Student bloggers share their EARTH stories

Filed Under: EARTH Stories
Date: April 2nd, 2012

by Lucy Nunn

Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of an EARTH student looks like? Here is your chance to learn: beginning now, four University students from different class years and corners of the globe invite you to follow them for the year as they chronicle their experiences on blogs presented on the University website.

The EARTH family

The MasterCard Foundation Scholar Hajaratu Issawaka (’15, Ghana) lights up when she speaks about the chance to serve as a “voice of EARTH”. Many aspects of her education here excite her.

She explains, “The reason why I am inspired to take this position is that EARTH has a very unique model of education, and it’s not common everywhere in the world… You have the practical experience—and not just the practical experience, but…you also have a creative mind to open an enterprise to support other people, and the mission is just change.”

In her native Ghana, Hajaratu has seen much that she would like to change. Having witnessed the challenges rural communities face in both finding the essential resources needed for farming and supporting children’s education, she dreams of collaborating with them to help address both issues. With her training at EARTH, she believes she can do so effectively and that change will happen “step by step.”

Most powerfully, she takes heart in belonging to the multicultural community she has found at EARTH. She feels that each student serves as a cultural ambassador, educating others and challenging their perceptions. She comments, “You have different people with different perceptions, different ways of thinking, different kinds of backgrounds…we all meet here as one big family.”Read Hajaratu’s blog. (English).

Learning from the ground up

Like Hajaratu, Diane Rothschild Adams (’13, Costa Rica) also celebrates the international family atmosphere at EARTH. Although she came to EARTH to study agronomy, she has found that the degree offers so much more. Her studies here have not only nourished her interests in biodynamic farming, agro-ecology, and ecotourism but also taught her about connecting across differences.

She comments: “I really like that here I can embrace much more general concept of agronomy and the conservation of natural resources. And as you learn about sustainability, you have to learn from the ground up. The first year we work a lot with the field workers, and you learn to have this humility. You work your way up, but you’re always in an environment where you can see everything from all perspectives involved.”

Embracing such a holistic approach, Diane dreams of working as a consultant to cultivate ecological consciousness and help strengthen farmers’ effectiveness.

Through her blog, she also wants to show that people with diverse skill sets can care for the earth.

“The University isn’t just agronomists—there are all kinds of people here,” she emphasizes. Diane wants to showcase EARTH students’ many talents, and in particular, she looks forward to sharing her art, belly dancing, with online readers. Read Diane’s blog.(Spanish)

The art of agriculture

Grégory Laforest (’14, Haiti) had explored many professional paths—medicine, working as a mechanic, making music full time—but had never considered agronomy. Now, though, he speaks from the heart about his feeling of true vocation for it.

He discovered his interest during a difficult time in his life. In 2010, after the earthquake destroyed the technical school where he was training as a mechanic, he had to stay at home for several months, during which he was also very sick. His sister, Stéphany, who graduated from EARTH in 2008, gave him a sense of hope; the beauty of a small garden project she started at home sparked his imagination and made him curious about the school. Her practical experience in and dedication to the communities surrounding the University showed him an example of ethical leadership and outreach, challenging his perception of agronomists’ aloofness.

Grégory remembers her telling him: “You see, when you want to do something, you must put all your energy into it, and you will do it.” Stéphany’s conviction inspired him to pursue his new dream to study at EARTH, and he also says that such a belief in combining effort with destiny has its roots in Haitian culture.

After he had recovered from his illness, he worked for the United Nations Office for Project Service (UNOPS) in Haiti. Although he primarily filled gas tanks of UNOPS trucks that brought relief supplies to nearby communities, he also helped UNOPS to rebuild homes whenever he could. Now at EARTH, he loves both the hands-on aspect of learning and the opportunity to serve the nearby communities through the “Work Experience” course for second-year students.

He deeply values his education at EARTH, because agriculture, he believes, requires not only knowledge, but also art. Student life has offered him abundant opportunities to play music and collaborate with others to create art. “I love it,” he comments. “I really feel free when I play music, draw, paint, wherever I find myself. It’s the way I communicate.” He strives to tap into the same creativity when he does agricultural work, and his experience here fosters his ability to do so.

Grégory also reflects often on what he will bring back to his community. He wants to offer it cultural enrichment—helping Haitians to reconnect to their African roots—and the agricultural knowledge it needs for food sovereignty—which will “make us free.” In particular, he wants to educate the young people, who he believes all have the potential to make positive change happen for the future of the country. Read Grégory’s blog.(Spanish)

Growing together

Juan José Bolaños Herrera (’12, Costa Rica) echoes his fellow bloggers’ commitment to empowering communities.

He discovered his love for agriculture while in high school. His experience with an exchange program through the American Field Service (AFS) in a rural area near Zurich, Switzerland, further inspired his interest. He later graduated from The Central American School of Cattle Ranching with a diploma in Animal Production. During his time at EARTH, his passion for sustainable development has grown. Although he does not graduate from the University until December, he has already made a positive impact in Costa Rica through his entrepreneurial leadership.

Two and half years ago, he and two friends opened a “souvenir museum” shop, Verdes y Colores, in his hometown of Alajuela. Through the business, he works directly with artisan producers to sell fairly-traded and sustainably-made products, such as natural makeup, contemporary art and traditional and ethnic crafts. The company works with diverse providers in sixteen different communities, including three in the indigenous communities of Rey Curré, Gnöbe Buglé, and Borucas. “They grow with me,” he explains of his equitable business model. “If I grow, they grow.”

Besides serving as a commercial intermediary between the providers and the store’s customers, he also educates the public as a tour guide at the shop. “It’s not just an image,” he explains. “Each product has a story and its own unique characteristics. We’re not only sell products but also knowledge.”

His education at EARTH has strengthened his understanding of both sustainability and collaborating across cultures. For this reason, he too voices an appreciation for the rich student life EARTH offers. Even activities such as riding bicycles—which some students experience for the first time at EARTH—or playing rugby—a sport which Juan José has enjoyed as the captain of a team for three years—have illuminated meaningful cultural differences for Juan José, which he looks forward to sharing with his blog’s readers. Read Juan José’s blog.(Spanish)