Young Change Makers: Why and How How Sara Lopez and Gabriel Alvarez Of The Jungle Journal Are Helping To Change Our World
You’re going to be making some sacrifices for what you are creating and you won’t be able to see the rewards for those sacrifices until later but the rewards will come.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sara Lopez and Gabriel Alvarez.
After meeting as two explorers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sara Lopez and Gabriel Alvarez set out to create The Jungle Journal — an annual travel, culture, and environmental print publication. When they aren’t traveling to work on their publication, Sara and Gabriel split their time between Europe and the States, namely Texas and Spain where they continue to work on the journal’s operations. Sara manages topics of cultural significance while their interests intersect with geography and land Gabriel’s focus is concentrated on the environment and climate change.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Sara and Gabriel: We grew up in different parts of the world, but only an ocean apart really.
Sara: I was a border child, growing up on the Texas and Mexico border. From the very start I had a cross-cultural experience. I have always lived and continue to live in this mix of cultures– Mexican and American. “Mestiza” is a word in Spanish that is used to describe someone that’s racially mixed but I also like to use this as a literal and metaphorical way of discussing my identity and culture. So growing up in that area, there wasn’t a whole lot when you compare it to the rest of the United States and geographically it is quite removed. I really grew up on the outskirts of this country. But it’s got its own thing going on over there. It has its own border culture. Its own food. Its own language. And within that border culture I had a classic small town upbringing. Growing up, my hometown was a humble place. It wasn’t until I was 17 or 18 we started to get more development down there– which honestly, I’m always pretty grateful I didn’t grow up with all of that. That’s why I see the world the way I do.
(Gabriel) I was born in a little village in the countryside of North-west Spain, in a region called Galicia. I grew up around a lot of nature and in a society half way between their traditional ways of living and halfway between the modern ways of living. I remember there were times when I had to help my family do some field work like picking grapes and other times I would just ride my bike with friends in the forest. I also remember spending a lot of time with my grandpa. He used to share with me his love of nature. He taught me how to recognize birds, and how to plant trees.
I would say another important part of who I am is where I come from. The process of being proud of my culture, my language, as a Galician, has been really important because many of the people in my region have forgotten their origins.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Sara: I would say that in general I loved reading encyclopedias, any books that had maps of the world or articles about different places around the world, atlases, or National Geographic magazines. I was really lucky to have had access to all of those materials growing up. I remember we had a book at home that focused on specific regions around the world and their histories from the Great Pyramids in Giza and the Wailing wall in Jerusalem, to the Great Wall of China and Ankor Wat. I was so fascinated by all of it. And I felt connected to it all. I also grew up watching documentaries, and classes like history, social studies and geography were always the subjects I did best at in school.
Gabriel: I share this part with Sara. In our family we are obsessed with maps and with geography. When I was a child, my mom gave me atlases where I used to spend hours exploring the world in my mind. On the other hand National Geographic, and publications around travel and exploration always sparked my interest.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Sara and Gabriel: Making a difference is about inspiring other people for the better. It’s inspiring positive change in the world. You don’t have to make a HUGE impact to make a difference. Making a small impact is still making a difference. We get too caught up in quantitative measures when in reality every hopeful thought, every positive action, every step towards transformative change– these are all part of making a difference. We forget it starts with the micro and ends with macro.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can
Sara and Gabriel: So we launched our project,The Jungle Journal, as a way to celebrate the heritage, history, and cultures of regions and lands around the world and we use the publication and our social media channels as a way to share important stories of cultural and environmental significance that are happening on our planet.
With this project we want to spread the importance of connecting back to our roots, connecting back to where we come from as humans, and giving value to protecting the environment where we live. We focus a lot of our storytelling around the indigenous people of our planet, by highlighting their stories, and reframing the narrative around them and their ways of living. For so many years, Western society looked down on all of the traditions, ways, and customs of the Indigenous, because during the years of colonialism and the many years that proceeded, their ways were labeled “primitive” or “savage.” People in the West are just now sobering up to the fact that after all of these years of development and industrialization it is our society that has been killing the planet, and this fact alone reframes the conversation of who is less “civilized.”
So it really is the Indigenous ways that are going to help save the planet. And at some point down the line we all have indigenous roots that point to where our ancestors came from. This is the emphasis of remembering who we are and where we come from. Now there are so many of us disconnected from who they are and the land where they live but as long as there is a desire and a willingness to educate themselves about what happened and what is happening, and to look towards a hopeful future to change, that’s already a step to reverse a lot of the terrible things we have done to Earth. So this is what we are here to help, we are wanting people to generate a reconnection to the land by sharing global stories and promoting accessible education through our work.you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Sara and Gabriel: For the both of us, it goes back to our upbringings, being raised around more nature and also having strong cultural roots helped lay the foundation for our passions. What pushed these passions even further was traveling in our twenties. Everytime we would go on a trip abroad, we would learn more about the culture through the locals, the food, the music, and the language. We’d also learn more about climate related issues and they were the everyday realities of a lot of these people we met traveling. We were already receiving really valuable information about the world through our travels and we would always come back changed from a trip. We saw the world differently and we saw ourselves differently. It just came to a point where we felt we needed to share these stories with the world.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. We don’t always get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
We were traveling together after meeting in Brazil, and we decided to use the journey as an opportunity to make a documentary. We kept hearing similar stories about how local communities were being impacted by a growing tourism market in Latin America so we spent about 4 months grabbing footage in Brazil, Peru, Mexico and Cuba– then the COVID pandemic hit. We were in Cuba at the time and we were given 72 hours to leave the country. So we left for Mexico where we quarantined for several months.
It was during the time of lockdown that things got clear for us about what we really wanted to do. It wasn’t about one film, but instead it was the beginning of a storytelling platform to share even more stories with a global audience. So it was really the pandemic that allowed us to see things from a bigger picture and expand our vision for the project.
After that we transcribed a lot of our interviews and started making the magazine. We launched a Kickstarter to help release the project and here we are almost 2 years later with volume two released and volume three on the calendar.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
It took a lot of discipline and self motivation. And it still does. It’s awesome following your own vision and creating your own company/organization but the other side of that is sacrifice. It also required us to change habits that were no longer serving us or preventing us from seeing the vision through. I would say these were the three most important things to get our project going: discipline, self-motivation, and a change of habits. We also had to really find our “why” for the project to maintain that self motivation to keep the project moving.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
Well… I wouldn’t say it was “funny” but when we first started we printed thousands of journals for our volume one thinking it was going to be easy to sell all of them. Rookie mistake. We learned very quickly how much work goes into sales and the behind the scenes. We had to learn the ins and outs of being self-published, getting into bookstores, getting online sales, landing stockists, doing in person events, and just self-promotion in general. It was the hard lesson we needed to understand that this takes a lot of grit and hard work.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Sara and Gabriel: When we launched our kickstarter there were a lot of people that showed up from different points in our life to support and that just meant a lot. Knowing people are supporting even if its from afar is very comforting. There were also strangers that showed up to support that initial launch from a 20$ donation to the hundreds. So knowing that there were strangers who believed in this project to give us that much support and to put their trust in us to see the project through gave us that extra confidence we needed to know that what we are doing is important.
And there are also the people in the publishing world, a world that was completely foregin to the both of us, that have helped support us and offer us help and guidance at different points these past several years. People we have met at events, our suppliers, or just people we decided to cold call/email, and of course friends who have always been there to support us with whatever creative brainstorm we needed and networking us with the right people– you know who you are and we are so incredibly grateful for you.
Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Sara and Gabriel: We get DMs from people saying how connected they feel to the project, and that in itself is incredibly special. Some of those DMs are people who want to collab but a lot of them are just followers that want to share their love. There have also been people that we have interviewed who have come to us after, thanking us for giving them a space to share their story and how liberated they felt post interview/conversation. These are all important parts of how the project touches people.
We’ve had people tell us that this project has inspired them to dig deeper into finding out more about their own heritage or lineage–one person told us they started putting together a family cookbook filled with recipes that otherwise might have been forgotten. When she told us the cookbook was inspired by the work we are doing for the Jungle Journal– we almost couldn’t believe it, but it was so touching. This work is deep. And we’re just incredibly grateful that in different ways it can help guide people back to reclaiming who they are.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I think one of the most important things we can do as a society/community is get comfortable with releasing the idea of superiority. This is the root of a lot of our problems. People have been raised thinking they aren’t worthy or good enough because they didn’t exist within a particular culture, race, religion, skin color, hair type, body type, and/or gender. The list goes on. We have to truly arrive at a point where we learn to embrace our differences and not attach privilege to those differences. Otherwise we fall back into the pattern of creating a ranking system out of everything.
The other thing is that people have to learn to cultivate a better relationship with the natural world. We should view going outside not as a chore but something we look forward to doing everyday. Our relationship to land, animals and plants has to be one where we think of them as extended family. This will change the context of everything we do with the Earth and to the Earth.
Last but not least we need to learn to listen to each other and respect each other. We have to learn to be able to sit in peaceful disagreement with each other. This is community. We literally don’t have time to waste. Cancel culture has become so normal and it’s really doing more harm than good.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).
• It’s OK to ask for help. You don’t need to take on everything on your own even if there are financial limitations, there are people who believe in your vision and want to help.
• You’re going to be making some sacrifices for what you are creating and you won’t be able to see the rewards for those sacrifices until later but the rewards will come.
• Consistency is key. Persistence and repetition are going to deliver the results you want and help you arrive at your destination.
• You’re going to make mistakes and that’s a good thing because you will truly learn from them. Nothing ever replaces personal experience.
• Take breaks! Rest is self care.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Sara and Gabriel: It sounds very cliche but it’s really about inspiring each other. There will be someone at some point that will benefit from your journey, your experience, your wisdom. You end up inspiring an individual or a collective of people who might have otherwise not cared, or didn’t believe something was possible, or it can even be about providing information or a different way of being that people didn’t have access to before and that information or different way of being changes their life for the better. It’s that simple. I would really emphasize that making a positive impact on society and our environment is about inspiring– you don’t know how much of a difference your role, your actions, or even your being can make on someone’s life but it 100% does. We are all here to walk each other home.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Gabriel: The first person that comes to mind is The Dalai Lama. He represents for me some very ancient knowledge that has been preserved. I would have a lot to learn from him.
Sara: I would love to have lunch with Dr. Joe Dispenza, he has been someone I’ve looked to for the past several years and the work he is doing is such a gift to humanity.
How can our readers follow you online?
Here are our handles for socials and our website
Our website www.itsthejunglejournal.com
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Young Change Makers: Why and How How Sara Lopez and Gabriel Alvarez Of The Jungle Journal Are… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.