Thursday, December 15, 2022
Almost 8,000 kilometers and a continental separation are between A Coruña and the sanctuary of Tchimpounga in the heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was not an obstacle for the dream of Rebeca Atencia Fernández (Ferrol, 1977), who knew since she was a child that her life would be linked to caring for animals and preserving the environment. Although she never imagined to what extent.
Just over 20 years old and a recently graduate of Veterinary Medicine at the Complutense University of Madrid, she landed in Africa to volunteer with chimpanzees in the NGO Help Congo! The jungle and the primates captivated her forever.
Today, this 45-year-old mother of pre-teen twins from La Coruña is the executive director of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) and the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center, the largest sanctuary for this species. As if that were not enough, the American weekly Newsweek named her as one of the 20 women in the world who will inspire the coming generations with her professional example and personal commitment to environmental education and care for the planet.
She recalled that her environmental awareness began very early, in the early years of her childhood in the Serantes mountains surrounding the family home where she walked together with a forest ranger, Jaime Vázquez, whom she considers her first teacher of ecology. With him, she scoured the fields and forests in search of wounded animals after fires.
The Chimpamig@s program began from her efforts to sponsor chimpanzees from anywhere in the world. The Jane Goodall Institute's goals are threefold, however, and go beyond caring for primate: educating and raising awareness about using resources sustainably and enforcing the law and protecting all animals in their natural environment in the wild. One of its milestones has been to acquire three virgin islands in the Congo to reintroduce primates into their habitat without human interference.
"We seek the welfare of the animals, but this alone is not enough," Atencia cautioned . "In the Congo, we have worked a lot on educational campaigns to raise awareness about poaching, and I have seen how some hunters have now become involved in protection. We work with locals so that the Congolese themselves can take the lead in protecting their natural heritage," she stated.
"Change is slow but possible and can be seen," she asserted. Other African states are already asking them for aid on policies and actions to curb poaching and illegal trafficking. "Before, this wasn't happening," reflected the primatologist from A Coruña, a pupil of Jane Goodall.
With each trip back and forth between continents, Atencia becomes more aware of waste and the need for conscious, responsible consumption.
Rebeca Atencia has the firm and infectious belief that we can change things in small ways. As examples, she cited the need to recycle unusable cell phones so that the proceeds go back to the African continent or to reject exotic woods and products whose processing does not respect food safety.