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When enemies become powerful allies: Heroic rescue in the hearth of the Amazon.

The odds of surviving lost in the Amazon are estimated to be less than 10%. Now, imagine if you are 13 years old and responsible for three children, including a 9-year-old girl, a 4-year-old boy, and a baby of just 11 months!

Last week, we came across a documentary called "Operación Esperanza," directed by Tom Cross, which examines the 40-day search effort that culminated in the emotional and improbable reunion of a family. We found it interesting to use this rescue story as part of the collaborative leadership series.

On May 1st, 2023, a Cessna 206 crashed in the dense Amazon jungle of Colombia with three adults and four children on board. Although the crash claimed the lives of the three adults, the children survived and began a 40-day odyssey that tested not only their resilience but also the ability of communities to collaborate—communities that had previously struggled to set aside their differences and work together.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the rescue was the collaboration between native indigenous people and the Colombian army. Historically, these communities have had tense relations due to territorial conflicts and cultural differences. However, in this mission, both groups united with a common goal: to save the children. The indigenous people, with their deep knowledge of the jungle, played a crucial role in tracking the children. They used their ancestral skills to follow clues that the army could not have identified. In turn, the army provided technological and logistical resources, such as helicopters and communication equipment, which significantly expanded the scope of the search.

What lessons does this incredible case teach us?

  • About trust: Despite their obvious differences, the collaboration was based on the conviction that both parties were equally committed. This allowed for a foundation of mutual trust essential for the “partnership.”

  • About openness and Respect: Initially, the army refused to accept help from the natives. However, as the operation progressed, they discovered all the ways in which the indigenous people could contribute or even do a better job. The methods the indigenous used for tracking were not only based on their understanding of the jungle but also on "magic" learned from their predecessors. The army's openness and respect created space for these methodologies, which were so different from their own.

  • Leveraging Individual Strengths: As the operation leader Pedro Arrulfo said with his own words, "The collaboration between the army and the indigenous communities was crucial. Without their ancestral knowledge of the jungle, our technology and efforts would have been insufficient."

The story of the Amazon rescue shows us that a common purpose can unite communities and organizations to achieve the extraordinary, even when chances of success are less than 10%.

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