Approaching Community-Based Conservation in a Changing World

Posted on
22 May 2020
Aiesha Williams - Country Manager WWF-Guianas, Guyana Office
Aiesha shares her journey in conservation and reflects on her experiences over the years as an expert in community-based conservation.

During my final year of study at the University of Guyana in 2000, I already had a sense of love and care for nature. As a Biology student, I had the privilege of participating in a fieldtrip to conduct species inventories with scientists within the Iwokrama Forest.  The fieldtrip was organized by Dr Graham Watkins, who was one of our part-time lecturers and who also worked at Iwokrama as a Wildlife Biologist. The inventories were designed to capture data on the types of species of plants and animals, and their distribution. Before this trip to the forest, my view of conservation was quite limited, however, this experience with the scientists and conservation experts at Iwokrama widened my knowledge to other realms of science and their application in conservation. It was in the Iwokrama Forest that I made one of my most important decision, being, to enter into the field of conservation.

Early in my professional career, I did a lot of work with communities in the Rupununi that directly depend on the rivers, wetlands, forests and savannahs for their livelihood. Understanding the dynamics of our nature and understanding how people interact with it were of utmost importance to me. So, there was no better way to understand it all, than to experience it.  Interacting with people, who were themselves interacting with nature on an even more intimate level, gave me a greater understanding of the ways in which people behaved towards the environment. These early experiences helped shape my decision-making processes and ultimately influenced my approach to conservation.
Conservation is a changing and dynamic field. For example, in Guyana, we have rich natural resources which people depend on for their livelihoods. These resources are also exploited to enhance the national economy. However, over the years this required more infrastructural development; more roads, meant increase and ease of access. While this is beneficial for business and communities, it also increasingly poses negative impacts on Guyana’s natural landscapes, rich wildlife and wonderful communities. We need to ensure that we make the correct decisions, even as we develop and live, to safeguard our natural richness. In developing roads, it requires studying and understanding the potential impacts and plan to mitigate them; at times it will call for decision makers to adjust designs and even shift locations to avoid sensitive areas. I draw from the experiences I gained over the years with communities, when addressing these complex situations and environmental issues.

The Guianas and the rest of South America are extremely rich and diverse places, and so for me to be in this position here in Guyana, working and contributing along with others in our country and in the wider South America and the rest of world, is a special privilege. What I have experienced, is that this collective contribution that we make to the field of conservation really can and does make a difference.  I believe that through my work, I really do make a positive contribution in Guyana, as well as in this region and even in the world.

I have young family members; I also have a child and others have children too, so I feel a greater sense of purpose in doing something substantial, contributing to my country and to generations to come.