mixed with glass bottles (some of which I had personally emptied.) I learned so much during this process and together we built something remains a permanent fixture at Iracambi. 

Those three months solidified my love for Iracambi and the Atlantic Forest, and altered the trajectory of my life. After conversations with Robin and Binka, I felt motivated to pursue a career in social work with the idea of conducting research into ways of improving social work at grass roots level. I knew Iracambi would be the site of some form of my future research, but first I would go to college, spend a few years working for various development projects (Peace Corps & AmeriCorps), and hold off until the pandemic alleviated. So finally in 2021/2022 I started applying for PhD programs in Sociocultural Anthropology and was accepted at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was easy to decide on my research topic because it was something that I had witnessed in Brazil throughout my life and something that Iracambi has been engaged with for a long time: mining!

This is the moment that I must make a point before I continue. I have paid repeated visits to Brazil because my mom is from Brazil. In fact, she is from a small town only about an hour and a half away from Iracambi. Which is why, when deciding on a research site, I chose Iracambi. Not only because I love the place and everything it offers, but also because it was close enough to my family for me to visit them, but far enough to not directly implicate them within my study. 

Now, 12 years after my first visit to Iracambi, I am here for a few weeks starting a program of research which will likely take me five years or more. I’m looking at the reasons why this region is the object of desire to mining companies, conservationists and smallholder farmers, how this creates potential conflict over land-use, and how that conflict is resolved. During this preliminary trip I have visited the mining corporation (CBA), interviewed both people impacted by mining and those organizing against it, and even watched school children hold a mock debate at Iracambi about the benefits/costs of allowing mining in the region. The folks here at Iracambi have been incredibly helpful to me, connecting me with a variety of people in the region and enthusiastically sharing their knowledge with me.  

While I may keep finding myself saying “Back in my day,” I acknowledge the changes and improvements that have taken place at Iracambi. Iracambi has hired more community members, installed better Wi-Fi around the center, and dramatically increased its tree planting goal year on year. So “my day” that I refer to is now becoming “today” as I return to start my research.

So with that I’ll finish off by saying thank you, Iracambi, for allowing me to be a part of something bigger, and for also allowing something bigger to be a part of me. Iracambi has drastically changed the course of my life, and I hope to contribute towards repaying that debt through the work on which I am embarking. Stay tuned!


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A visit to Iracambi

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