Jacquie’s Expedition to the Galapagos

May 11, 2012 10:30 am

I recently took my first service trip with 19 other business people from Minnesota to the Galapagos Islands. I was a part of the Prouty Project 2012 STRETCH Expedition (this amazing company does one of these stretch-yourself trips annually). The trip was an environmental reforestation project in conjunction with a social enterprise called Ubelong out […]

I recently took my first service trip with 19 other business people from Minnesota to the Galapagos Islands. I was a part of the Prouty Project 2012 STRETCH Expedition (this amazing company does one of these stretch-yourself trips annually). The trip was an environmental reforestation project in conjunction with a social enterprise called Ubelong out of Washington DC, which has dozens of international volunteer service programs around the world.

I have never participated in any kind of international service project so I really had no idea what I was in for – and I am thrilled to report that it was a life changing experience. At FINNEGANS we are all about using business (selling beer) to help make a difference in the community – namely by purchasing fresh produce from local farms for those in need in the markets where we sell our product. This project was very similar. The STRETCH expedition was designed to get stellar business folks with Minnesota roots to address the environmental challenges in the Galapagos Islands. The Prouty Project teamed up with Ubelong, which is known for its sustainable business model for providing volunteers for international service projects. Ubelong enlists volunteers to assist countries in need, simultaneously educating their volunteers on the pressing issues of those countries and leading them in a way that maximizes the potential positive impact during each volunteer expedition. I am not quite sure when the last time was that I was this inspired by the propensity , power and impact behind what a small group of people can accomplish when focused on a social challenge.

What We Did
We spent our days addressing the invasive species on the Island of San Christobal – primarily the raspberry plant (mora is the name in Spanish) is overtaking the island and killing endemic and native trees (many of which are needed for endemic birds to make their nests). These invasive species threaten the entire balance of the environment, putting native plant and bird species in danger of extinction.

Our crew used machetes to take down the raspberry plants which grew above our heads and often were tangled in trees and surrounded by hornets nests. Then another team would hoe up the roots of the raspberry plants which would later be burned. An additional crew would focus on replanting coffee and maconia trees in the place of the raspberry plants. We also worked at a local greenhouse, where we mixed soil to aid the growth of the new trees. We were really involved in the entire process from beginning to end.

What We Learned
In Quito, the capital of Ecuador we met with officials from USAID (the United States Agency for International Development) at the US Embassy. They educated us on the US development strategies in Ecuador and the Galapagos. They detailed the environmental challenges as well as the threats of increased tourism in the Galapagos. Last year over 140,000 tourist visited the Galapagos Islands. That number is growing rapidly and the infrastructure of the islands is not set up to handle the influx. It is really quite a fragile ecosystem with special and plant life that exists no where else in the world. Additionally, there is a serious lack of a proper and efficient water/sewage treatment center on the islands, a problem that is exacerbated by excessive tourism.

How We Lived
I really didn’t think I would be able to manage such rustic conditions.The Galapagos is home to very large spiders,  beetles, mice, and rats, which has little trouble accessing the open barracks where we slept. There were walls between rooms but the walls didn’t go up to the ceiling so you heard everyone snoring at night and some rooms had up to 8 people in them. Fortunately we had mosquito nets to sleep under, which saved me. We had 20 people sharing 3 outdoor latrines and 2 showers each with a hose that ran river water for showering – talk about bonding with folks you don’t really know rather quickly! After a very heavy rain we had an issue with our water supply and were out of water for 12 hours….not fun. However, It was so wonderful to experience the alignment of everyone on the trip. We all adapted and marched on and there were many random acts of kindness. Everyone generously shared deet, sunscreen, dry clothing, and whatever was needed. I have the sense that we all made new lifelong friends. I am looking forward to the reunion party already!

I am so inspired by the vision of the individuals that put this awareness raising opportunity together – I am not sure how big the impact of 20 people over 10 days time was, but I know that Ubelong brings over 230 volunteers down there annually and that Junta Sacha, the NGO that hosted our group on San Christobal, has a passionate and visionary leader named Cesar guiding the volunteers. I am hopeful that the environmental cleanup will continue to thrive under his leadership. I think the most important thing the other volunteers and I can do is to share our stories from the Galapagos with others to raise awareness about the threatening environmental challenges there and hopefully inspire others to engage and make a difference. I am so very thankful for this experience and I will be forever changed because of it.

If you would like to learn more please check out Ubelong and follow up with Cedric, the young co-founder of this cutting edge organization. Please also check out the wonderful things that are happening at the Prouty Project under the fearless leadership of Jeff Prouty and the amazing trip organizer Grayce Belvedere-Young also supported by Melissa Gennert.

It is a cathartic experience to step out of what we do in life on a daily basis – no matter how important our regular work is, or how grand our aspirations for making the world a better place. By simply allowing ourselves to get out of our comfort zones, we can be inspired by others out there addressing global issues and STRETCHING themselves. I’m so glad I did!

Jacquie

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