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Voces de los Pueblos: Respuesta COVID-19 en el Darién, Panamá

Las mujeres del Congreso General de Tierras Colectivas Embera Wounaan (CGTCEW), en Panamá entregan ayuda alimentaria a las comunidades en cuarentena. Crédito: CGTCEW.

Voces de los Pueblos: Respuesta COVID-19 en el Darién, Panamá

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Los pueblos Emberá y Wounaan de los bosques más orientales de Panamá se han movilizado en las últimas semanas para abordar la amenaza de COVID-19 en sus comunidades. La región no es ajena a las epidemias (y se su integridad se ha mantenido intacta gracias en parte a enfermedades infecciosas del pasado). Pero el nuevo coronavirus amenaza a la población e incrementa el paso de la deforestación en sus territorios.

Desde el 25 de marzo del 2020, cuando Panamá declaró el Estado de Emergencia Nacional, sus ciudadanos han estado bajo “cuarentena absoluta”. Las personas solo se les permite salir de sus hogares para ir al supermercado o a la farmacia. Las regulaciones sobre quién puede ir y cuándo se definen según el día y la hora, según el género de una persona y los dígitos finales de su documento de identidad. Por ejemplo, si el último dígito de la tarjeta de identidad de un hombre es un tres, puede salir durante una hora a las 3 p.m. (permitiendo un tiempo de viaje de 30 minutos en cualquier extremo) los martes, jueves o sábados solamente. Las mujeres están restringidas a lunes, miércoles y viernes; el movimiento está restringido por completo los domingos.

Rainforest Foundation US (RFUS) escuchó de Elivardo Membache, el líder electo del Congreso General de Tierras Colectivas Emberá Wounaan, o CGTCEW, una organización socio de RFUS, sobre la respuesta que han tomado para brindar alivio a sus comunidades miembros a medida que el comercio y los medios de comunicación física disminuyen bajo COVID-19. Reconocido por el gobierno panameño, el Congreso es una organización indígena representativa construida sobre estructuras de gobierno tradicionales que aboga por el bienestar de las aproximadamente cuarenta comunidades Emberá y Wounaan que habitan en el Darién.

Rainforest Foundation US: ¿Cuál es la situación actual de COVID-19 en sus comunidades?

Elivardo Membache: COVID-19 ahora mismo está afectando el estatus económico y alimentario de los pueblos indígenas en la provincia de Darién donde ya hay unos 181 casos a través de toda la población de la provincia (hasta el 8 mayo 2020).

Aquí varias personas indígenas dependen en la economía local para sus sustentos y para alimentar a sus familias. Pero ahora han quedado sin empleo. No pueden movilizarse para hacer compras. Y si pueden, se encuentran que no hay comida disponible en las tiendas.

La gente tiene miedo de ir a los centros comerciales en la carretera panamericana dónde se han confirmado la mayoría de los casos. En Arimae, hay muchos jóvenes que trabajan en los centros comerciales que han quedado sin trabajo.

Las seis comunidades en la provincia de Chagres, dentro del Área de Canal de Panamá, se dedican 100% al ecoturismo lo cual está ahora paralizado. Tienen dos meses sin actividad y son múltiples semanas ahora que no pueden comprar ni comida. En mi caso, mi familia y yo tenemos carne propia para comer. Las comunidades deben sobrevivir con lo que hay porque la ayuda no llega a las comunidades más lejanas.

En Jaque, tenemos informes de que hay mujeres y jóvenes movilizándose para viajar a Colombia en búsqueda de alimentación y suministros, y por lo tanto hay autoridades indígenas de Colombia se quejando sobre la llegada de gente de Panamá.

Rainforest Foundation US: ¿Cuál es el estatus de servicios médicos en las comunidades Emberá y Wounaan?

Elivardo Membache: Además de afrontar la crisis económica y alimentaria, las comunidades no tienen acceso a medicamentos básicos ni a los servicios médicos de los cuales dependen normalmente.

En mi área de Santa Fe, hay mujeres dando luz en sus casas. Hay niños deshidratados, con diarrea, pero sus padres tienen miedo de llevarlos al hospital donde los doctores están atendiendo a cinco pacientes positivos por el coronavirus. Y eso es solo donde hay centros de salud y hospitales cerca. En las comunidades en la frontera, hay que caminar uno a dos días para llegar a un centro de salud.

100% de las comunidades no han tenido acceso a equipos de protección personal como guantes o mascarillas, ni alcohol ni otros productos para esterilizar. Además, no hay disponibilidad en las tiendas, y el Ministerio de Salud no está distribuyendo nada.

Rainforest Foundation US: ¿Cómo han cambiado las amenazas que enfrentan en tiempos normales los pueblos indígenas durante esta crisis?

Elivardo Membache: La situación de los bosques tropicales es aún más preocupante de lo normal. Los traficantes y operadores ilegales siguen desabasteciendo el bosque. Hemos recibido noticias de que hay tala ilegal de árboles en Jaque, en Playa Muerto. Los traficantes están tomando ventaja de que las autoridades no están de pie en sus puestos regulares ya que están enfocados en otras cosas.

En Río Congo, los campesinos continúen sus prácticas de deforestación. La situación está peor que lo normal porque ahora hay sequía en los bosques. Pero la dirigencia de los pueblos indígenas está asustada y no quiere salir y presentar denuncias debido a la posibilidad de contraer el virus.

Rainforest Foundation US: ¿Cuál es la respuesta del gobierno frente a los retos de las comunidades indígenas?

Elivardo Membache: Para los pueblos indígenas frente al COVID-19, las acciones del gobierno no son tan impactantes. El Plan Solidaridad del gobierno incluye la distribución de “mega bolsas” de alimentos, pero la distribución está enfocada en la ciudad. No van a llegar a las comunidades rurales y fronterizas.

Mientras tanto, hay otra situación muy preocupante en lo que está surgiendo para las comunidades del río arriba. Ellas no quieren que la gente entre sus territorios, pero hay temor de que SENAFRONT (El Servicio Nacional de Fronteras de Panamá) se va a hacer una rotación de tropas que guardan las fronteras mientras las comunidades deben quedarse en cuarentena. Los miembros de las comunidades temen que las nuevas tropas pudiesen introducir el contagio a sus pueblos. He hablado con el comandante quien ha dicho que no van a hacer rotación de las tropas por el momento.

Rainforest Foundation US: ¿Cómo ha respondido la dirigencia indígena frente la crisis?

Elivardo Membache: Estamos difundiendo información a las comunidades sobre COVID-19, recomendando que gente queden en sus casas, no dejen entrar a la comunidad gente de afuera, y hacer uso de los medicamentos que tengan a mano. También estamos divulgando recetas de medicinas tradicionales para aliviar los síntomas del coronavirus.

Las comunidades se necesitan sal, azúcar, aceite, entre otros alimentos además de fósforos, jabón, y equipo de protección personal para prevenir o contener el virus. Por eso, como Congreso hemos organizado una recaudación de fondos y, junto con voluntarios del Feed Panama, estamos distribuyendo sacos de alimentos, mascarillas, y guantes a las comunidades aisladas de Arimae y Bajo Chiquito. Entre tanto hemos visto una historia de solidaridad emerger entre estas comunidades y sus familiares en la capital que tienen problemas ante la cuarentena y aislamiento domiciliario. A su petición como Congreso hemos coordinado también el trasporte de plátano, yuca y ñame para alimentar a esas familias.

También estamos difundiendo información al gobierno frente a la realidad de las comunidades en esta crisis. Escribimos una carta al gobierno y difundimos un comunicado de prensa, haciendo eco de las llamadas de las comunidades y pidiendo asesoría del Ministerio de Salud.

Vemos que todos estos esfuerzos son solo el inicio, pero. Si hay un brote en las comunidades, sería una situación grave. Ahora el esfuerzo es para prevenir eso.

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Voices from the Ground: COVID Response in the Darien, Panama

Women of the Embera-Wounaan Collective Land Congress (Congreso General de Tierras Colectivas Embera Wounaan, or CGTCEW) in Panama deliver food aid to quarantined communities. Credit: CGTCEW.

Voices from the Ground: COVID Response in the Darien, Panama

Para leer en español haga clic aquí

The Embera and Wounaan peoples of Panama’s easternmost forests have been mobilizing in recent weeks to address the threat of COVID-19 in their communities. The region is no stranger to epidemics and its integrity ha remained intact largely thanks to past infection diseases. But the novel coronavirus is straining the local population as the threat of deforestation in their territories creeps higher.

Since 25 March 2020 when Panama declared the State of National Emergency, its citizens have been under ‘absolute quarantine’. Individuals are only allowed to leave their homes to go to the grocery store or to the pharmacy. Regulations of who can leave and when are defined by the day and hour, depending on a person’s gender and the final digits of their identity card. For example, if the last digit of a man’s identity card is a three, he can leave for one hour at 3pm (with 30 minutes travel time permitted on either end) on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday only. Women are restricted to Monday, Wednesday and Friday; movement is restricted entirely on Sundays.

Rainforest Foundation US (RFUS) heard from Elivardo Membache, the elected leader of the Embera-Wounaan Collective Land Congress (Congreso General de Tierras Colectivas Embera Wounaan, or CGTCEW), a RFUS partner, about the response that they have taken to bring relief to their member communities as trade and livelihoods dwindle under COVID-19. Recognized by the Panamanian government, the Congress is a representative indigenous organization built upon traditional governance structures that advocates for the well-being of its forty or so Embera and Wounaan communities in the Darien.

Rainforest Foundation US: How are you seeing COVID-19 is affecting the communities in your region?

Elivardo Membache: COVID-19 is currently affecting the economic status and food supplies of indigenous peoples in Darien province, where there are already some 181 cases across the entire population of the province (as of 8 May 2020).

Here, several indigenous persons depend on the local economy for their livelihoods and to feed their families. But now they are unemployed. They cannot move around to go shopping but regardless there is no food available in stores.

People are afraid to go to the commercial centers along the Pan-American Highway where there are the majority of confirmed cases. In Arimae, there are many young people who work in these malls who have lost their jobs.

The six communities in the Chagres province, in the Panama Canal Area, are dedicated 100% to ecotourism which is now paralyzed. They have been without work for two months and it is multiple weeks now that they cannot buy food. In my case, my family and I have our own meat to eat. Communities must survive on what there is, because aid is not reaching remote communities.

In Jaque, there are reports that there are women and youth organizing themselves to travel to Colombia in search of food and supplies; therefore, there are indigenous authorities in Colombia complaining about the arrival of people from Panama.

Rainforest Foundation US: What is the status of medical services in the Embera and Wounaan communities?

Elivardo Membache: In addition to facing the economic and food crisis, communities do not have access to basic medicines or the medical services on which they normally depend.

In my area of Santa Fe, there are women giving birth in their homes. There are dehydrated children who have diarrhea but their parents are afraid to take them to the hospital where the doctors are treating five coronavirus-positive patients. And that’s just where there are health centers and hospitals nearby. In border communities, you have to walk one to two days to reach a health center.

100% of communities have not had access to personal protective equipment such as gloves or masks, alcohol or other sterilization products. What’s more, there is no availability in stores, and the Ministry of Health is not distributing anything.

Rainforest Foundation US: How are you seeing the ongoing threats to indigenous peoples changing during this crisis?

Elivardo Membache: The situation around tropical forests is even more worrying than normal. Illegal traffickers and operators continue to exploit the forest. We have received news that there is illegal logging in Jaque, in Playa Muerto. Traffickers are taking advantage of the fact that the authorities are not standing in their regular posts, as they are focused on other things.

In Rio Congo, farmers continue their deforestation practices. The situation is worse than normal because now there is a drought in the forests. But indigenous peoples’ leaders are scared to go out and file complaints due to the possibility of contracting the virus.

Rainforest Foundation US: What is the government’s response to the challenges of indigenous communities?

Elivardo Membache: The actions of the government are not very impactful on the reality of indigenous peoples in the face of COVID-19. The government’s Solidarity Plan includes the distribution of what they call “mega bolsas” (or “huge bags”) of food, but the distribution of these is focused on the city. They will not reach rural and frontier communities.

Meanwhile, there is another very worrying situation in what is emerging for upriver communities. They do not want people to enter their territories, but there is fear that SENAFRONT (The National Border Service of Panama) is going to rotate the troops that guard the borders while the communities must stay in quarantine. Members of the communities fear the new troops could introduce the contagion to their villages. I have spoken to the commander who has said that they are not going to do a troop rotation for the moment.

Rainforest Foundation US: How has the indigenous leadership responded to the crisis?

Elivardo Membache: We are disseminating information to the communities about COVID-19, recommending that people stay in their homes, do not let outsiders enter the community, and make use of the medicines on hand. We are also sharing recipes for traditional medicines to alleviate the symptoms of the coronavirus.

Communities need salt, sugar, oil, among other foods, in addition to matches, soap, and personal protective equipment to prevent and contain the virus. That is why the Congress has organized a fundraiser and, together with Feed Panama volunteers, we are distributing bags of food, masks and gloves to the isolated communities of Arimae and Bajo Chiquito. In the meantime, we have seen a story of solidarity emerge between these communities and their relatives in the capital who are having problems in the face of quarantine and home isolation. At their request, the Congress has also coordinated the transport of plantain, cassava and yam to feed these families.

We are also disseminating information to the government regarding the reality of the communities in this crisis. We wrote a letter to the government and issued a press release, echoing the calls of the communities, and asking the Ministry of Health to advise.

We see that all of these efforts are only the beginning, however. If there is an outbreak in the communities, it would be a very grave situation. The effort now is to prevent that.

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Rainforest Foundation US Partners With Indigenous Peoples and Ally Organizations on New Amazon Emergency Fund

Rainforest Foundation US Partners With Indigenous Peoples and Ally Organizations on New Amazon Emergency Fund

While governments scramble to respond to escalating COVID-19 cases, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the needs of indigenous and other forest peoples—some of the most vulnerable populations to the novel coronavirus—are going by the wayside in national efforts to confront the pandemic. What resources governments are investing are not adequately reaching communities in need and the plans that do exist are not always being developed or implemented in coordination with indigenous peoples’ representative organizations—those best suited to advise on effective responses for their member communities.

Despite little national support, indigenous leaders have been raising awareness and mobilizing resources to help keep their communities protected, healthy and safe. But in the last month alone, COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed across the Amazon Basin and the first cases have been reported in indigenous territories. As of May 4th, the best data indicates that over 26,500 cases have been registered in the Amazon basin, 179 of which are in indigenous peoples’ territories, and of the 1630 deaths reported, 33 were indigenous people.

Out of growing concern for the state of the national response with respect to indigenous populations, many national and international NGOs and donors, including Rainforest Foundation US, have come together with the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin (Coodinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica, or COICA), the umbrella group of indigenous peoples’ representative organizations in the nine countries spanning the Amazon basin.

It is clear that the need for funding and the ability to deliver support to communities in need is much greater than the resources or networks of any one individual organization, which is why it is essential to come together to share information, resources and networks of support.

As a result, this new alliance issued a statement in solidarity with the calls of indigenous peoples’ organizations and joined forces with them to launch an Amazon-wide fund to directly support indigenous communities across the Amazon facing the threat of COVID-19.

The Amazon Emergency Fund will support rapid response grants for urgent and immediate prevention and care, food and medical supplies, emergency communications and evacuation, protection and security for forest guardians, and sustainable food systems and community resilience.

Panelists in the press conference for the launch of the fund (from left to right, top to bottom): José Gregorio Díaz Mirabal, Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin (COICA); Tabea Casique Coronado, COICA; Julio César López, National Organization of the Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC); Elcio Severino da Silva Machineri, Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB); Sirito-Yana Aloema, Organization Of Natives in Suriname (OIS); Suzanne Pelletier, Rainforest Foundation US. The conference moderator was Leila Salazar-Lopez, Amazon Watch.

Rainforest Foundation US is acting as the initial fiscal sponsor for the Amazon Emergency Fund. We are both proud and comfortable playing this role, since for over 30 years we have worked in partnership with indigenous peoples and provided direct financial support to indigenous peoples’ organizations to advocate for their rights and protect their forests. Rainforest Foundation US will issue disbursements directly to solicitations for support approved by the governing council and will have complete transparency with the governing council in our financial role.

What follows are selected remarks from Rainforest Foundation US Executive Director, Suzanne Pelletier, speaking alongside indigenous leaders during the press conference on May 6th, 2020 to announce the launch of the fund:

“We’ve worked with partners to address a wide variety of threats to indigenous peoples lives and resources over the years, but nothing that could have as large an impact to indigenous peoples lives and future as this pandemic.

“We have created this fund to directly support communities across the Amazon facing the threat of COVID-19, but I think it is important to mention that this fund will also indirectly benefit all of humanity, since this pandemic is not only a humanitarian emergency, it is also an environmental emergency.

“Indigenous peoples across the Amazon are the last line of defense against forest destruction, and our best hope of mitigating climate crisis. So, keeping these communities, who are the guardians of the forest, safe is critical to maintaining life on our Earth for all of us, no matter where we live.

“By uniting in this unprecedented alliance of NGOs, donors and indigenous leadership, we are confident that we will have a more profound impact across the Amazon, especially at the community level where it is needed most.

“I’d like to stress the urgency of launching this fund now and providing support as soon as possible, since we have a very short window of time to act quickly and effectively across a vast region, if we are going to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in communities.

“With such a broad group of allies coming together, I hope this fund will be an example of what can be possible when we deepen our collaboration across borders and among allies to help meet the urgent needs of indigenous communities to get the resources they need to stay safe and protect their forests.

“I hope we are successful, because if we do not help indigenous communities stay safe, the impact will be felt not just in the Amazon, but across the world.”

With Rainforest Foundation US, the current members of the Founding Solidarity Circle of the Amazon Emergency Fund include:

COICA and its 9 national organizations (Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle, or AIDESEP (Peru); Amerindian Peoples Association of Guyana, or APA (Guyana); Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the East, Chaco and Amazon of Bolivia, or CIDOB (Bolivia); Coordination of Indigenous Organizations in the Brazilian Amazon, or COIAB (Brazil), Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, or CONFENIAE (Ecuador); Federation of Indigenous Organizations in Guyana, or FOAG (French Guiana); Organization of Indigenous People in Suriname, or OIS (Suriname); National Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon, or OPIAC (Colombia); Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon, or ORPIA (Venezuela)), Amazon AID Foundation, Amazon Frontlines, Amazon Watch, AVAAZ, CASA Socio-Environmental Fund, Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR), Digital Democracy, The Climate Alliance, Fundación Pachamama, Global Wildlife Conservation, The HAHKU Project, The Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, Sustainable Amazon Foundation (FAS), Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Amazonia, Pachamama Alliance, Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Alliance, Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network, and International (WECAN).

For those who would like to join the Founding Solidarity Circle as an ally or advisor for this fund to please contact: .

For more information and to donate please visit amazonemergencyfund.org

Additional Reading

6 May 2020 | Press Release:
COVID-19: Inaction and Lack of Funds Threatens Over Three Million Indigenous People and Over 400 Ethnic Groups in the Amazon

11 May 2020 | The New Humanitarian:
https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/feature/2020/05/11/coronavirus-Latin-America-Amazon-indigenous-communities

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Amazon Emergency Fund Scales Up

The Amazon Emergency Fund (AEF) received a $2 million donation from the French Government to deliver COVID-19 relief to indigenous communities.

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Rainforest Foundation US is tackling the major challenges of our day: deforestation, the climate crisis, and human rights violations. Your donation moves us one step closer to creating a more sustainable and just future.

Se Lanza una Nueva Herramienta para Optimizar la Respuesta al COVID-19 en las Comunidades Indígenas de Panamá

Se Lanza una Nueva Herramienta para Optimizar la Respuesta al COVID-19 en las Comunidades Indígenas de Panamá

To read in English click here.

Panamá, como todos los países a nivel mundial, está enfrentando la difícil situación que presenta COVID-19 que ya ha superado los 170 fallecidos a nivel nacional y más de 6 mil casos confirmado. Las áreas vulnerables como los de los pueblos indígenas no se escapan de esta realidad.

La Coordinadora Nacional de Pueblos Indígenas de Panamá (COONAPIP), socio de Rainforest Foundation US en Panamá, está ejecutando un Proyecto de Seguridad Territorial (PST), en conjunto con los distintos congresos y consejos tradicional para asegurar una respuesta coordinada se diriga a los retos y necesidades de los pueblos indígenas del país frente al COVID-19.

Con el apoyo de aliados estratégicos que cuenta la COONAPIP y apoyo técnico de Rainforest Foundation US, técnicos de la COONAPIP están trabajando de manera organizada para facilitar, de manera remota, el apoyo y información relacionados en los casos de COVID-19 en los distintos territorios.

Esta aplicación web busca visibilizar los esfuerzos de muchos aliados locales, extranjeros, indígenas y no indígenas, tanto como gobiernos locales, etc., que están llevando alimentos, insumos de limpieza, y información adecuado sobre la situación. Se anticipa que esta herramienta así pueda focalizar los esfuerzos de una manera más estratégica e informada para una mejor toma de decisiones. Al mismo tiempo la herramienta pieda facilitar la coordinación con comunidades de alta prioridad por medios de las autoridades tradicionales u organización humanitaria local.

El mapa utiliza fuentes oficiales generadas por el Ministerio de Seguridad y Ministerio de Salúd para información sobre las vías de accesos, cercos sanitarios, territorios indígenas con casos identificados y poblados potenciales amenazadas.

Mire el mapa aquí.

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Rainforest Foundation US is tackling the major challenges of our day: deforestation, the climate crisis, and human rights violations. Your donation moves us one step closer to creating a more sustainable and just future.

Launching New Tool to Optimize COVID-19 Response in Panama’s Indigenous Communities

Launching New Tool to Optimize COVID-19 Response in Panama’s Indigenous Communities

Para leer en español haga clic aquí

Panama, like all countries worldwide, is facing the difficult situation presented by COVID-19, having already exceeded 170 deaths at the national level and more than 6,000 confirmed cases. Vulnerable areas such as those of indigenous peoples do not escape this reality.

The National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples of Panama (Coordinadora Nacional de Pueblos Indígenas de Panamá, or COONAPIP), a partner of the Rainforest Foundation US in Panama, is executing a Territorial Security Project (PST) in conjunction with the various traditional congresses and councils to ensure a coordinated response addresses the challenges and needs of the indigenous peoples of the country in the face of COVID-19.

With the support of strategic allies from COONAPIP and technical support from the Rainforest Foundation US, technicians from COONAPIP are working in an orchestrated way to facilitate remote support and information related to COVID-19 cases in the different territories.

This web application seeks to make visible the efforts of many local, foreign, indigenous and non-indigenous allies, as well as local governments, etc., who are bringing food, cleaning supplies, and adequate information on the situation. It is anticipated that this tool can thus focus efforts in a more strategic and informed way for better decision-making. At the same time, the tool can facilitate coordination with high priority communities through the means of the traditional authorities or local humanitarian organization.

The map uses official sources generated by the Ministry of Security and Ministry of Health for information on access roads, sanitation blockades, indigenous territories with identified cases and potential threatened villages.

View the map here.

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Rainforest Foundation US is tackling the major challenges of our day: deforestation, the climate crisis, and human rights violations. Your donation moves us one step closer to creating a more sustainable and just future.

Daniela supports the overall administration and financial and operational management of Rainforest Foundation US’s work in Peru, with a recent focus on supporting the program’s COVID-19 response. Prior to joining Rainforest Foundation, Daniela was a supervisor at the Casa Andina hotel network in Peru, providing staff and management oversight of large teams. She holds a Master’s in Business Management from the Universidad San Martin De Porres. She is a native Spanish language speaker and is proficient in English.