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5 months with Great Leaf: a human adventure in the heart of nautre

After 5 months working with Fundación Great Leaf, my adventure in Ecuador is coming to an end. As part of my Master's course in Environmental Policy, I wanted to go to a country rich in biodiversity, and find out a little more about the reality on the ground. Having had the opportunity to take part in both Great Leaf projects, I was able to learn more about urban as well as rural biodiversity conservation and restoration projects. It was a rich and emotional experience.

ReConectar is the foundation's urban biodiversity project, led by Liliana Jaramillo. It's a biological corridor linking 2 of the capital’s large parks, through the creation of functional green spaces using plants native to Quito. I spent one day a week at the Nativus nursery, looking after and reproducing the native plants. These days away from the city allowed me to clear my head and reconnect with nature. I'd never thought I had green thumbs, but Lili proved me wrong with patience and teaching. I learnt a lot about horticulture and the different stages of plant reproduction. This apprenticeship prepared me well for the monthly planting and maintenance events of the biological corridor in the centre of Quito. These events rely on the participation of the local community, which has been loyal to the project for the last year and a half, enabling it to keep thriving. Community involvement is crucial to the successful development of the project, and the enthusiasm of the participants reflects the importance of these gardens and the wonderful relationship established with Lili over the months.

As part of ReConectar, I've also worked on building the case for the project to be officially recognised as a Nature-based Solution by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This work has taught me a great deal about how such a project works and the difficulties that need to be anticipated, be they financial, political, logistical or technical.

On the other hand, La Esperanza is a project to conserve and restore rural biodiversity in the tropical region of Manabí. Led by Andréa Narvaez and Anelio Loor, La Esperanza is a vestige of pristine forest in a region heavily affected by agricultural deforestation. The aim is to gradually extend Great Leaf’s lands, restoring former agricultural plots, in order to expand the habitat areas for an improved protection of numerous animal species. My visit to this forest a few days per month was a real discovery of biodiversity. Far from my Parisian habits, it was my first time doing many things: walking in a tropical forest, seeing and listening to monkeys in the wild, observing all kinds of birds, discovering new species through trap cameras, and the list goes on. A magnificent landscape that's well worth a few insect bites. Each visit included environmental education workshops with the local community of El Zapote and the children from the nearby school, each time tackling a new theme.

So, 5 days after my arrival in Ecuador, I found myself facing 3 snakes during a workshop to raise awareness on their importance. As my biggest phobia, this therapy through confrontation enabled me to overcome it, until I could touch one! The reciprocal commitment between the Foundation and the community has enabled the development of a real relationship: the organisation of a Christmas and the distribution of gifts to the children by the Foundation, or the invitation extended to the Foundation by the community to take part in their annual party. 

Above all, my experience with Great Leaf was a human adventure. I felt warmly welcomed by everyone I met, allowing me to discover Ecuadorian culture and all its traditions. I was moved to see the children in the village relax and discuss with me, despite sometimes having difficulty understanding them. I was impressed to see the enthusiasm and involvement of the local communities, whether in Manabi or Quito, for Great Leaf's projects. I felt part of the team from day one, Lili and Andrea have always supported, helped and advised me during these 5 months, and I know that I will always have a place in the Great Leaf team. They helped me feel at home away from home. 

It's been an incredible adventure and I'd advise anyone who has the opportunity to experience it not to hesitate! Whatever your background, and for whatever duration, join the foundation and help protect Ecuador's ecosystems.

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