The most wonderful ideas often come from are where you least expect it. At just 7 years old, with long braided black hair and a persistent smile on her face, Sofía Molina decided that when it came to save jaguars, you had to think big, and so her school project, the piggy bank of animals she was making, her school in San Luis Potosí, México and all of Latin América, all became less significant. Environmental activism was shaken like a tsunami by the indomitable will of a girl determined to save jaguars.
It seems that an ancestral Indigenous spirit, with yellow-orange skin, with spots, a long tail, and feline eyes, took shape in that idea called Cococu. And everyone wondered, what does Cococu mean? … Could it be an Indigenous word? Or perhaps some ancient spell?
Sofía, smiling, told them, yes and no, Cococu means: Raise awareness, know and care.
She decided something had to be done to protect the jaguars, and that with everyone’s help, they will be able to achieve it. From there, this has been the conservationist mantra that moves this ecological foundation created by Sofia called Cococu: Cococu seeks, through a children’s perspective, to apply sustainable development strategies built and approved by the community, which promote the preservation and comprehensive use of ecosystem services, with a positive impact on mitigating and adapting to climate change, favoring the area where species live. And taking this feline as a flag, she created the first program: “Cococu el Jaguar,” whose purpose is to educate children about the importance of conservation and seek funds to protect these legendary big cats.
As the poem “Jaguar” by the Mexican poet Adán Echeverría reads:
What sense can the jungle have if the jaguar does not travel through it?
In the Mexican Huasteca region of Potosí, there are only about 50 jaguars that have managed to evade the hunters. As development, deforestation, and the search for oil in the territory progress, it is devouring the original habitat of this feline, the largest in all of America. The jaguar’s kingdom, which previously spanned the entire continent to the southern United States, is shrinking more and more.
Sofía was already in contact with the Indigenous communities of the region from a very young age because her parents did community work, and that work inspired her to get involved. She shared and learned a lot about those cultures playing with the children and listening to the stories of the jaguar in the jungle, and she was fascinated by such a beautiful animal.
Cococu the Jaguar project promotes the idea that the people of San Luis Potosí, especially minors, are aware of the immense diversity of species that live near them, even if they cannot see them. They also realize how small actions, such as respecting the forest, can have big positive effects, like the survival of many species.
Sofía visits schools carrying the conservationist message, giving talks and workshops to children, and her parents have become ambassadors of Cococu’s message. Little by little, the message is reaching further every day.
These children have become ambassadors of nature and in return, they promote the protection of the jaguar and other species. It’s a simple and entertaining model that informs, educates, and inspires communities to favor sustainable development, based on tourism, and to improve environmental, economic, cultural, and social conditions while also respecting and valuing nature.
The scope has been such that on this path Sofia realized that children have great ideas and opinions to improve our world which must be taken into account in decision-making by adults. Thus the Cococu program evolved and gave way to the creation of new Cococus as she calls them, led by other children such as Cococu La Abeja, El Chivizcoyo (endangered wild hen), Los Guardianes del Agua, and Cococu Girl Up. So now Sofia decides to give voice to the children’s perspective and encourage children to fulfill their dreams and have a better world.
Sofía has already received several awards for her work. In 2016, she won third place in the Bansefi Small Entrepreneurs, Big Ideas Program (with her piggy bank project, in which she sold small figures in the shape of animals. The following year she won the Green Latin América award from Ecuador and México’sTUI Heroes of Sustainability Award in Tourism Innovation in the category “Heroes of the future.
In 2019 Sofia was nominated in Austria for the “Energy Globe Award” and in August of that same year, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network named her an outstanding person and invited her to share her experience in México ton its Youth Chapter, an initiative of the United Nations which seeks to get closer to meeting 17 objectives towards sustainability.
In 2020 she won second place in the Action for Nature Eco-Hero Award and in 2021 she won 3rd place in the Fauna category of the Green Latin America Awards, in addition to being the first Mexican recipient of The Diana Awards.
In an interview with the German news channel *DW* “Deutsche Welle – Madeforminds”, Sofía stated: “We seek to protect the jaguar, the 2030 Agenda and the sustainable development goals and make these territories a great example” The small landowners who joined the Cococu program do so with the expectation of generating a better quality of life and offering better opportunities to future generations.
During Hispanic Heritage Month, the Sierra Club wants to pay tribute to Sofía Molina and her beautiful activist model, so that her inspiration crosses mountains and seas, multiplying all over the planet.
Fabián Capecchi is Sénior Copywriter bilingüe for the Sierra Club.
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