Amazon Super Heroes trick-or-treat to save the rain forest

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Two local girls start a fundraising campaign to help save the Amazon

rain forest.

By Bibi Jordan / Special to The Malibu Times

This Halloween, Malibu residents will see a new, homegrown breed of trick-or-treaters. They call themselves the “Amazon Super Heroes” and besides asking for treats, they’re asking for help to accomplish an Amazonian feat. With the coins that residents deposit in their brightly decorated milk cartons they carry to Halloween celebrations, these children of Malibu hope to save a pristine plot of the Amazon rain forest.

This charity campaign is the brainchild of two Malibu students, Zia Hicouri-Strongheart, a 10-year old student at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, and Morrea Ollila, an 11-year old student at Malibu Middle School.

“Even though it’s far away, the Amazon is as important to us as the Pacific Ocean,” Morrea said. “A fifth of the world’s oxygen and a fourth of our fresh water comes from the Amazon.”

Morrea and Zia came up with the fundraising idea two weeks ago at an event at the Wishtoyo Foundation’s Chumash Village in Malibu after they presented the Chumash leaders with gifts-a carved owl and mountain sage. The girls realized they hadn’t brought anything for the guests of honor, a delegation of Amazonian elders escorted by the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT). The next afternoon, the girls and their mothers, Shawna Wentz and Helen Forbes Stewart, met with ACT’s president Mark Plotkin at Calamigos Ranch to share a fundraising idea to protect the Amazon.

“We came up with the name first,” Zia said. “We want to be … and our friends want to be, too… Amazon Super Heroes!”

“Saving the Amazon requires a lot of money, which we don’t have,” Morrea added. “But if all the kids in Malibu collect loose change when they trick or treat, we can make a difference.”

At ACT, Plotkin manages Amazon projects that have won him accolades such as the Skoll Foundation’s Award for Social Entrepreneurship and TIME magazine’s Environmental Hero for the Planet Award.

After hearing about a variety of projects, the girls decided to raise funds to map a pristine section of the Amazon. Together with indigenous partners, ACT has developed a methodology to map indigenous traditional lands, which has resulted in more than 70 million acres of rain forest being demarcated. Because ACT works in partnership with national governments, the maps have true legal standing and, as a result, rain forest territories often larger than European countries have been preserved as virgin forest.

The initial phase of this project is estimated to cost $25,000 and the technical phase, $200,000, but the two founding Amazon Super Heroes refused to be deterred.

The challenge of fundraising led them to create three categories of Amazon Super Heroes. The first category is the “Parrots.” These are the children who on Halloween will “parrot” the phrase, “Small change for big change: Fund Amazon Super Heroes” as they parade through neighborhoods and Halloween fairs in costume, collecting coins in their milk cartons covered with an illustrated wrapper.

The second category is the ‘Toucans,” because they, “too, can” help. They are the older brothers and sisters, like Malibu High School student Carley Sedlak, who offer ideas. As a campaign volunteer, Carley came up with the idea of asking parents and family friends to pledge to match whatever an Amazon Super Hero collects. “Toucans” are also the shop owners who have volunteered to distribute flyers and wrappers, like Trancas Gardens Nursery and PostalAnnex, also at Trancas. They are also neighborhood liaisons such as Malibu Colony resident Carol Moss who will promote the campaign to other residents and will be on hand during Halloween. Prior to the launch of the campaign, Moss hosted an event at her house for ACT.

“At the meeting, it was suggested that the Malibu community adopt one of ACT’s projects, but no decision was made.” Moss said. “When I heard about the campaign, I was touched that Malibu’s children had mobilized a fundraiser on their own. I hope everyone will help make their campaign a success.”

Finally, the third category is the “Eagles.” In the folklore of many Amazonian tribes, the eagle represents the spirit that keeps protective watch over the rain forest. In the Amazon Super Heroes’ campaign, the “Eagles” are campaign “angels” who will step up to the challenge of matching whatever the entire campaign is able to raise.

Zia’s mother, Shawna Wentz, said, “If the children inspire a major donor to step up to the plate, then the success of this campaign will inspire others to do their part in saving the Amazon.”

Morrea and Zia have set up a Facebook page for Amazon Super Heroes where artwork for campaign flyers and milk carton wrappers can be downloaded and printed. Also, volunteers and sponsors (shops, restaurants, etc.) can register. The Facebook page also encourages community members to make direct donations to ACT at www.amazonteam.org.

“I want to thank the children of Malibu in advance for all their valiant effort to raise money to save the rain forest,” Plotkin said. “With your support, we hope to map and protect 6,000 square miles of rain forest … which is bigger than the state of Connecticut… and we couldn’t do this without your support.”