Using Creativity to Help Save the Planet and Local Community Heritage In Colombia’s Sierra Nevada

In the foothills of the exquisite Sierra Nevada mountain range in Colombia, a small organization is doing great big beautiful things. Here, the team at La Sierra Artist Residency works tirelessly in three main areas: environmental education; community empowerment; and recovery of the ancestral arts. 

But within that is another area of magic which has been capturing hearts and minds since it was first produced five years ago. This little bit of magic is the production of a unique and strikingly beautiful coloring book called Cuidando el Corazón del Mundo (Caring for the Heart of the World).

La Sierra Artist Residency coloring book, Cuidando el Corazón del Mundo

Cuidando el Corazón del Mundo (Caring for the Heart of the World) makes it into the hands of a young eco warrior.

At root, Cuidando el Corazón del Mundo is an eco-coloring book which encourages young people to learn about the ecology and culture of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, where La Sierra Artist Residency is located. 

“This book is a tool for kids, teenagers, adults and grandparents,” says Nina Arias, Founder and Director of La Sierra. “It’s been created in order to generate awareness and understanding of the unique natural and cultural world that is the Sierra Nevada. In particular it is designed to communicate what we can do to care for our amazing heritage.” 

The book came about as a way of “filling a void in our community,” she explains, in particular relating to “an almost complete absence of environmental education in the rural schools of our region.” 

Being a rural region, most educational institutions suffer from a scarcity of funding and other resources. As a result, La Sierra decided to fill the void, and is now producing a second edition of Cuidando el Corazón del Mundo. The book is the collaborative work of more than 15 people who gave their heart and soul to its creation. Artists, illustrators, biologists, writers, editors, curators, allies and friends. For every copy purchased at $20 USD, another five copies are donated to children in underserved communities. CLICK HERE TO BUY COLORING BOOK

In-keeping with all of La Sierra’s work, culture and society are not divorced from the environment. For their team, heritage means all heritage, and that for people and communities to be best positioned to care for themselves and their environment, they need to understand who they are. As such, early chapters of Cuidando el Corazón del Mundo focus on the indigenous world, before moving to ecosystems and biodiversity, and finally to the impact humans are having on the region, and of course how to mitigate this harm and preserve the magic of the sierra. 

Within all these subsections, engendering creative responses in those who engage with the book is key.

Mark Minneboo, Latin America Regional Director for Plastic Oceans International, agrees: “When I think of environmental education, I think of creativity. It’s the single most important factor in the equation and it’s one of the many things that La Sierra has got really right with this book and with their entire scope of work, which is exactly why we invited them to join our BlueCommunities initiative.”

La Sierra Artist Residency Cuidando el Corazón del Mundo

The coloring book is creating plenty of great smiles, on top of educating and inspiring!

It may seem counter-intuitive, but Minneboo speaks from experience, because ultimately you can teach a child about their place in the environment, but in order for them to be able to engage with and address the daily challenges they have ahead of them, which will come at them from all sides and angles, they need to be creative – they need to be able to find their unlearned response. 

“Moving forward from our current crisis does not require us to convey knowledge and time-specific accepted responses,” continues Minneboo, “it requires us to create a space for free thinking, for future thinking. Our environmental firefighters of the future must be creative first and last. If we can achieve that, then…”

As all who work in society and environment know, the work of tomorrow begins today. We cannot know what fruits the tireless work of the likes of Arias and her team and her community will bring about, but we can be certain that this great big beautiful and selfless work gives future generations a better chance. 

“We need to understand where we come from and where we belong in order to understand who we want to be,” she concludes. “If we achieve this, we’ll leave the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in good, strong hands. Hands which can be the guardians of tomorrow and create a better future for Colombia.” 

All of which has a tireless community at its heart, and a small, magical book called Cuidando el Corazón del Mundo. Purchases of one book at $20 provides five more copies for the children of underserved communities in the region that La Sierra Artist Residency works within. BUY NOW to help empower their mission to make a difference locally and for the entire planet.

Jon Bonfiglio is a broadcast and print journalist, as well as Managing Editor for Plastic Oceans International’s written content.