United World Project


Amazonia. “A lesson from indigenous peoples to change the economy.”

16 November 2020   |   , , Economy of Francesco
By Maria Gaglione – published in Avvenire on 16/05/2020

#EoF: The Stories – Joel Thompson is an engineer who lives in Guyana and helps the natives learn the language.

The Encyclical Laudato Si’ was a strong inspiration for my commitment to support social and environmental justice.” Joel Thompson is an electronic engineer who, after completing his studies in theology and philosophy, attended a Master’s degree programme in Environment and Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2017. “This course gave me the theoretical foundation to better understand the environmental and development challenges in today’s world. I currently live and work in an indigenous village in Amazonian Guyana. My work here consists mainly in accompanying and training young adults in 16 villages through programmes of leadership and integral human development“.

Joel believes that any project that today wants to promote structural change in favour of an economy that is attentive to the people least considered and to the environment must also take the perspective of the rights of indigenous peoples and cultures and ensure their continued involvement. “Indigenous peoples have a strong sense of community. Their cultures were born and developed in an intimate contact with the surrounding natural environment. They have a lot to teach to the world,” says Joel. Preserving the cultural values of these peoples is a wealth for everyone.

More than half of the lands of the planet are protected by local communities, who fight daily against climate change, poverty and political instability, but risk losing everything because their rights are often trampled on. Guaranteeing the land rights of indigenous peoples (for example) is not only fair, it is also a way to fight world hunger, to halt climate change and to protect biodiversity.

In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia Pope Francis stresses: “The globalized economy shamelessly damages human, social and cultural richness (of the indigenous peoples – the tr.)”.

The risk of losing this wealth has pushed many populations in recent years to write their own history to help their young people preserve their roots. Starting from the language which is not only linked to communication, but which is also an instrument of memory, knowledge as well as power. “The projects I work on include a bilingual education program for Wapichan children (one of the indigenous groups in Guyana), a literacy program for young adults and a network of environmental groups,” Joel tells us. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, more than 40 percent of the world’s languages are under threat. By safeguarding endangered languages, people have access to history in their own language, thus maintaining their strong roots. “The bilingual education project for children is the first of its kind in Guyana and it combines the standards of the national kindergarten curriculum with the culture and language of the Wapichan people. Preliminary results are very positive today, revealing a better attitude of the children in attending school and a better learning speed. The hope is that thsee children can learn to value their culture and language and increase their self-confidence and self-esteem. These are fundamental requirements to contribute significantly to a better local and global society. To date the project is active in three villages (Sawariwau, Maruranau and Karaudarnau). After a first phase, the Ministry of Education will decide whether to extend it to other kindergartens and primary schools“.

In the exhortation Querida Amazonia, Francis writes about four dreams (a social, a cultural, an ecological and an ecclesial dream) inspired by Amazonia. Joel is also part of this great dream: from the periphery to the ends of the earth, to shed light on today’s challenges.