An interview with Joaquín Leguía, director of ANIA.
You are the founder and director of ANIA, an important association that seeks to help children relate to the environment. You have also participated in a number of tourism development projects for these young adventurers. Can travel raise children’s environmental awareness?
Travel offers an excellent opportunity to develop environmental awareness in children.
There are three contexts that come to mind which contribute to this. The first is nature destinations that provide great outdoor experiences. It is known that regular and positive contact with nature generates life-enhancing values and attitudes among children. It is important that when this happens, we manage to connect with the environment, not as an object but as a subject, so that children will develop an affective bond with the natural world and therefore seek ways to care for it. The second context, unrelated to destination, is how it is always interesting to contrast the environmental practices of the place you visit with the place where you live. The third, and in the same vein, is the environmental practices of accommodation services and the opportunities they offer for participation by those who stay in them, also provide an opportunity for creating environmental awareness.
“The Children’s Trail” is a unique experience in Puerto Maldonado that supports ANIA’s goal of creating 100,000 hectares of protected land for children. Tell us, how does tourism participate actively as an ally in this initiative?
La «Trocha de los Niños» surge de un cuento que escribí llamado «El gran tesoro de la naturaleza». En él, los personajes Ania y Kin ––que estuvieron en versión animada en Discovery Kids en América Latina–– van en busca de un árbol muy especial llamada Meshi. Ella es única porque produce semillas de todas las plantas del mundo. Cuando la encuentran ellos se dan cuenta que el mundo solo mejorará con el cariño y participación de los niños.
In 2007, we developed an alliance with the company Rainforest Expeditions and brought the story into the real world through a “trail” in the jungle of Puerto Maldonado. Children who visit the tourist lodge venture along the trail in search of the tree and a special message. Through this initiative, the mission of ANIA is not only disseminated in an experiential way, but at the same time financial resources are generated through royalties, and these are used to ensure that more children grow up in contact with nature.
We are experiencing an unprecedented technological revolution and today, more than ever, we value the benefits of contact with nature. How does this experience in the heart of the Amazon reconnect children with Mother Earth?
As we face these global problems that we are experiencing and move towards sustainable development, the one thing we cannot stop doing is to help children develop values and attitudes that are respectful of life.
We define these values and attitudes as “active empathy for life”: the ability to prioritize the common good through daily actions that generate well-being in one’s own self, other people, and nature (www.ods18.com). To achieve this, there is no better teacher than Mother Earth. Who better than Mother Earth herself to help us understand, love and care for nature? I know this from my own experience, because from childhood my garden helped raise me. Living the “Children’s Trail” experience can serve as a life lesson.
Also, multiple studies have shown that contact with nature contributes significantly to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development of children. On this subject, in 2020 the documentary “The Beginning of Life 2” was released in 190 countries on Netflix, iTunes, Google Play and other digital platforms. In it, I participate together with other inspiring people and at the end our TiNi initiative is shown as part of a message of hope.
As someone who is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about Peru and its natural riches, what destinations in our country do you believe have the potential to awaken in young travelers their love for nature and adventurous spirit?
There is a saying that I love, and it goes: "the happiest memories of childhood are when our parents were there too." Traveling helps parents to relax and have more quality time with their children. When those trips include nature destinations, parents and children can interact more and share their strengths and vulnerabilities as they come together. That simple fact enables us to develop an affective bond with nature thanks to the opportunity it offers us to be close to those we love.
And, beyond this, with its diverse ecosystems Peru is perfect for traveling with children to destinations that include the coast, mountains, and rainforest. In my experience with my own children, we have really enjoyed northern beaches, the immense dunes of our deserts, the coastal dry forests, and the Amazon. In the Andes, too, but there the altitude gives the experience a different intensity.
Whatever the ecosystem or particular character of the place, if it allows children to move freely, play in an unstructured way, activate their five senses, explore, experiment, discover, be amazed, and be with those they value, then it is a great destination.