Raul - Itapoa Farm, Ecuador

Danielle Berg is creating a video to spread awareness on the Choco Rainforests of Ecuador

Three years ago I volunteered at the Itapoa Reserve, which is one of many organizations working toward protecting the Ecuadorian Choco. Raul, the owner of the Itapoa Reserve, is a biologist who has devoted his life to saving the Choco. I don’t say this lightly: he moved to the Choco rainforest 20 years ago, and never left. Every single day, he works towards reforesting the vanishing jungle. And there are others like him, and other organizations like his. Their dedication is stunning.


The problem is, despite the efforts of men and women in Ecuador and abroad, approximately just 0.3% of the Ecuadorian Choco is under protection status. And if we consider the fact that the Choco we see today is just 5% of what it once was that 0.3% becomes even more troubling.

Why is the rate of deforestation so high?
Lots of reasons: slash-and-burn agriculture, mining, logging, and monoculture crops. Of these crops, African palm oil plantations are the top contributor to the rainforests disappearance.

If deforestation continues at its current rate, the Choco could disappear entirely. So what can we do to stop it?
Man. It seems like a huge task, doesn’t it: saving the rainforest? It seems impossible. It seems like you’d have to be a biologist, or a wide-eyed undergraduate environmentalist to even attempt it.

Well, first, I happen to be neither of those things. I’m a writer with a film-making hobby, who teaches play-writing, and walks dogs, and makes smoothies part-time for a living. I am very much not a biologist, and I’ve yet to chain myself to a tree – and still, I fully believe we can help save the rainforest. I spent three months volunteering toward the cause a few years ago, and this winter I’ll return to help in a slightly different capacity.

Second, it is a huge task. But huge tasks are undertaken in small steps.

Here’s the plan.
Three years ago, I not only had the pleasure of volunteering for Raul, but I also gained a pretty spectacular friend. I’ve kept in touch with other volunteers as well, even after we’ve all gone home, and I’ve watched some remarkable projects come to fruition. My friend Daniel funded a project to build a water pipe to allow a community access to clean water once again. Another volunteer made a book of photographs, the proceeds of which fund Itapoa’s efforts. Raul has raised money to buy another tract of land in the Choco, in order to protect it from being deforested.

I’ve watched all this happen while living in New York, working on a graduate degree in Creative Writing and Literature. Now, with the end of classes in sight, I’m making my way back to the Itapoa Reserve.

The plan is two-fold.

Danielle Berg Itapoa reserve choco farm
Volunteers at the Itapoa Reserve, Ecuador

Fold number one:
With your help, I’ll be donating to Itapoa a brand-new laptop with editing software and a video camera. Why? Because Raul, his volunteers, and his neighbors are taking small steps to save the Choco. But if they could reach more people – potential volunteers, biologists, researchers, universities, even the Ministry of Environment! – and these people take even more small steps to save the Choco, the next thing you know, you’ve turned 10 small steps into 1,000. You’ve turned 0.3% of the protected forest into 30%.

Right now, Raul’s publicity of his cause depends on photos that volunteers take with their digital and cell phone cameras. His facebook page is filled with photos of endangered animals, and volunteers trekking through the forest, encountering thigh-high mud pits and monkeys. People want to help, and Raul’s often got a few volunteers at a time devoting, as I did, a couple of weeks or months to the cause.

But let’s imagine what he could do with video equipment.

In fact, I asked Memory Tree of Austin to imagine what they might do with it, and they gave me one idea after the next. Here’s an overview of a few of those ideas, so you get the gist of what a game-changer video could be and as such, finding the right video production companies for his cause will be more straightforward.

  • An educational video highlighting the Itapoa reserve. Featuring Raul, neighbouring communities, international volunteers, and the Choco – where it thrives, and where it has been destroyed.
  • A video of the Choco’s endangered birds. Aimed at birders, biologists, Audubon societies, conservation organizations.
  • A children’s book to educate local and indigenous children. Raising literacy rates will prevent locals, many of whom are illiterate and therefore unaware of their rights, from being targeted by African palm companies that notoriously take advantage of these circumstances, and buy up locals’ land for mere hundreds of dollars.

Each video, with its unique targeted audience, and in its own way, will educate, raise awareness, and call to action thousands of people who, today, remain unaware of the endangered Choco rainforest.

The rainforests of Ecuador
The rainforests of Ecuador

Fold number two:
Raul and I will make the first video on that list together. I’ll get him acquainted with the camera, and give him instruction in basic editing. All interested volunteers and locals will participate as well, receiving training and lots of hands-on experience.

We’ll spend about two months collecting footage and editing together a short film. By the time I leave, he’ll be comfortable enough with the equipment that he can shoot his own video, like the ones described above, and, if he can help it, dozens more.

My friend Will, an engineer, is donating a flying camera for the duration of my trip. That’s right, a flying camera. It’s a hero cam strapped onto a robot. And he’ll be there to operate it.

We can get a bird’s eye view of the deforested rainforest. We can get a bird’s eye view of other birds’ eyes.

And we’ll be using the regular, non-flying camera too. We’ll collect footage of the reserve, and interview locals and volunteers, and put together a neat, concise picture of Raul and the Itapoa Reserve. This video will be designed to attract volunteers. It will be featured on Raul’s web site, which right now is quite basic. With this video, he can take fuller advantage of the traffic the Itapoa Reserve attracts from facebook, word of mouth, and even Lonely Planet.

What I’m asking from you:
All the funding I receive will go toward camera and audio equipment and a lap top with Final Cut Pro – all of which will donated to the Itapoa Reserve – and my plane ticket.

If you wish to help and show your support, you can contribute as little as a dollar by Clicking here

Other ways you can help

  • Spread the word! Do you have a friend who loves to travel? Who loves nature? Who loves South America? Or a friend/family member who enjoys giving to a good cause? Send them on over.
  • Donate old clothes. There are lots of bugs in the Choco. I’ve got to keep covered from neck to ankle, in heat-friendly colors/material. Got stuff with holes and stains? I’ll take it.
  • Got any photo/video equipment? Editing software? A connection that’ll offer a discount? Email me.

For more details please contact any of the members listed below or visit any of the following links:

Danielle Berg at danielle.e.berg@gmail.com
Itapoa’s web site | Facebook page

Articles on the future of the Choco:
environment.ucla.edu | mongabay.com

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