Last night, Livia Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Hunter participated in a Listening Session with the Ashaninka & Guarani communities of Brazil & Argentina, as they shared their insights on living in harmony with nature & wisdom in addressing environmental challenges. The Listening Session, hosted by Satish Kumar, formed part of the Flourishing Diversity Series of events, where representatives of 18 different indigenous traditions and a group of leading experts have gathered in London to share their wisdom and strategies to address contemporary environmental challenges. Here, Livia shares her takeaways from the evening.
It is hard to find the words to describe the experience last night when I was given the opportunity to being a listener with Indigenous representatives of the Ashaninka and Guarani from Brazil and Argentina at the Flourishing Diversity Summit.
I love the role of listener – this is why I love traveling around the world, exploring supply chains and meeting people on the ground. Whether garment workers in Bangladesh or Cambodia or Kenya, wool growers in Australia or artisans in Guatemala – hearing the stories of different people and embracing both diversity and collective consciousness at once, makes my life infinitely richer and my work much easier.
But last night was different – I was not in the Amazon meeting local communities, I was wearing a suit and sitting in a London legal firm office in the City, arriving from work, cement, noise, and suddenly listening to a stark reality: “what are we doing to ourselves?”
Eunice Kerexu, a leader and part of the Guarani Yvyrupa Commission – one of the main female leaders of the National Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples in Brazil (APIS – the biggest national indigenous movement) – told the stories of her people, of how the rainforest is their garden, and what happened to them when the white man arrived and demarcated the land cutting mother earth. She shared horrific stories of persecution and abuse which continues today as well.
Tiago Karai, a young leader of the Temonde’ Pora indigenous Land and part of the Guarani Yuyrupa Commission as well, represented a new generation of Guarani Leaders in the struggle for land titling. He stressed the issue of inequality of representation in the fight of the land as when corporations and governments take hold of the land they are one against 1,000. In the name of progress and development, we are destroying a model that has lasted for millions of years and now the so called “civilisation” has poisoned everything – using nature as a resource for the economy rather than a source of life. His powerful testimony about what it means to be indigenous – being connected with nature and fundamentally being a guardian, a steward for the world – resonated loud and clear in the audience and inspired us all to continue in our fight for sustainability and equality.
Benki Piyako, leader of the Ashaninka people and ambassador of a paradigm change in cultural, environmental and peace activism spoke last. His efforts have been instrumental in the replanting of over two million trees in the Amazon forest in the last 25 years and in the creation of socially-conscious prokects that have made the Ashaninka protagonists of social change in the region. He shared his story of how he did it using joy and concentrating on the positive inside each one of us, because to begin to change the world, we need to change ourselves first, change our lifestyle, our values. “With joy we can cure many diseases,” he said. “My grandfather taught me that a good leader doesn’t carry anger – we have to be able to to forgive the past so that we can face the adversities of the future. That is why my people don’t engage in war, we engage in love.”
He reminded us that this is not a problem of the indigenous people, this is a problem for the whole world: we are ill. We need to revitalise human life and be happy – we can’t talk about deforestation of the forest if we do not address reforestation of our souls. He reminded us how important it is to do so by teaching the youth, working with them and empowering them to lay the ground for a different future. A future in touch with the land, where the forest is an open school, nature is our guide and we do not feel poor for not having what we actually do not need at all. “Let’s not think the world is coming to an end. We can still change the history of the world. Mankind is just mentally ill, and our message is let’s revitalise human life.”
“Modern industrial civilisation is destroying a way of life that has existed for thousands of years. Nature is not a resource for the economy. Nature is a source of life,” concluded Satish Kumar, activist and our host for the evening.
The solutions are clear:
- Respect diversity – and do not concentrate on the political problems, they do not mean anything. But bring opportunities and talk about them and the solutions to go forward.
- Use natural products and plant lots of trees – a huge variety of them.
- Get involved! This is what is missing today in our society. Human nature has been replaced by machines and technology and the first deforestation is one of human life.
I find it harder and harder every day to keep being positive and continue the work we do at Eco-Age with optimism and enthusiasm – looking at the future as if we are making a difference. But last night changed it all. It re-energised my passion and my fundamental belief in positive progress and human power for change. Who cares about the Trumps, the Boris Johnsons, the Salvinis, the dictators, Cambridge Analytica and the disruption of fast fashion. This is the noise that paralises us. What we have to care for is the fire inside each one of us, the opportunity we each have to make a huge difference, by remembering every single day that we are all connected and interdependent and that we are still alive today because there are people like the Ashaninka and the Gurani all over the world fighting for how it should be, reminding us of how it all began and where we should be heading.
We can be the change, and we have to communicate it and most importantly – organise it.
Watch the highlights from this session and the five other Listening Sessions on the Flourishing Diversity YouTube channel.
Watch Fashionscapes: Artisans Guatemala to learn about craftsmanship in Guatemala.