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Greg Carr's Big Gamble

In a watershed experiment, the Boston entrepreneur is putting $40 million of his own money into a splendid but ravaged park in Mozambique

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The children come running as soon as the boat pushes onto the riverbank, mooring next to empty handmade fish traps. Greg Carr is at the front of the group of visitors clambering ashore. He lifts one child into the air, makes a face at another and greets adults with backslapping familiarity. Carr, an eager American with khaki pants and a Boy Scout's smile, has spent a lot of time in Mozambican villages like this one over the past three years, wooing officials and local elders alike in the hot, red dust.

Carr's smile broadens when he sees Paulo Majacunene, who oversees this district. The tech multimillionaire turned philanthropist needs Majacunene to help him make a deal with these villagers. Carr has risked millions of dollars in an effort to revive a national park across the river, a once-heralded place of sweeping savannas and velvety green wetlands called Gorongosa. He believes a restored park will lift this beleaguered region out of poverty. And he believes his success depends on the help of this village, Vinho, and others like it.

Vinho is a subsistence farming community of some 280 adults and twice as many children, one of 15 villages along Gorongosa's borders. It has a school that goes through the fifth grade and a water pump that teenage girls use to fill plastic jugs as they jostle babies tied to their backs. As Carr and Vinho's leaders settle into wooden chairs shaded by a blue plastic tarp, the villagers gather.

Majacunene speaks first. He tells the crowd that when the Carr Foundation restores Gorongosa, there will be new jobs, health clinics and money for Vinho. But the community needs to help, Majacunene says. No more setting fires. No more killing animals. Everyone nods. He leads a series of cheers, thrusting his fist into the air.

"Viva Gorongosa Park!" he yells in Portuguese.

"Viva!" the crowd answers.

"Down with poaching!" he yells.

"Down!" echoes the crowd.

Carr, who understands some Portuguese, beams.

After the meeting, Roberto Zolho, Gorongosa's warden, tells Carr that the people of Vinho are setting many of the fires in the park, which clear land for farming but devastate the ecology. Carr smiles the wry smile that seems to appear when something strikes him as particularly absurd.

"Well, we're starting," he says. "You know, it starts somewhere."

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