A Pulborough resident has seen the darker side of the Amazon and the impact of major corporations during her three month stint in the rainforest.
Living in a modest home with just the essentials, eco-friendly products and no TV, it is no surprise that Nicola Peel has learnt a thing or two about how to be kind to the environment - something that many of us take for granted.
Last month, Nicola returned from Guatemala where she has built 24 rainwater systems for disadvantaged families and taught them how to recycle waste.
“I believe that everybody deserves water, it’s as simple as that. It’s us and the west with our demand for oil, which has created all the contamination, and with all these pits left behind people are sick from the water and fish,” the 42-year-old said.
The headwaters of the Amazon, in Ecuador, is another hot spot for contamination. Although home to the largest river in the world - the Amazon River - and to beautiful vegetation, rare species and generations of inhabitants, Nicola claims that big-named corporations have turned this earthly heaven into a hell.
“Here everyone is jumping up and down about fracking and in the Amazon there’s gas being burnt all the time - there’s just gas flares everywhere,” she said.
“People say to me, you’re really lucky to be working in the Amazon, but it’s like heaven and hell.
“To be surrounded by these huge giant flares going off and a sea of rivers running black - that’s not fun.”
Due to gases that are released into the atmosphere the rainwater must be filtered to make it safe to drink. It may seem like a good idea for the inhabitants to move to a new location, but Nicola said it is not so simple.
“They’re living where their ancestors have always lived, so when the oil industry came in and contaminated their land people say why don’t they move? How could they move? No one’s going to buy their house, so they’re stuck there.”
To try to tackle the state of the once unspoiled Amazon and Guatemala, Nicola has been visiting every year to educate the locals on how to reuse their waste and source clean water.
“You can’t grow food if you don’t have compost, so I taught them how to make it and how to build out of their bottles and their rubbish,” she said.
“This year we cleaned up the whole village. There’s no such thing as recycling there, although here we can recycle, but there there’s no rubbish people.”
Batteries and packaging are placed into bottles and then used as bricks to build houses. Whilst other waste can be used to create the compost.
Last year, Nicola won ‘Campaigner of the Year’ in the People’s Environment Awards (PEA), but recently lost out to the prize for the Observer Ethical Awards 2014 to Brian May.
However, her care for the environment does not end when she returns to Pulborough. Nicola does not throw anything away and intends to build a compost system right by her home.
Currently, Nicola is running a series of talks to spread awareness of the Amazon and raise money. “I fundraise, do lots of speaking gigs and sell crafts, which will pay for the water systems,” she said.
Nicola’s next talks will be: West Worthing Baptist Church, July 13, 7pm; Cowdray Hall, Midhurst, July 24, 7pm; and Linklater Pavilion in Lewes, July 25, 7pm.