In the last 27 years as President of EARTH University, I have had the privilege of watching the seed of an idea grow into a thriving institution that has proven itself, many times over, to be a catalyst for positive change in the world. As my retirement draws near, I find myself reflecting upon the many lessons learned throughout this incredible journey.
More than ever, I believe that the values and ethics taught at EARTH are the keys to our graduates’ success in creating sustainable change. Nothing is more satisfying than to hear from employers that what differentiates our alumni from the crowd are their values. I am moved when I come upon examples of EARTH graduates who are doing the right thing. They have learned that even when choices are more difficult, they are also more rewarding. These women and men are the proof that the University is fulfilling its mission to prepare ethical leaders for sustainable development and to construct a prosperous and just society.
Our innovative educational model is being promoted on international platforms such as Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for the Agricultural and Life Sciences (GCHERA) and RUFORUM (Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture). Educators from Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, and India have visited campus to receive training in our curriculum, with the goal of adapting and implementing it in their own reality. We have built lasting relationships with like-minded institutions and organizations who share our vision of education as the ultimate tool to shape and transform our society.
I couldn’t be prouder of what we have created together with the generosity and dedication of so many — friends, donors, faculty, and staff — who make it possible for us to offer transformational education to students from underprivileged communities. Together, we have built a strong foundation that will allow EARTH to continue fulfilling its mission and to grow in new and exciting ways throughout the next 25 years and beyond. Changes are on the horizon; the foundation is sound and the future is bright. Thank you for your role in our success – and please stay with us for all the EARTH endeavors to come!
EARTH University President
Last year, then third-year student Sindy Ramos (’16, Guatemala) The MasterCard Foundation Scholar decided to take on the challenge of designing a project for the EARTH Sustainability Prize competition, which has served as a catalyst for the creation of student-led projects since 2009. Winners are awarded seed money to implement their ideas, and Sindy wanted to design a project that was relevant to Costa Rica but could also be implemented in her own nation. She explains that, “At first I looked for other uses for banana fiber because here [in Costa Rica] they produce so much that I thought adding value to it should be a priority.”
During her research, Sindy stumbled upon a one-minute YouTube video featuring members of the Women Artisan Association (AMA) of El Oro, Ecuador, transforming old banana stalks into handcrafted bags, hats, wallets, pencil cases and more. “I got really excited because I never imagined you can work with banana fiber like that. It’s a very good project for the Sustainability Prize because I can add value to a waste product, make jobs and reduce CO2 in the environment.”
Sindy contacted the director of AMA, who enthusiastically offered to come to Costa Rica to teach others the craft, but did not have the financial resources to do so. Undaunted, Sindy began networking and fundraising to bring the trainers over, as she was convinced of the benefits the project would bring to the region. “The project is perfect for Limón because the province is well known for its enormous banana production, and there are also many people with economic needs and a lot of potential.”
Sindy first reached out to the Grameen Association of Costa Rica, which provided a financial contribution and helped select a group of local women to receive the training. She then contacted the mayor of Machala, Ecuador (where AMA was founded) and was surprised to discover he is an EARTH graduate, Carlos Falquez Aguilar (’97 Ecuador). In addition to a gift from Mayor Falquez, Sindy received sponsorship from The MasterCard Foundation and EARTH President José Zaglul. In all, Sindy managed to raise over $10,000 and successfully train 35 rural women in a new, sustainable trade that will help them increase their economic independence.
In the last phase of this project, Sindy will replicate this same idea in Guatemala with women from low-income families living near banana plantations. Sindy will propose this as part of her fourth-year graduation project, financed in part with the prize money she received from winning second-place in the 2015 Sustainability Prize. She says of the experience, “I’m happy and proud because I realized that nothing is impossible if you have the drive and the initiative.” She adds that, “I’ve fought to be where I am today and now I feel like life has rewarded me. This project has really opened a lot of doors for me.”
After graduating from EARTH, Pierre Paul Audate (’10, Haiti) went back to his native country and began what would be a very short search for a job where he could do what he likes best: working with rural communities and helping them prosper. “EARTH helps you to be more socially conscious and always be thinking about how to help others. You learn to value what you do, not for the salary but for the impact your work makes.”
Within a few weeks, he began working for the nonprofit TechnoServe Inc, training more than 10,000 small farmers in organic mango production, helping them obtain fair trade certification through Whole Foods Market, and exporting the fruit for a fair price. “Working with farmers is something I’ve always liked; here in Haiti most of us are small producers, and I feel that by helping them improve their production methods, they will have better yields and increase their income. You can create a lot of impact.”
In 2014, Pierre Paul returned to Costa Rica and obtained a Master’s degree in Developmental Practice at the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE). Pierre Paul has also represented youth delegations at various international United Nations meetings, including the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP), and the World Youth Conference, which was actively involved in the preparation of the UN Post 2015 schedule. This schedule has already mandated the presentation of the sustainable development goals that will guide the development of countries in the next 15 years. This extensive international experience has led Pierre Paul to being one of the founders of the Latin American and Caribbean Movement of Young People against Climate Change (CLIC). With this move, young people in the region take innovative actions and seek to have an impact on policy and negotiations in the fight against climate change.
Today, Pierre Paul works as the Technical Director of iF Foundation in northern Haiti, where he leads an agricultural credit program that gives small farmers access to technology, soil inputs, tools, seeds and more. After the harvest, Pierre Paul and his team assist in finding markets for their products, assuring that the farmer can repay the loan. The program has already benefited more than 800 rice and peanut farmers who have increased their family’s income and access to innovative agricultural technology.
Pierre Paul has also kept busy collaborating with fellow EARTH alumni: “We are now over 20 Haitian EARTH graduates, and we’ve been doing a lot of work together, including the formation of the Haitian EARTH Alumni Association (AGEHU). We all live in different zones in the country so it’s difficult to get together in person, but we meet on Skype and have already started a reforestation project called 1 Million Trees for Haiti, and we are working with schools and NGOs to reach our goal.”
The first time Laura Frey visited EARTH’s Guácimo campus in Costa Rica, she was just 17 – a high school student tagging along with her father, John, who wanted to share his love of the University with her. She recalls, “I was introduced to this very welcoming community that was so eager to teach, and in the middle of this beautiful tropical rain forest. It was sensory overload, and I was sort of taken by the adventure and inclusiveness of it all. It ended up changing the course of my life.”
Laura’s experience led her to specialize in Spanish and physics during college, and after graduation she returned to Costa Rica to work at an environmental NGO on the Osa peninsula. During the five years she spent there, Laura brought a group of entrepreneurs to learn about EARTH’s educational model. She explains, “What continues to draw me back is the hands-on learning and also these budding entrepreneurs who are putting their skills to the test while being empathetic to the concerns of the community and collaborating with them.”
She now works as the COO and co-founder of Change Catalyst, a certified B Corps in San Francisco, CA, dedicated to making tech innovation more diverse, inclusive, and sustainable. She believes that EARTH’s mission and her own are built on the same foundation of “empowering others to make positive change,” and she continues to be an active ambassador for the University. “Since that first visit, whenever there is an opportunity to meet an investor or an outreach opportunity I always try to participate. Anyone I meet who is interested in this nexus of environment, sustainability, innovation, education – I send them to EARTH.”
For Laura, one of the most exciting things about EARTH is being part of “an international group of socially and environmentally responsible engineers who are learning to innovate and working side by side with communities. I think it’s tremendous how the school brings in students from Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean all under one roof. There’s so much learning and transfer of knowledge of what’s happening in each other’s regions, and it really creates a community of support.”
In the future, she looks forward to seeing the University continue increasing its international scope. “To me, EARTH embodies a lot of best practices and being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize is a testament to what the University has achieved and where it’s headed. I want people to know that EARTH exists and that it’s a great model.”
EARTH LAUNCHES MOBILE APP FOR ALUMNI
EARTH University alumni now have a new way to stay connected and network with more than 2,000 fellow graduates across the world. A free mobile app entitled “Graduados EARTH” will serve as a centralized platform where our growing community can share their professional profiles, contact information and current projects. It will also include a list of job opportunities and offer networking tools so alumni can connect and establish business relations with their colleagues.
For questions or comments, please email the Alumni Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.