In 2015, EARTH University celebrates its 25th Anniversary and I couldn’t be prouder of what we have achieved with the support of friends like you. In just a quarter century, EARTH has evolved from a regional university committed to preparing leaders from the humid tropics to a global institution with 1,930 graduates illuminating lives in the Americas, Africa, the Caribbean and Europe.
Today, it is clearer than ever that the world needs skilled professionals who are dedicated to improving the social, economic and environmental health of their communities. In this edition of EARTH Connections, you will meet two such professionals: Laetitia Mukungu (’18, Kenya) and alumna Blanca Rivas (’08, Guatemala), whose ethical and sustainable businesses are making a profound impact in their hometowns.
Ethical entrepreneurship is a pillar of our approach to building a more just and prosperous society, and with good reason—investing in just one EARTH student creates nearly four jobs in the developing world. To date, our graduates have generated employment for more than 6,400 people and provided sustainable agriculture and business training for thousands more.
Even after all this time, I’m still amazed by the transformative power of an EARTH education and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store. Make your gift today and together, we can guarantee that bright students from rural and disadvantaged communities will receive the training they need to become leaders of change for a brighter future.
EARTH University President
Laetitia Mukungu (’18, Kenya) was born and raised in the small village of Bukura where she helped her grandparents cultivate corn and vegetables and tended to a handful of domestic animals. Laetitia loved going to school but when seasons were bad, she often got kicked out of class for not paying tuition. At the age of 8, she moved to Nairobi to live with her mother in the city, where she continued to excel in her studies.
Just before she was set to start high school in 2009, her mother was laid off from her job and Laetitia found herself with no choice but to drop out until she could raise the money. Determined not to be idle, she returned to Bukura to tutor at the elementary school. After months of watching students face the same struggles she herself had experienced as a child, she approached the school’s principal with a plan that would transform her community.
She identified the 15 neediest pupils at the school and went door-to-door convincing their mothers to join her and receive training in sustainable rabbit farming. Laetitia explains that she chose this business because “it is extremely suitable for rural women farmers: rabbits require little space, are easy to take care of, and the startup and maintenance costs are very low.” She adds, “As a 14 year old girl then, this experience was tough. But it was my passion, dedication and my joy to put a smile on someone’s face that kept me going.”
Her initiative has since grown into the African Rabbit Centre (ARC), a cooperative organization dedicated to empowering rural women and helping them achieve financial stability. With a central farm plus the 15 micro-farms of the original members, the ARC supports 18 students in the village school and founded the Sofia Township School in a nearby slum, where 400 underprivileged children receive an education and meals thanks to a food security program supported by the Centre.
Laetitia was able to return to and graduate from high school and continues to develop her leadership, entrepreneurial and community development skills as a first-year student at EARTH University. “I chose to specifically work with mothers because in my village, it is mostly the women who struggle with the responsibility of providing food and education for the family. I believe agriculture is the best tool we have to solve these problems and that’s why I chose EARTH; I believe I will get all the tools and knowledge I need here.”
When Blanca Rivas (’08, Guatemala) began searching for land to rent in her native province of Chimaltenango, she was shocked to hear the same words over and over again: “Bring your husband if you are serious about signing a contract,” the proprietors demanded without fail. Undeterred, she finally found a place to plant the flower seeds that would later blossom under her expert care.
In just three years, Blanca has managed to build a thriving floral business in an industry and region where women are undervalued and underrepresented as entrepreneurs. The business management training, community development experience and solid technical skills she gained at EARTH helped give her the confidence needed to confront these stereotypes, proving to herself and her community that women can be leaders too.
Using sustainable and environmentally friendly methods, Blanca grows seven different kinds of flowers and sells them at markets in Guatemala City.
She recently started exporting to Honduras and has gained recognition for her mastery of a technique that produces beautiful, multi-colored “rainbow” roses and lilies that are difficult to find elsewhere in the country.
Blanca has created desperately needed jobs in an economically depressed area, where many residents have no choice but to migrate to the city to find work. Depending on the season, she employs between seven and 30 people from her community and hopes to offer even more jobs pending an expansion later this year. Blanca’s success has also made it possible for two of her younger siblings to attend university, following in her footsteps as the first college graduate in the family.
Aside from serving as an example for women in her community, she also wants to set new, higher standards for all local employers. “I want my farm to have a different model, with fair working hours for the employees and an environmental focus. I want to serve as a school for others.”
“My education gave me a life and now I’m opening up opportunities for others to do the same. EARTH University fostered values in me the idea that we are all human and we work together in society to change people and improve the environment.”
For over 15 years, Ross and Claire “Yum” Arnold of Atlanta have acted as EARTH ambassadors on many fronts, serving on the EARTH University Foundation Board of Trustees, volunteering to house third-year students carrying out internships in Atlanta and hosting events to help spread awareness of the University.
According to Ross, the best way to start a conversation with someone who wants to learn more about the University is to start by asking, “How much time do you have?” He explains, “There’s so much to say about EARTH, but it all starts with the people, from the leadership to the staff and students. I’m just as excited today as the first day I became involved.”
As highly successful entrepreneurs -Ross is the President of Quest Capital Corp. and Yum is the CEO and Founder of Leapfrog Services Inc.-they both identify closely with the University’s ethical business management program. Yum says that EARTH graduates stand out because “They haven’t been trained in a way that encumbers their thinking and that allows them to be so creative. I love their energy and the way they think outside the box.” She adds, “Every student is required to create a business from the ground up, not because the University expects every single one to become an entrepreneur but because the tools and confidence they gain from that experience enables them to be change makers within any organization that they might join.”
Yum and Ross also share the same vision of the University’s future: “EARTH’s reach is limitless; they have planted seeds that have grown into trees and are beginning to amass a forest. It’s a mission that has been carried out beautifully and will continue to endure.”
On January 12, EARTH University kicked off its 25th Anniversary with a special Inauguration Ceremony, featuring invited guests Freddy D’Oleo (’93, Dominican Republic) and noted Costa Rican sculptor Jorge Jimenez Deredia. The Class of 2018 is the most international group in EARTH’s history and represents 35 countries from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe and includes seven new countries: Belgium, Chile, Italy, Madagascar, Malawi, Nevis and Zambia.
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