Projects for Peace: The Vision of Kathryn W. Davis

"My challenge to you is to bring about a mind-set of preparing for peace, instead of preparing for war."

Featured Fellow: Melanie Allen

GIVING VOICE TO INDIGENOUS PEOPLES

Forests account for nearly a third of all land on earth, but over the last decade we have lost around 17 million acres of natural forests each year. That’s equivalent to 18 football fields per minute. Deforestation—a primary cause of climate change—often happens in developing countries, where governments and people are expanding agriculture, building infrastructure, and selling timber rights to generate income and build stable economies. And too often, the rights of indigenous peoples who are most heavily impacted by deforestation are misunderstood or ignored.

Melanie Allen is making sure their voices are heard.

As a child, Melanie took summer trips to Jamaica to visit her grandparents. There was no cable TV, computer, or Internet in her grandparents’ home, so she would spend her time outdoors, exploring the Blue Mountains, collecting worms and lizards, and helping her grandmother in the garden. “My environmental consciousness really began to blossom in Jamaica,” she says.

Years later, Melanie followed her passion for the outdoors to the University of Delaware, where she majored in wildlife conservation. Trips abroad found her studying frog dispersal in the lowlands of Costa Rica and exploring habitat fragmentation in the Cerrado of Brazil. A trip to Africa, however, would be a turning point for the young environmentalist. While assessing water quality in coastal fishing lagoons in Ghana, Melanie realized the limitations of a “strictly science” approach. It wasn’t enough to understand the level of pollution in the lagoons or even the cause of the pollution. “I learned that when scientists failed to understand the existing socioeconomic political context, long-term conservation efforts would be futile,” says Melanie.

"Kathryn Davis dedicated her life to a global perspective and giving voice to those often silenced. Her leadership functions as a paradigm for us all who are fighting for what we believe in, and finding satisfaction and happiness in serving others." - Melanie Allen, 2017 Kathryn Davis Fellow

Today, Melanie works for Conservation International (CI), one of the world’s leading nonprofit environmental organizations. Her specific project is to support indigenous peoples and local communities in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Asia engaging in climate action around sustainable forest management. “Indigenous peoples have proven to be the best stewards of forests due to their deep understanding and interdependence with nature, yet competing interests from the government and private sector pose a threat to their livelihood,” says Melanie.

Working with her CI partners on the ground, Melanie supports the implementation of programs that minimize climate change, protect forests, and benefit landowners and local communities. She advocates for indigenous peoples’ rights and strives to ensure that they are the drivers behind the decisions that impact their lives, livelihoods, and lands.

Melanie has projects located in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Republic of Congo, and Democratic Republic of Congo. To do her work in those countries, she needs to be fluent in French. “One of the challenges in the climate policy realm is that a lot of the negotiations, meetings, and available information are in English and French,” says Melanie. “Having a stronger background in French will help me to bridge that ‘knowledge gap’ that often isolates representatives from certain countries and prevents them from effectively participating in this realm.”

Melanie is grateful for her Kathryn Davis Fellowship for Peace. And she even sees a little bit of herself in the woman who brought her to Middlebury. “Kathryn Davis dedicated her life to a global perspective and giving voice to those often silenced. I have similar ambitions,” she explains. “Her leadership functions as a paradigm for us all who are fighting for what we believe in, and finding satisfaction and happiness in serving others.”