Almir's Trip

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In 2007, Chief Almir Surui came to the U.S. to seek allies in his tribe's struggle for survival. Meeting at Google headquarters in California with GEO head Rebecca Moore, Almir unfurled a cultural map that showed how the tribe used their land. Rebecca in turn flew to the Surui territory in Google Earth, and they compared the two. "I saw this island of lush green surrounded by sheer devastation," she recalls. "The Surui mapped perfectly onto those 2,600 kilometers. They were all that stood between the rain forest and clear-cutting. I thought, 'We can help these people, and we should help.'"

The Surui are quite poor. The 50-year sustainability plan they've developed relies on handicrafts, reforestation and subsistence farming (coffee, fruit trees). Web tools can play a crucial role in their success in transitioning to the modern world. Chief Almir, the Surui's face to the outside world, was the first Surui to attend college and is now one of the only members of his tribe to live in the city. It was his vision to enhance the tribe's cultural and political presence through online communications, and his idea to partner with Google in order to do so. He wants his people to adopt digital images, video, blogs-ways of communicating and collaborating that will give their youngest members both a foothold in the future and ways to capture and preserve their past before it's too late. "We wish to have the tools to direct our own destiny," Almir told the Googlers he met during his first visit. "And we believe that we are not alone."

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Surui land (outlined in red) as seen in Google Earth