In 2016, I was fortunate to make contact with the environmental news site, Mongabay. The group supported my travel to the Tapajós region of the Brazilian Amazon where approximately 40 new hydropower dams are being planned. The region is facing other environmental threats as well, such as a shipping canal that would lead from the heart of Mato Grosso state to the Atlantic Ocean along the course of the Tapajós River. Thanks to a former AMARC employee, I made contact with Father Edilberto Sena in the city of Santarém. He founded the Amazon News Network, which I profiled for Mongabay. I also reported on the conflict and tensions between small-scale gold miners in the region and local indigenous populations. In the city of Altamira, the hub for the disastrous Belo Monte dam project, I interviewed traditional fisherfolk whose needs have been almost entirely overlooked by those planning mitigation measures for the dam.
This work would not have been possible without the support I received from a range of people, from the Movimento de Atingidos por Barragens (MAB), the environmental NGO Xingu Vivo, and the Federal Public Ministry, among others.
About a year ago, I spoke with a friend who works as an immigration attorney and focuses on assisting young people who have migrated alone to the US from Central America. He told me about the practice in Guatemala of people signing away their homes as collateral on loans to pay a human smuggler to come to the US. The people get three attempts at crossing the border, and then they must pay back the loan. For many who don’t make it to the US, this means the threat of losing one’s home and the reality of struggling to pay back the loan in a country where most people work in the informal economy and earn a few hundred dollars a month.
The Fund for Investigative Journalism very generously accepted my request for support to travel to Guatemala and do this reporting. It would not have been possible otherwise. I also owe a huge debt to Álvaro Caballeros, who provided data and insight, Julia Gonzaléz, and Rachael Bale, who offered excellent tips on conducting my investigation and shaping the stories that emerged. Two printed reports came out of my time in Guatemala, one for Al Jazeera English, and another for Al Jazeera America. I´m also working on a radio piece for Making Contact.