'Passion for her cause shone out'

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The Independent US

It was only a five-minute call to Dorothy Stang but I was instantly inspired and set off on a 2,500-mile journey to meet her. A student in sustainable development, I was making a documentary on deforestation. Greenpeace, who had helped me establish contact with her, warned that two French journalists had been shot just two weeks earlier. Somehow that didn't seem to matter.

After an exhausting journey through the rainforest, I finally met Dorothy. Her joy for life and sense of fun were immediate. I then travelled a further six hot hours along the trans-Amazon highway, which stretches more than 2,000km to reach the village of Anatu, a journey often targeted by armed robbers.

Next morning, riding in the back of a truck and keeping my head low and the camera hidden, we went deeper into the forest where she would show me peasant communities and their fight for survival.

It seemed an eternity before we reached any real forest. We stopped at a point between two worlds. Before me rose a mighty rainforest. A place infinitely distant from anywhere I had previously been. Behind lay the story of man's destruction, an unwinding yarn of degradation.

We arrived at a village, close to where Dorothy would eventually be murdered. The people gathered under their leaf-covered classroom to hear her speak. Dorothy had established this community as a chance for them to settle, rather than practise "slash and burn". It is a hopeful project for the Amazon and safeguards the forest from the illegal loggers.

"Ask the people why they are here and they say because nothing is left from where we come from. So they need to change their ways. The mayor thinks of just today and jobs and that means logging," said Dorothy. She blew me away with her passion and commitment for the people and her message: a new way to think and act that brings people together. Loggers were heading their way and she was encouraging them to stay alert.

Filming The Students, The Nun and The Amazon was a challenge. Partly because of the heat and humidity but also because of the extreme danger. Dorothy was amazing to film. So giving and enthusiastic you would not have thought she was in her seventies. Yet her passion and persistence for the cause of local peasants and her fight against illegal logging shone out even though danger was all around.

The author spent the summer of 2003 filming Sister Dorothy's work in the Amazon.