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On International Youth Day, a new initiative has launched that partners with indigenous artisans and artists to create sustainable children’s products and toys.

Kurumi, which means “child” in Tupi-Guaraní, provides a way for families to learn together about indigenous cultures and biodiversity through play. At the same time, it provides new sustainable income opportunities for native communities in Latin America, who face some of the highest rates of deforestation in the world in their homelands. 

The project works with artisans and artists from the Wichí indigenous community, who live in the Gran Chaco region in northeastern Argentina. The Gran Chaco is South America’s largest tropical dry forest. It is also one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet, mainly from deforestation to clear land for beef and soy production. In the future, Kurumi plans to expand to work with other indigenous communities as well.

“The idea for Kurumi came out of my own personal experience,” says Paula Ellinger, a climate activist and researcher who has worked on climate change issues in Latin America for more than a decade. “When I became a parent, I saw so much environmental impact from things like disposable diapers and plastic toys. The global toy industry is actually growing five times faster than the childhood population.”

“So many resources are going toward a future that none of us want for our children,” says Ellinger. “I started imagining how much change could we drive if these resources were going to indigenous communities and restoring the planet.”

Kurumi’s initial line includes a free digital activity book for children that takes young readers on an imaginary journey to meet a Wichí community, as well as two prototypes of children’s products made by Wichí artisans. Ellinger and her partners are also helping promote other products made by the Wichí through the Kurumi platform. All these resources are available here.

“Indigenous communities manage nearly a quarter of the world’s forest carbon sinks, and 80% of global biodiversity. But they are under unbelievable pressure from deforestation, and now the COVID-19 crisis,” says Beto Borges of Forest Trends, an NGO that works with indigenous peoples and other local communities to secure their rights, support their cultures and livelihoods and conserve their forests, and a partner in the Kurumi project.

“Many Wichí communities face high rates of poverty. But they maintain their worldview of caring for the planet, and their strong links with nature,” says Chris Van Dam, founder of VinculARTE, an initiative in Salta, Argentina promoting traditional art crafts from Chaco and Yungas indigenous communities. “Kurumi is based on the idea that caring for the planet and for each other is key to raising children who believe in the future, and the power of each of us to change the world.”

To raise funds to develop a full product line, Kurumi is launching a crowdfunding campaign. The line will be ready in time for Christmas 2020. It will include toys with an educational purpose, made with sustainable materials, and that generate a positive economic impact for Wichí communities.

“When we came up with the idea of Kurumi as a solution to the problem of ecological destruction and climate change, we didn’t know if it was crazy or an emergency. We decided it was an emergency,” says Sanny Purwin, co-founder of Kurumi.

Kurumi will host a series of webinars exploring issues of parenting in the era of climate change, how the children’s toy market can support indigenous communities and forest conservation, and strategies for teaching children about climate solutions and different cultures. Guest speakers will include educators, mental health experts who work with climate anxiety, indigenous representatives, environmental experts, and anthropologists. More information on the webinars will be available here. The first two webinars will be:

  • August 12th, at 12pm EDT: Children and indigenous people: the opportunity of connecting the dots for a safer  future (register here)
  • August 14th, at 3pm EDT: El regalo como forma de conectar a los niños de la ciudad con el Chaco y las comunidades Wichí (in spanish – register here)