Launching Kaimókara: Kickstarter Project Spotlights Indigenous Vessel and More
By Patricia Sullivan on Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
Glaring juxtopositions present themselves upon saying goodbye to first-world luxuries and entering into your Peace Corps country of service. However, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) Jim Brunton, who served in the Darien Rainforest of Panama from 1967 to 1970, believes it is the knowledge of these alternative realities that inspired him to develop innovative solutions to help the Emberá people long after his Peace Corps duties expired.
“Our Peace Corps experience, good or bad, deepened our understanding of this world and our role in it, and provided us with a perspective given to few in our confused nation.” Brunton continued, “and now we may have an opportunity to apply those understandings to help guide our nation through difficult times.”
After leaving Panama 45 years ago, Brunton started a small software company in New York. Despite his entrepreneurial success, Brunton never lost sight of his plight to help his Emberá friends, visiting for about two to three months out of each year.
Brunton’s “continuous split … between high tech and low, complex and simple society,” gave him the notion that the current lack of progress in political, social, economic, and environmental problems is due to “approaching these issues from entirely the wrong direction.”
The Pájaro Project (PJP) is a rainforest preservation initiative “based on market forces rather than altruism,” according to the Pájaro Jai Foundation website. The project’s aim is to create market opportunity for “high-end products in agriculture, microindustry and tourism,” that oppose current economic paradigms of rainforest degradation, while bolstering the indigenous Darien population’s earning power.
So, here is the unique part. As part of the PJP, Brunton and his crew of Panamanians built a $5 million ship, made from rainforest lumber to serve as a marketing vehicle, promoting the Pájaro Jai Foundation. The idea is that “world concern with rain forest devastation will trigger markets for high-end rain forest products.”
Unlike the traditional exploitation that haunts the Darien region, and other areas like it, Brunton’s crew paid a fair price for harvesting the precious wood, and according to Panama-Guide.com, Brunton remarks, “It’s kind of a demonstration of the beauty of the jungle, of what we’re going to lose if we don’t get our act together. It was built to impress.”
The craftsmanship of the Pájaro Jai stands as a testament to the market value of the Darien region and its people, without the need to destroy the rainforest. As Brunton points out, why clear thousands of trees for the sake of cattle if you can harvest two trees for the creation of high-end furniture that generates a greater profit.
It is this frank acknowledgement of human greed that makes Brunton’s project unusual. He acknowledges, “greed itself — and its milder cousin enlightened self-interest — framed and channeled by our culture and our laws — fueled our nation’s greatness in the first place.” However, “time and change and technology have eroded the ability of our governmental machinery and much of our popular culture to modulate these fundamental characteristics of humanity so that the common good can be achieved.”
Brunton hopes to capture the story of the Pajaro Jai, and of his struggle to find effective solutions to some of the world’s problems, in a book he’s writing: Kaimókara (The Dream). He’s set up a crowd funding page on Kickstarter in the hopes of generating funds to complete the book and launch a PR campaign. The make-or-break deadline for his very big goal is January 14, 2014.
“This new fangled Kickstarter crowd-funding concept appeals precisely because it involves the energy of thousands of very small investors – a kind of democratization of investing – and in this case the investment is more than the sum of its parts.”
“Of course I can’t be certain that my solutions are the best solutions,” says Brunton, “but that isn’t really the point. The point is that if we are to remain a great nation we must break out of this pattern of quasi-solutions based on accommodation, and tap into the true creative potential of our nation. I am hopeful that this book can serve as a necessary catalyst.”
An Invitation to the Peace Corps Community
The next stage of the Odyssey of the Pájaro Jai will start in the summer of 2014 with a four month tour of the North American west coast and Canada. If you or your group has any upcoming projects that can be supported by Brunton and his crew with an event on the boat during this tour, Brunton says, “let’s talk about it.”
To learn more about Brunton and his “indigenous-driven” project, visit his Kickstarter page and watch his video: Launching Kaimókara.