Pride because her recent efforts to protect the forests of Michoacan are helping not just the Monarch butterflies that live there but also some of the poor communities within that state.
Donaciano Ojeda, Michoacan, Mexico
When Guadalupe Del Rio, a Mexican biologist of 20 years, tells you she's finally doing something that is "worth it," you can sense a mixture of pride and regret.
As for regret, it has to do with not having learned an important lesson sooner: that to save our environment, we have to save people first.
More and more environmentalists around the world are waking up to the same realization and, in turn, broadening their strategies to address the economic and social needs of people, especially the poorest among us.
Nowhere is that approach more needed than the forests of eastern Michoacan, where millions of Monarch butterflies take shelter every winter. In 1986, the Mexican government responded to pressure from environmentalists by declaring the region a sanctuary, creating the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.
But the reserve is also home to more than 200,000 people, mostly poor farmers who survive on subsistence farming. For generations, they've logged the forests for daily sustenance - for firewood, construction material, and a means of making money. No government decree could really change that. By 1999, 44% of high quality forest within the reserve had degraded.
To protect the forests long term, Guadalupe (or Lupita for short) knew she would have to work with the farmers to help them find alternatives to logging. And so, in 1998, Alternare was born.
Lupita and another biologist, Ana Maria Muniz helped one community of farmers undertake a massive overhaul of the way they farm and, more importantly, the way they live.
*They dug terraces and canals into their sloping farmlands to prevent soil erosion.
*They planted fruit trees and vegetables to lessen their dependence on one cash crop, namely corn.
*And they started using organic fertilizers, instead of more toxic and more expensive chemical fertilizers.
With these techniques, the farmers soon found they were able to grow all the food they need and even double or triple their harvest of corn. To supplement their income, they even started honey production, which they hope to turn into a full-fledged business.
"We are not inventing anything," says Lupita. "This is knowledge that the people already had but they lost that knowledge because our modern civilization brings them new things like chemical fertilizers, monoculture and all the techniques that we now know are not so good."
About the only "new" thing Alternare brought to the community was a wood-saving stove, which uses half the wood of a traditional stove. Made from adobe bricks, the stove traps heat more efficiently. And because it's built with a chimney that channels smoke to the outside, it reduces indoor pollution, the number one killer of people worldwide.
Alternare also reintroduced adobe homes (made of mostly soil), which can be built using two trees, a fraction of the 25 needed for wooden homes.
With the new stove and the new homes came a new awareness that the community's survival is tied to the health of the environment.
"We now realize that if we use up all the wood, we will also run out of water because we need forests to have water," says Celia Isidoro, as she goes about her daily task of making tortillas on her new stove.
Alternare is hoping that type of thinking will catch on in other communities as well, which would help them make a real dent in illegal logging within the reserve. Their strategy: train the farmers to be teachers and let them spread the techniques campesino to campesino, farmer to farmer.
"This is going to be an example for everyone," says Lupita. "We are going to show them that you can live with what you produce here and you don't have to go to the city to get jobs."
Beyond butterflies and trees, what's at stake is a way of life that is increasingly unsustainable. In Michoacan, especially, more than 30 percent of its residents are working out of state at any given time - either in Mexico City or as migrant workers in the United States. They leave behind dysfunctional towns with very few young people, and children without fathers.
"In the city, I feel like I'm in a jail," says Erasmo Cortes, one of several Alternare students who have sought work in Mexico City out of desperation. "What I miss most is my family."
Working with Alternare, Erasmo believes he has more hope that he can keep his family intact and a better chance to prove to his children that farming can be a viable alternative to city life.
"What I want is for them to be in love with the land," he says. "The land is second mother for us."