As the new guy (well, girl) around the office, I have been asked to introduce myself to the Semilla Nueva Community. Here it goes:
I am here as part of my Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship, a competitive internship program for New York City undergraduates. The program involves three summers of jobs, the first at a non-profit, the second at a governmental office or business, and the third involves working abroad. I spent my first summer at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo as a teaching fellow in the Education Department and my second as a Press Office intern at the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. You can read more about it and the amazing opportunities it affords its participants here. As one of the founders, Joe Bornstein, is a recipient of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, our parent organization, a connection with Semilla Nueva was born. I am currently a student of Environmental Studies and Political Science at Pace University in Lower Manhattan. This year, I have resigned to being more of a “student of the world” as one of our farmers, Don Manuel, puts it. In doing that, I find myself down here in Guatemala proudly representing NY (read: The Yankees, dry wit, funny cop movies).
But really, why am I here? At least partly, it is because not being here was becoming too overwhelming. In regards to the modern environmental movement, it sometimes seems as if there are a lot more talking heads than there are boots on the ground. Maybe it is being the second oldest of four daughters but in my life, if you are talking a big game, you are going to get called out on it. If I am ever to wrap my head around some of the world’s most pressing problems, climate change, food security, population growth, I cannot just settle for secondhand information. I need to see it for myself and then I need to see what strategies are going to make the difference. In the end I guess I am also trying to prove some things to myself.
Here I am in Guatemala, la Eterna Primavera, finding proof that small investments make change, knowledge is power, and that people, like the remarkable individuals at Semilla Nueva, still care. I have learned and confirmed that development work takes patience, cultural understanding, and a whole ‘nother category of human being, fitting somewhere in between saints and lunatics. I have been a student to the knowledge that the Semilla Nueva team so masterfully teaches and then an eyewitness to its positive results as well as its frustrations. Semilla Nueva has given me something to believe in. Having had the opportunity to speak with farmers, I now feel I understand why they do this. Semilla Nueva found a place in the world that they knew simple actions could yield big results: where green manures means a higher yield and a higher yield means a family will not go hungry this year. Where no-till conservation prevents greenhouse gases from being needlessly pumped into the air, while the time and work saved can be spent teaching others its benefits. Where agroforestry means there will be that much less of a contribution to Guatemala’s frightening rates of soil erosion.
In addition to finding some answers to the tough questions, we also find a lot of things to joke about. That has to be one of the things I love about working down here. One example is how Guatemala has an easy solution for many problems. Don’t like bugs? Once they become bigger than a golf ball, they are more like cuddly pets anyway. Have a protein deficiency? Try the campo diet of eggs and beans, every meal, every day. Hate slow internet connections? Well, the power outage has taken it all away. That will teach you to complain.
What are my tasks here, you ask. Why do I get paid the big bucks (read: kale chips, rides in the back of the pickup, high-fives)? Back at the office, I will be helping to strengthen the bond between Semilla Nueva and its amazing and dedicated group of supporters by creating a consistent and informative email campaign. My second big task involves strengthening the bond between Semilla Nueva and the Guatemalan communities within which we work. Doug and I will be conducting interviews with many of our participating farmers, eagerly taking in their feedback and exercising Semilla Nueva’s strongly-held value of inclusion.
So while I am here, I plan to keep my eyes and ears open, my pen handy, and my socks and shoes dry (that last one being of my mother’s request). So far, it has been nothing short of an adventure.