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History of the creation of Nordesta

"The hand that plants brings a new awareness: from destroyer, man becomes protector."

It is said that beautiful stories only happen in fairy tales, but sometimes reality exceeds fiction and wonder. You don’t need to be a giant, except in your head, to move mountains. The story of Anita Studer and Nordesta Reforestation and Education proves it.

In 1976, biologist Anita Studer went to Brazil for the first time to study the many local bird species. Five years later, in a small forest in the state of Alagoas, in the northeast of the country, she spotted a rare passerine named Curaeus forbesi by the scientists and Anumara by the local population.

She reported her discovery to her supervisor, who agreed that this bird would make an excellent subject for her thesis but that she would have to hurry to study it because the rapid deforestation of the area would condemn its survival in the short term, that is to say, nine to ten years, and that all the other endemic species of the region would disappear at the same time as the Anumara.

During a flight over the region, Anita Studer realized the extent of the catastrophe when she saw that this forest was only a green spot in the middle of dry land, “an oasis in the middle of a desert,” she would later confide. It is about the last 5’000 hectares of tropical forest remaining in this region, the massif of Pedra Talhada, a small pea in a region as big as three times France. The Pedra Talhada forest is located in the northeast of the country, straddling the states of Alagoas and Pernambuco.

Before the European colonization, Brazil had several primary forests, the most important of which are the Amazon, now endangered, and the Atlantic Forest, which extended along the entire Brazilian coastline, from the south of Belem to São Paulo, or about 3,200 km long for an area of one million km2. Once linked, these two forests are now completely separated because of 500 years of extensive land use that has destroyed 95% of the Atlantic Forest’s surface, of which only a few remnants remain.

Anita Studer decided to start by saving the “Pedra Talhada” massif, which would then give her plenty of time to study the birds of the forest. To carry out this project, she needed the help of the local population. The first contact proved difficult, as the inhabitants only considered this forest a reserve of game and wood or a dangerous environment because of the snakes.

The village authorities explained to her that their citizens would have difficulty understanding such an approach, which was not as concrete as the construction of a school or a hospital. Anita Studer committed herself to finding funds to rebuild a ruined school on the edge of the forest in exchange for the support of the authorities. This is how she founded the Nordesta Reforestation and Education Association in Geneva on May 15, 1985.

In the years that followed, the association launched several programs aimed at the socio-economic development of the Quebrangulo region through educational projects. The construction of schools and the support given to children’s centers have allowed the population, especially street children, shelter, food, care, education, and professional training. Twenty years of collaboration between Nordesta and the local population has paid off, as this forest is now protected by its status as the Federal Biological Reserve of Pedra Talhada.

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