A Northumbria University, Newcastle, graduate has spent a month living in one of the Amazon’s river communities, learning all
about their way of life.
Rochelle Martin represented the UK at the ‘Amazon Summer School on Sustainability’, a globally-renowned programme providing world-class learning and volunteering experiences. Opportunities such as this are actively encouraged and promoted by Northumbria.
The 23-year-old from Belfast has just graduated with an integrated Masters Law degree from Northumbria Law School and has described her experience as ‘incredible’. She said: “The trip definitely lived up to my expectation of being a once in a lifetime experience. I learned and experienced a vast amount during the programme and to live amongst a river community was amazing.
“Seeing the effect climate change has had on the lives of people in this part of the world was a real eye opener. Logging is a huge concern for the communities and I was able to see first-hand the social and economic impact surrounding the practice.
“There were also workshops with Coca Cola and EDP Energy who spoke of their social responsibility plans for these communities, which were very interesting and thought-provoking.”
Living in the river community was a humbling experience for Rochelle and although the local people were initially shy of the group, they did come out of their shell.
She continued: “Trust is a huge thing for the river communities. They live in such remote areas and have very little but are really happy. I have never experienced so many birthday parties within such a short space of time – there is a great community spirit and everyone gets together to celebrate each of the villager’s birthdays.
“While we were there, the President’s daughter had her 15th birthday, which is a landmark year in the community, so that was very special which the group and I felt very privileged be a part of it.”
After the programme finished, Rochelle stayed behind to volunteer in the community, offering to teach children to swim.
She said: “The children have grown up beside a river, yet have never had a swimming lesson before but were very excited to learn. One of the biggest things I realised is that communicating with the remote communities is so important. What we think might be best for them and what is actually best isn’t always the same.
“A charity wanted to install solar panels in the community but after consultation with the community they felt what they would benefit more from was a concrete path to the river as at the time it was just a muddy trail.”
Now back in her native Belfast, Rochelle has just started a new job as a para legal with Caldwell Warner. It appears her trip to the Amazon has inspired other family members to consider travelling and volunteering.
She said: “My mum is going to Vietnam in January to teach English for a few months so I was keen to get a job in Belfast so I could be near my grandparents whilst she is gone. I am really enjoying my new job, I get to attend court regularly and meet clients, it’s also nice to be home for a while.”
Rochelle is also hoping to develop her legal career in environmental and business law, and is hoping to bring some of what she learned in Brazil to the role.
For more information on the Amazon Summer School on Sustainability please visit http://fas-amazonas.org/amazon-summer-school/visao-geral/?lang=en