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23-Dec-2022 00:02:01
A refugee is on the front lines of the fight against climate change in Guatemala. UNHCR

Available Language: Spanish
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1. Various shots, Joshua,forest
2. SOUNDBITE (Spanish) Joshua, refugee and forest ranger:
“It used to be that if I saw a snake, my instinctual reaction was to kill it. That is until I started working here. I started to work with them (snakes) and started to get used to them. When you’re in contact with nature, it becomes so exciting to be able to take care of it. Nature appreciates it.”
3. Med shot, Joshua with snake, forest preserve
4. Various shots, Joshua, forest
5. SOUNDBITE (Spanish) Joshua, refugee and forest ranger:
“They showed up one day and forced their way into our home and said we’re going to start selling drugs out of here. If you don’t like it, we’ll kill the whole family.”
6. Various shots, Joshua with spider, Mejía, forest preserve
7. SOUNDBITE (Spanish) Azucena Mejía, Director, forest preserve:
“Wherever you come from, everyone has the right to a good quality of life. We’re all human beings. When a country has the capacity to give to another human being, the country grows in humanitarian terms. It’s not just growing economically; it’s growing in humanitarian terms.”
8. Various shots, forest, Joshua, Mejía, forest
9. SOUNDBITE (Spanish) Joshua, refugee and forest ranger:
“This job has changed my way of thinking. It helped me to see that life can be fair, that life can be beautiful, and that you can have fun in a job. I love nature. And I know that what I do is important not only for me, but that it’s actually benefiting everyone.”
10. Various shots, forest, Joshua, bird, forest preserve


A refugee is on the front lines of the fight against climate change in Guatemala.
For Joshua, a refugee who fled gang violence, protecting the threatened tropical forests of his host country, Guatemala, has become both a calling and a moral imperative.

When he thinks back to his life back before he arrived in Guatemala, Joshua struggles to reconcile the person he was then with who he is now. For him, the symbol of that radical personal transformation is the snake.

“It used to be that if I saw a snake, my instinctual reaction was to kill it,” recalled Joshua, who was just a teenager when gang threats forced him to flee his home in a neighbouring Central American nation to seek safety in Guatemala.

Now, he says handling snakes is one of the highlights of a job that he credits with giving him an entirely new outlook on life.

Since early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Joshua has been working as a forest ranger at a natural preserve in southeastern Guatemala.

Thanks to a partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, FUNDAECO – the NGO that runs the preserve, as well as more than a dozen other sites throughout Guatemala – prioritizes the hiring of people like Joshua, who have been forced to leave their homes due to violence, targeted threats or persecution.

Joshua was 17 when he fled his native country with his mother and siblings after gang members informed the family that they would be taking over their home.

Knowing that any resistance could prove fatal, the family left the next morning, slipping over the border into Guatemala, where the father of Joshua’s half-siblings lives.

They arrived with nothing more than the few changes of clothes they managed to throw into backpacks before fleeing.

Finding steady work can be among the most daunting hurdles for displaced people like Joshua and his family.

Without papers, many are forced to work as day laborers or street vendors to make ends meet in their host countries.

FUNDAECO’s programme is providing dozens of refugees and asylum seekers with steady jobs and the training they need to do them.

Since the programme started in 2020, the organization has brought on 113 refugees and asylum seekers, most of them from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Cuba.

For Azucena Mejía, the director of the preserve, seeing Joshua blossom into a passionate environmental crusader is proof of the value of the programme with UNHCR, which she describes as a win-win-win, for the asylum seekers, for plants and animals, and for society at large.

“We’re not just taking care of this particular forest. We’re really making a very important contribution to all humanity,” she said.

For Joshua, his work at FUNDAECO is about much more than bringing home a paycheck, however crucial his salary is for him and his family.

He is keenly aware that he is playing a role in something much bigger than himself – the fight to protect a dwindling resource which, as climate change makes itself increasingly felt, has never been more crucial for the future of the planet. “I love nature,” he said.

“And I know that what I do is important not only for me personally, but that it’s actually benefitting everyone.”
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