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At a Glance Project by Beatrice Meo

Who are you?

My name is Beatrice, I was born and raised in Rome, Italy, where I lived until a few years ago, when, after graduating from a business university, I decided to look for personal and professional development abroad. Since I was young, I was used to spend time with my family in the countryside near Rome, which allowed me to build a strong connection with Nature. Our weekends were about learning how to grow vegetables in the garden, looking at my gramma taking care of her roses and at my parents talking about the magic of their plants. Sometimes we also got the chance to travel to the mountains and take long walks together, learning from my dad how to appreciate the immensity of that environment. But my favorite place has always been the sea. Such a connection with the seaside gave me the motivation to learn more about how certain ecosystems work and how we position ourselves in the relationship with the natural environment.

Another important aspect I learned during my childhood was “doing good for others”. My dad’s experience as a volunteering doctor in Africa inspired me since I was young, and I grew up with the willingness to follow his example.

After graduating from university, I started my career in Marketing with a Berlin-based e-commerce company. This first real working experience gave me the opportunity to develop in an international environment and learn quite a lot about the industry, but something was just wrong. With time I realized I was doing something that was not in line with my vision and my beliefs. Therefore I applied for a Master in Environmental Sustainability and moved to Barcelona to focus on climate change research. Through the final master thesis, I dived deeper into the social dimension of climate change impact, which turned out to be an interesting aspect for my professional development.

What are you doing?

Next to my work with a berlin-based startup called Zero Waste Berlin Festival, I am working on a personal research project, on IG as _ataglance_project, to study the impact of climate change on the indigenous communities in La Guajira, the northern region of Colombia, known for its arid climate, recently hit by severe droughts.

The project has an interdisciplinary approach, built around the belief that traditional art and local knowledge can support scientific research through personal storytelling. Who can tell us about environmental changes better than the people that experienced them on the front line?

The idea started in 2019 when I got in contact with the Apunaja foundation, a small Colombian NGO working in La Guajira. I realized my experience in social and environmental studies could be useful for the identification of potential climate change adaptation measures that could help the survival of the Wayuu people, an indigenous community living in remote areas of the Colombian peninsula. The past decades have been experiencing a drastic change in climate conditions, with a temperature increase and a drop in rainfalls which forced the population to abandon their traditional activities and rendered their lives more difficult.

I informed myself about the current situation in the area and proposed my project to the Apunaja Foundation, which accepted to support me during the fieldwork. As I already graduated from my Master, I did not have real support from any academic institution, but I aimed to develop my project with some scientific frameworks, in order to make it relevant for future proposals.

The goal of this first pilot project is to identify local climate change indicators in the remote areas in La Guajira by collecting qualitative data for the development of future adaptation measures based on bottom-up decision processes. Considering the social dimension as a fundamental aspect of my research, I carried out the fieldwork with the implementation of participatory methods, including the community members as main stakeholders in the study. The several workshops completed in four different villages consisted in the realization of a map, in which the locals drew the environmental changes happening in the last decades, and in the creation of woven artworks, representing the elements of the change.

Qualitative data have been collected as well through semi-structured interviews with the community members.

Why do you do it?

The main goal of the project is to identify the socio-environmental impacts of climate change in a remote area where the scientific research did not develop further studies yet, in order to help the local communities in the development and implementation of future adaptation strategies. The aim is not only to preserve their natural environment but also their culture, two critical elements for the survival of the whole community.

Local and indigenous knowledge is a great tool for western scientific research, and it must be preserved and supported by those who have the means to do it. During my experience in La Guajira, I learned that traditional knowledge and practices can teach us about natural systems in a unique way because they are rooted in a visceral connection with Mother Nature.

What is your projection?

The present work has been carried out with the aim of gathering information and data to inform the scientific knowledge about climate change impact in La Guajira, Colombia, through the support of the indigenous knowledge system.

Next to providing a solid contribution to climate research, my mission is to create the basis for future works with the Wayuu population: with a documentary realized with Verdewelt (@_verde_welt_), a small international filmmaking collective, we want to raise awareness and move forward with finding sustainable solutions for the survival of this community. We will keep supporting local activists’ voices, rising to protect their own rights which are often cut down by a corrupted system.

To achieve this goal, we will work to build successful collaborations with those organizations willing to help us in the implementation of the next steps. As water scarcity keeps threatening the survival of La Guajira communities, my next goal is to provide sustainable drinking water solutions to those villages without access to it. I believe in the strength of co-creation and collaboration as we all can do something to create a better future for us and the planet.

What’s next? The Verdewelt collective and I are working hard on finalizing the documentary to be soon released. The current pandemic has delayed our plans, but, as soon the borders between Europe and South America will open again, we will receive the woven artworks realized by the Wayuu women during our fieldwork and organize an exhibition to sell the pieces and collect the proceeds. The whole profit will be sent to the Wayuu communities in La Guajira.

More about the At a Glance Project in the following link:

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