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The River School: Indigenous Communities Learning & Working Together for the Protection of Key Ecosystems in Colombia

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Throughout ACT’s more than 20 years of conservation and indigenous rights work in South America, one of the greatest challenges our partner communities voice is the gaining of effective control over their territories.

Conspicuously, many countries have legal means through which local autonomy can be achieved, but the communities still need the basic skills necessary to internally mediate disputes, negotiate with external actors, and navigate increasingly volatile political and economic contexts. ACT took on this challenge in Colombia, collaborating with a group of strategic partners including the Universidad de Los Andes to deliver high-quality governance and community development education to twelve remote villages of the country’s Amazon lowlands, facilitating an unprecedented expansion of legally recognized indigenous territories in the middle Caquetá River region.

This outcome inspired us to create a new program, called La Escuela del Rio (the River School), which offers leadership training and other capacity building services to local communities throughout our work areas. As more communities learn effective governance and management of their territories, more lands and ecosystems can be protected.

Currently, River School group activities are taking place at Jaba Tañiwashkaka, a Kogui coastal sacred site set aside as a new category of protected area in Colombia in 2013 with support from ACT and the Colombian Ministry of Culture. Members of Amazonian lowland communities are visiting the Caribbean coast and showcasing what they’ve learned through the River School to indigenous peoples of Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Two very geographically distinct regions, facing similar challenges and pressures, are benefiting from the capacity generated through ACT’s River School.

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