Open Spaces: Conservation and Caring for Families

Conservation and Caring for Families

By Rachel Penrod and Alicia King, USFWS

Conservation includes families.

For women who live in rural areas near Colombian nature reserves, feeding their families is a daily struggle.  Though Colombia has the most bird and amphibian species of any country on the continent, wildlife conservation takes a backseat to providing basic needs such as food, clothes, and adequate health care.  To help conserve birds and other wildlife here, you have to address the well-being of the people living alongside them.

Since 2003, conservation non-profit ProAves has been working with these communities in the buffer zones of their reserve network in Colombia, with support from our Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, other FWS international and bird conservation programs, and our partners. After years building relationships with the people, ProAves realized that to fully engage them and help inspire a love of nature, they needed to focus on the key members of the family unit -- women.

working-with-beads(Photo: Bjorn Welander Photography) 

Women in these areas don't have easy access to education or a way to make an income. To empower them to support their families, ProAves and its partners created Women for Conservation a program that trainswomen to make handmade crafts. The income from the sales of these items helps to provide for their families’ basic needs Their handcrafted products are now sold around the world.

Their most popular products are an array of beautifully handcrafted necklaces, bracelets, and earrings the women make from tagua seeds and other materials.  Each piece comes labeled with the name of the woman who created it, and the money from the sale comes back to the community to fund home improvements, school supplies, and health clinics.  The women and families affected by the program are now ambassadors to the community, teaching others to live sustainably and treasure their amazing wealth of birds and their habitats.Women for Conservation also teaches women and their families to identify birds, grow trees for reforestation, create vegetable patches for food, and grow and harvest coffee beans.    

We’ve provided steady funding for this and other conservation projects in the area, which are reducing pressure on wildlife in the buffer zone by training people in reforestation, educating local children, and making the connections between the birds they see in Colombia and their summer homes in the U.S.

For more information on the Women for Conservation program or to purchase a product or donate, visit http://www.proaves.org/rubrique.php?id_rubrique=296

For more information about the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act visit http://www.fws.gov/birdhabitat/Grants/NMBCA/index.shtm

Rachel Penrod and Alicia King are Outreach and Communications Coordinators in the Migratory Bird Program

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Last updated: June 21, 2012