Longtime BlueCommunities Partner Making a Difference at Multiple Levels

Chiloé, Chile.

Chile, Chiloé.

As Javier Garcia speaks, he mixes up the two places, but refuses to correct himself, as though the mistake is in fact an accidental fortifier of the links – of the intractability – between Chiloé the island, and Chile the nation.

As though by a simple slip of the tongue he has made a new discovery in his work; realized that work in one place is never undertaken in isolation; that all action pushes beyond the boundaries of itself. That one place means another, and that the second place returns the favor. That we do not exist alone, anywhere on earth, however ‘remote’ we may seem to be (usually in the eyes of the occident).

Garcia is the founder of ÜÑÜ, a member organization of Plastic Oceans International’s BlueCommunities initiative. ÜÑÜ is a unique organization on the island and resolutely refuses to say what it is, partly because it is many things but also because “we keep doing different things.” In a world where we are constantly urged to better define ourselves so that others may know what we are, this resistance is not only refreshing, it feels somehow truthful…and human.

Javier Garcia of ÜÑÜ

ÜÑÜ founder, Javier Garcia, standing proud amongst his products.

Although ÜÑÜ does not define itself, it does make a promise: that from its “virtuous mix” of activity and purpose “can only emerge good things.”

And where ÜÑÜ are concerned and involved, there are good things aplenty, in particular July 21 – 24, when Chiloé will host the first major pre-festival event of the second annual Trees & Seas Festival. This year the festival aims to plant 250,000 trees, clean over 5 million square meters of land and sea, and engage more than 100,000 young people with educational projects and workshops. The planting is taking place before the festival itself in order to make the most of the region’s best season for saplings, after devastating wildfires affected the region, its trees and residents in 2021.

And it all starts at the small town of Castro (population 34,000), on Chiloé island, with native tree planting of 6-8 local species, workshops, beach cleans, youth discussions, soil restoration – and a music festival.

Montes Wines

Javier Garcia (R) with Aurelio Montes (L), founder of Montes Wines, at one of last year’s Trees & Seas plantings on Chiloé Island.

“We know the work of ÜÑÜ from way back, years ago,” says Viviana Pinto, Executive Director for Plastic Oceans Chile. “How they are constantly focused on the health and prosperity of their beautiful home island of Chiloé, and in particular engage in reforestation on a landscape suffering ever more soil degradation. But also how their actions are not exclusively environmental – how they take the community on this journey with them, give local artisans relevance and bring the message home to local children through ongoing educational activity.”

Over the last decade, in fact, and despite its limited population, Chiloé has lost more than 10,000 hectares of native woodland to human use, primarily firewood, which helps Garcia to recognize that the challenge is not of one moment, but of a legacy: “My purpose is to leave a mark here on the island,” he says ,”from the reproduction of biodiversity, to systemic educational programs, to generating a virtuous link with the environment. ÜÑÜ, you see, is from the indigenous Mapuche language, Mapudungun. It’s a berry from these southern parts which has antioxidant properties. We humans, we can be toxic, but if we move consciously through the world we can also remove toxicity. Like the ÜÑÜ berry, we can be antioxidants.”

ÜÑÜ products

Just some of the beautiful locally handcrafted products of ÜÑÜ.

“At Plastic Oceans we’re really excited about this second edition of Trees & Seas,” says Pinto. “We can honestly say that even given the conditions we were living in during the pandemic last year, for that first edition we managed to plant 20,000 trees on Chiloé, with amazing local participation. So this year we can’t wait to see what can be achieved by being able to reach even more people in person with this message.”

For Plastic Oceans International, Trees & Seas is an emphatically international festival in its global potential, but local importance and action continues to be central to its drive and ambition.

And as with the 2021 program, the amazing, unique, stunning island of Chiloé continues to be at the heart of the matter. It all starts here again, on July 21, and may it never end, because we’re always better when we’re doing, when we’re out there and active, driving towards a better future.

With ÜÑÜ … we are stronger for that effort.

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