ivan and RenzoWith a love of nature that began early in life, Renzo Paladines started Nature and Culture International with Ivan Gayler in 1997, after meeting Ivan in Ecuador in 1994. He was born and raised in Loja, Ecuador, where he continues to live and work. He and his family enjoy spending time at their home in Vilcabamba, where his family has visited for generations.

Below is a conversation between Ivan Gayler, Founder of NCI, and Renzo Paladines, Vice-President and Director of NCI-Ecuador.

Ivan: What was your inspiration for becoming a conservationist?

Renzo: It began with my high school teacher Galo Carrillo, who was also the teacher for most of the senior staff at NCI. He taught me about the importance of the environment and ecology and conservation.

Ivan: What day or lesson do you remember from his class that got you motivated?

Renzo: The classes were very interesting. He was an incredible teacher and got the attention of the whole class. We went to the field and talked about plants, animals and ecology, and did some reforestation. We had great moments in the field. Then I started hiking with friends in the mountains and started to fall in love with nature, with the lakes, the birds, the trees. Just camping with friends were very memorable moments. This is when I decided to protect nature for future generations.

Ivan: Renzo, as a child, what was your experience with nature? What did you think about the forest as a child?

Renzo: It was a new world. I didn’t know the different names of the plants but I could feel the difference in ecosystems like paramo and cloud forests. I didn’t visit the dry forest until later in life. When I was studying at university in Russia, I visited completely different ecosystems like their lakes, forests and the Black Sea. It was new for me because I never saw that before. I met very nice people that shared the same values. That was very important, seeing that there are other people engaged with nature that have the same instincts.

Ivan: What do you think our chances are in the long run?

Renzo: When you see how big the global problems are, you begin to feel some pessimism. But then you can go to the field and visit the reserves and talk with people, and see all of the possibilities like with our sustainable development projects and I have much more hope. Suddenly I think that the only thing that could change our chances would be a big catastrophe, to make people change their behaviors. Especially big countries that do such big damage to the environment.

Ivan: I’m hopeful because this small group of people is doing such great work, and it’s a consequence of your mastery and the mastery of our team.

Renzo: I believe our strength is in the institution of NCI – it allows us to do the work we’re doing. Things like creating Biosphere Reserves gives me hope but there is a lot more to do. The last few months have been very exciting with all of the plans for expansion. It comes at a good time because we are a mature organization and we’re ready to expand. We have the experience, we really understand very well how to work. Other countries have the same problems and the same needs. I believe we can really be effective there too.

Ivan: I’m struck by the willingness and desire of local people to preserve the environment.

Renzo: Yes, we don’t meet resistance in local communities. In EcoClub there are 1,500 students per year asking very good questions, they want to recycle and promote environmental things to save the planet and promote our reserves. Many people are feeling the problems and want to do something.

Ivan: Such a hopeful statement.