Two Latin American women received the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International President’s Youth award, given to people under 30 who have made significant contributions to nature conservation.
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Nina Gualinga, a 24-year-old woman leader of the Indigenous Kichwa community of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorean Amazon, received the award Tuesday for her active participation in Indigenous resistance to defend their territory from the state and transnational extractive companies.
In 2012, Gualinga participated in the international hearing at the Inter-American Court on Human Rights in Costa Rica, where the Sarayaku community won a landmark case against the Ecuadorean government. In 1998 the government granted Sarayaku territory to an oil company without consulting the community.
Today she works with other communities across the Ecuadorean Amazon on international campaigns to protect and defend the territories and to advocate for a fossil fuel free economy.
The other recipient, 12-year-old Madison Pearl Edwards of Belize effectively advocated for the protection of the Belize Barrier Reef by mobilizing public support against offshore oil exploration in Belize. Her campaign led to the adoption of a permanent moratorium on all extractive activities in Belize waters in December 2017.
Edwards issued a call to children around the world to protect the planet. “I feel proud that Belize has taken such an important step forward and that we helped make it happen but there is so much more we all can — and need to — do. Destroying our natural resources with selfish and short-sighted interests is not OK. I’d like to encourage children around the world to stand up for our planet,” Edwards said.
Meanwhile Gualinga highlighted the importance of Indigenous people as protectors of nature. “As indigenous people we depend on a healthy environment and a surrounding that is alive. We call it The Living Forest. We need clean rivers, because we drink the water directly from them, we need healthy soil, because we grow our own food, we need the animals, the birds and the fish and they need the forest. Our whole survival as a people depends on the future of the Amazon,” Nina said during the award ceremony.