Healing the Roots - Arbio Ong
Posted on /by Rocio Espinosa/ in Stories

Healing the Roots

Por: Rocío Espinosa

“Roots are to a tree what to a human are its legs. With them the tree travels the depths of the soil, searches for nutrients, and shares information by connecting with the other species in the forest.”

Victor sailing the river. Photo by Paul Rosolie

It was in February, 2019, that I met them in person. Paul Rosolie I knew from his social media – I had been following him for months not only for his photos and adventures, but for the content of his stories. He arrived with two other friends who work alongside him in his ecotourism operations: JJ Duran and Víctor. The latter required crutches to walk. We had a friendly reunion in Tatiana’s house (who’s my sister) in Puerto Maldonado.

And so, I was able to participate in this encounter of conservationists in Madre de Dios – to speak of topics of common interest centered on maintaining our protected rainforest’s integrity to try and prevent the advance of logging in the basin of the Las Piedras river. It was an enjoyable encounter, with coffee, cookies, and whiteboard markers on hand.

Next time I heard of Víctor, it was through a crowd-funding campaign launched and posted by Paul on his social media around May, 2020, to obtain the necessary funds for his knee surgery. I was surprised to see the way people in other countries came together to support a noble cause – they reached the 7500USD goal, and I lost track of the situation after that.

Before being a boatman, Víctor had been a logger for about 20 years.

After suffering the deterioration in his knee, however, it became increasingly difficult for him to continue working in the mountain. Manning the boat in Paul’s touristic operation was a good opportunity for him to provide for his family without having to perform an activity that would require him to walk for hours on end.

Victor and Rolando “Pico”

A couple of months ago, Paul contacted Tatiana looking for a doctor who could perform surgery on Víctor in Lima. I connected Víctor with a medic friend who specializes in orthopedics and, after several long-distance conversation, it was concluded that the operation was more complex than the insertion of a knee prosthesis. The quadriceps had to be intervened due to its loss in capacities after so many years in disuse. Thus the cost of the surgery became greater. However, Paul re-launched the donation campaign and managed to amass double the previous amount in less than 24 hours.

As we were coordinating Víctor’s trip from Puerto Maldonado to Lima, another collaborator of Paul’s called for urgent help: Rolando. His problem was even more delicate than Víctor’s – so much so, that after the medic’s telephonic evaluation, it was recommended he be immediately transferred to Lima for an emergency surgery: leg amputation.

When the medic told me of this decision he recommended to Rolando and his wife through a video-call, I shed a couple of tears without even knowing the man personally. I’ve read ‘Mother of God’, a book about Paul’s adventures in the rainforest with Rolando “Pico” and his brothers. In this book, impeccably written by Paul himself, I enjoyed every single one of their adventures and was able to understand the extent of his fondness for this place and its people, and his sincere desire to help them.

Víctor underwent surgery on November 25 of this convoluted 2020, and “Pico”’s operation came two days later. Both smile, knowing their aches have come to an end. The first hopes to be able to recover the strength in his knee and the mobility of his leg, while the second feels an immense relief of the constant pain he’d been suffering. They both know now that they’re not alone.

I believe every single one of us has a purpose that goes farther than what we can imagine. That the connections we make in this rainforest we protect with my sisters and with Paul and his people UNITE us in the same way trees unite all species in the forest.

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