When Nelson was 13 years old he was a student in Luruaco, Colombia, participating in our CARTITILLA program. He was one of those special students that we would never forget. He was constantly asking questions and wanted to learn more about cotton-top tamarins and how he could help save this critically endangered monkey found only in Colombia. After he completed the CARTITILLA program, he wanted to get even more involved in learning about cotton-tops and what he could do to protect them. Given his interest in cotton-tops and passion for conservation he was selected to be part of our TITI CLUB and TITI LEADERS programs aimed at helping to foster the next generation of local conservation leaders.
Nelson is a talented youth leader and during the time he was involved in our community education program, he led several plastic recycling campaigns in his community. This was not an easy task as most people in rural communities do not recycle, but rather throw waste in the streets, rivers, and natural surroundings hoping that it will be taken away or burned. Nelson created his very own t-shirt and hat (I Protect Cotton-tops) and would wear it as he went door to door in Luruaco, distributing flyers he created and talking to adults and asking for their help in recycling plastic. This plastic was used to support the artisan communities and to make Titi Posts, fence posts made from recycled plastic. Nobody could say no to Nelson, and thanks to his efforts he helped to recycle more hundreds of pounds of plastic that would otherwise be littering the environment. Nelson would not only collect all this plastic, but he would share his knowledge and passion of cotton-top tamarin conservation efforts with everyone he contacted. In fact, many people in the community thought he worked for Proyecto Titi because he was so knowledgeable and passionate!
Nelson was also very active in the annual Day of the Cotton-top Tamarin celebration. He helped to organize his friends and neighbors in providing volunteers that would help with set up and break down of the event. He also was an avid dancer and was involved in several dance troupes that performed during the annual celebration.
Whether school was in session, during summer vacation or even when he graduated from high school, Nelson was always in contact volunteering to help us protect cotton-tops. He loved to talk about cotton-tops with anyone who would listen! He was frequently seen reading the CARTITILLA workbook stories to many of his younger family members and neighbors and he is responsible for engaging kids that were too young to join our programs to get involved. Nelson just wanted to create an army of youth leaders committed to protecting cotton-top tamarins!
Nelson graduated from high school in 2015 and dreamed on continuing his studies. He wanted to become more knowledgeable and involved in conservation in Colombia, but his family did not have the resources to support his dream. Based on his performance, engagement, and enthusiasm for protecting cotton-tops Proyecto Titi awarded him the first of our Blue Sky Scholarships, which helped him to attend SENA, the community technical college in a town 20km away. He continued working in the bakery and other odd jobs so that he could afford bus fare to attend college. He completed his two-year degree in Natural Resources Management and that was enough to spark his desire to learn more. He wanted an advanced degree from a Colombian university to continue his studies in conservation. With no financial opportunities to help his realize his dream, Nelson worked a series of odd jobs in restaurants in Cartagena, grocery stores in Bucaramanga, and in 2018 he made it to Bogota with the dream of attending university and making his mark in the field of conservation. Throughout this time, Nelson stayed in contact with Proyecto Titi, volunteering his time to help us whenever it was needed. He also continued to teach informal classes about cotton-tops with kids in his neighborhood, never forgetting that his desire was to engage even more people in caring about cotton-tops. When Nelson arrived in Bogota, we were able to connect him with our partners at the Jaime Duque Zoo and Park. They immediately fell in love with him and offered him a job as an education assistant and interpreter at the zoo. Nelson flourished at the zoo organizing various events and talk about cotton-tops for zoo visitors. He also was able to begin his studies at the university studying environmental education.
Sadly, Nelson has fallen victim to the COVID-19 crisis and was recently furloughed from his position at the zoo. While he is disappointed, he shared with us that this is just a small set back. When the zoo re-opens, he will return and do what he loves most of all … share his passion and commitment to cotton-top tamarins with zoo visitors. Until then, Nelson will continue doing what he does best … sharing his knowledge and passion with children in his neighbor helping to foster the next generation of conservation leaders in Colombia.