The theme of this year's issue of The Scavenger is, for want of a better term, The Fringe – people on the outside or the underside of our society, and people who are trying to make a difference in that context.
Our offerings include a three-piece suite of articles dealing with PTSD, looking at a social worker and a Second World War veteran who are fighting it, and a group of ex-combatants who are using pot to treat it. There are also two profiles of people confronting the casual racism that lurks just under the surface of Canadian life.
There's an article exploring how downtown gentrification is displacing some of our most vulnerable citizens. And a look at the wave of sexual-harassment allegations that has broken over our city's music industry.
Despite the theme, it's a pretty eclectic mix, and, because of the unusually large size of our feature-writing class, a big one.
Other stories feature gamers, bush-league wrestlers, bar workers, polyamorous relationships, a woman fighting substance abuse, a cult marketing organization, and people trying to clean up the image of genetically modified foods.
I think there's something of interest here for everyone.
The Tiputini Project was hatched three years ago in the Ecuadorean capital of Quito.
The chair of the MacEwan communication department and I were having lunch with Tiputini Biodiversity Station founder and director, Kelly Swing, a professor of tropical ecology at Universidad San Francisco de Quito. I suggested that it would make for an interesting project if we were to bring a group of our journalism students to Ecuador, to take pictures, interview people, and generally tell the story of the research station and the surrounding rain forest.
Earlier that week, we had heard Swing speak about Tiputini and the wealth of species of flora and fauna that lived there – and about the ring of oil exploration that appeared to be closing in on the place.
It was a compelling presentation, to say the least. Despite his easy-going style and relaxed North Carolina drawl, Swing's passion for Tiputini, and nature in general, was palpable ... and contagious.
Finally, last May, the people and the funding came together.
Nine of us – seven students and two teachers – were able to get to Quito and Tiputini, and spend a little less than two weeks – including four days in the rainforest – gathering material.
The plan was to assemble a series of articles exploring the various facets of the Tiputini story, with a vague idea that oil might be a prevailing theme, but I'm not sure any of us expected it to be the prevailing theme. Sometimes, in reading over the stories, one gets the impression that we may be among the last to have the privilege of visiting this wilderness ... while it still is a wilderness.
We couldn't have pulled the project off without Swing. His generosity was breath-taking. He sat for three interviews and set up many more. And he did everything he could to expedite and facilitate the work. We owe him one very large thank-you for all he did to make the project possible.
Finally, if our students'
work leaves a reader with the impression that the Amazon is a world treasure desperately in need of saving, that's probably because it is. And it seems reasonable to conclude that no amount of oil can possibly equal its value.