And Now My Children Know Back
by Leticia, Lua, Lowen and Liam Valverdes Stevens
I am an UK based Brazilian photographer with two decades of experience in documentary and socially engaged projects published in national and international magazines as well as exhibited worldwide. For the past 20 years I have worked in the Amazon, travelling the region extensively, both for photo stills and TV documentaries. I was last there in March 2020 just before the world was struck by the pandemic to interview Carlos Nobre - Brazil’s leading Amazon and climate change expert.
Brazil has been affected by the Covid pandemic in devastating ways and the Amazon has been hit very hard by the virus. This has made it difficult to mobilize resources and communities which combined with the dismantling of environmental policies, absence of enforcement agencies made the 2020 fire season a record breaker.
During the lockdowns, like many, I had to become a teacher for my children. At first, I followed the guidelines with school lessons while from afar I watched the irresponsible behavior of president Bolsonaro in relation to the Amazon and the rest of the country. While being accused of genocide for its neglect regarding the pandemic the Brazilian government has been trying to pass extremely damaging constitutional amendments that will dismantle existent environmental laws. Those changes will effectively make it legal to occupy and explore indigenous lands and are part of the government big plan to commercialize the Amazon region.
While watching the forest burn from inside a safe home in the UK, sadness and disbelief overwhelmed me. The world seemingly so distracted while such destruction is under way. I suddenly realized that my kids needed to learn of that reality. That the forest is reaching a tipping point of no return becoming a savanna more vulnerable to fires with huge consequences for the region and the planet.
More than arithmetic and times tables I wanted my kids to know that the Amazon and its people are in great danger, that the attack and disregard for the forest and its people takes place in different ways and on several fronts, and if we do not do something now this incredible ecosystem will have collapsed by the time they are adults.
It moved me to print some of the images from my archive and, with my children, transform them. We used gold, blood and earth and Amazonian leaves brought home from my last trip.
We also burnt some of the pictures to symbolize the massive fires we were seeing on the news. Through the process we discussed, in an age appropriate manner, what are the threats and challenges facing the region. I hope to have sensitively educated them to this imminent tragedy, while trying to articulate some of my own emotions felt in relation to the situation.
And now my children know that the native Amazonian peoples have protected the forest for millennia. That their sacred land holds gold and other riches that the greedy West seeks to extract.
That the Brazilian president and his allies’ rhetoric in favour of developing the Amazon validate and legalize all sorts of environmental crimes.
They now know about ecocide and genocide. They know that fires are started on purpose and are followed by cattle and soya. They know that clandestine gold miners cut through the forest bringing disease, displacing the earth and polluting rivers, making it hard for locals to fish and survive off this ecosystem. They know that the indigenous people can become more ill of Covid than people in the cities. They know there is blood involved, and to represent it they created a formula of beetroot juice and paint.
While transforming these images with my children, and through their eyes, I could personally touch on the grief and sensation of impotence I feel for the fact that whole tribes and their habitats can cease to exist. Yet I wanted to be reminded of the beauty of the moments I shared with such peoples and the forest. I wanted to find some hope in the process.
I also hope our series can inspire other young people to learn, to ask questions and to love the habitat and the people that humanity cannot afford to lose.