Vanessa Perachimba (’18, Ecuador) was named winner of EARTH University’s most prestigious student award. The EARTH Prize recognizes a graduating fourth year for outstanding academic performance, leadership and embodiment of EARTH values. Known around the community for her leadership in projects supporting rural villages and towns, Vanessa aims to empower local actors to secure their own prosperity and development.
“Being from scarce economic resources, the chance to study with a scholarship at a university as prestigious as EARTH is one of the reasons why I continued my studies,” she said. She was drawn to EARTH thanks to its focus on learning by doing and the opportunity to help her parents – both farmers – to improve their crop management and product marketing.
Sharing her views, goals and culture with people from more than 40 countries has strengthened her capacity to build friendships and trust. She fondly remembers her first day on campus. “On that day, I knew I was starting a great journey full of joy and challenges that would enable me to grow as a person and as a professional,” she said. “The surprise and happiness I felt due to all I found at EARTH was great. The University really exceeded my expectations.”
Not everything was easy for her, however. “I felt homesick for the first few months, realizing I would not be able to see my family for four years, until I’d finished my studies. For the rest of my first year, I acclimated and, with so many projects to do, I concentrated on working hard. I began to enjoy being at the University.”
As part of EARTH’s educational model, students acquire entrepreneurial skills. Vanessa and some classmates created a business and were able to watch it grow. Vitæarth was a social enterprise that manufactured and sold animal feed made of corn and sorghum as well as providing tours of and workshops at EARTH’s livestock farm. Vanessa describes the teamwork experience as rewarding because all members contributed different ideas, skills and perspectives to the project. “It enabled me to develop as a professional in a real business. It motivated me to want to become an entrepreneur and start my own business in the future,” she added.
EARTH University believes that vibrant, sustainable rural areas are key to humanity’s future. For this reason, students work in rural communities as part of the curriculum – an experience Vanessa asserts “confirmed for me that rural people are the ones who most need our help and knowledge – to positively impact the production of their crops.”
The community work impacted her so profoundly that she decided to focus her third-year internship on it. “I did my internship in Mexico at the Tlalij Rural Development Agency in Matlapa. The work experience with people from the community was extremely enriching because it allowed me to understand the needs of the population and share with them my knowledge. It’s an experience I will carry with me, in my heart and mind.”
Once she returned from the internship, her interest in communities deepened. For her Graduation Project, she evaluated different technologies and climate-smart agricultural practices, along with their potential for profitability, in the community of Sarapiquí, Costa Rica.
Soon to become an EARTH graduate, Vanessa is setting her sights on working in an organization that ensures the well-being of small producers and the community. She hopes to obtain a position in local development and community projects management, supporting farmers from vulnerable areas to refine leadership abilities, give back and gain experience in the field.