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In 1992, the city of Rio de Janeiro hosted the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). New awareness about sustainability was born, and Brazil SGI (BSGI) expanded its projects in the area of environmental education. The Amazon Ecological Conservation Center (subsequently renamed the Soka Institute Amazon Environmental Research Center) was founded by SGI President Daisaku Ikeda and inaugurated the following year.
The center’s objectives are to establish a reserve for conservation and protection for future generations; to restore degraded areas; support environmental education; become a refuge for wild flora and fauna; and to develop environmental conservation projects with a focus on improving the quality of life of local people.
The center is located near Manaus, at the point where the Solimões and Negro rivers meet. It was built on land that had lost much of its original forest cover. Since it opened, 20,000 trees of over 60 species have been planted to restore the forest ecosystem. The center plans to establish a germplasm bank to conserve seeds.
In terms of environmental education, each week approximately 50 students take part in visits through the Escola Itinerante (Traveling School) project, promoted by the Manaus Municipal Department of Environment and Sustainability. Students, many of whom have never visited the forest before, learn about the ecology of the Amazon and then go to the river to identify fish species. University field groups also often visit the center.
The center works with the local Agenda 21 program, engaging communities in Manaus in environmental education activities using the three-step formula “Learn, Reflect, Empower.” One such activity involves transforming used cooking oil that otherwise ends up in the forest streams into something more useful—soap. This simple activity makes people realize that they can do something for the sake of the environment. Former center director, Akira Tanaka comments, “Comparing the students’ faces before and after the activity, they leave looking totally different, shining, full of positive feelings and self-confidence.”
related article Soka Gakkai in America: Focused on Servant Leadership and Dialogic Teaching by William Aiken, director of public affairs, SGI-USA Reflecting upon the SGI-USA community, William Aiken provides a Buddhist perspective on the future trends for religion in the US. The center also carries out extension work with nearby communities, including the Kambeba indigenous people, providing seedlings of plants that generate essential oils, such as andiroba and pau-rosa, which can help earn an income for the community.
In recognition of its achievements, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources accredited the center area as a Private Reserve of Natural Heritage, making it one of a select group recognized and protected by the government.
[Courtesy January 2014 SGI Quarterly]
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