Class of 2001
Country: Costa Rica
Susana Fallas (‘01, Costa Rica) chose to study at EARTH University because of its social and entrepreneurial emphasis. What she didn’t expect was that she would be linked to the University for the rest of her life.
Susana is from the town of Paraiso, in the mountainous province of Cartago, Costa Rica. Her family owns an agricultural business, which is where Susana learned to love and appreciate agriculture and the environment. After graduating from EARTH, Susana returned to work with her parents and at the Ambio Foundation, a non-profit organization that specializes in environmental law and policy research.
In 2002, she moved to Mexico to purse a Master’s degree in Industrial Administration. After completing the program, she remained in Mexico organizing and leading projects in rural communities throughout the state of Tabasco in southeastern Mexico. As she worked in these communities, she began to see enormous opportunities to promote development and environmental education. So in 2009, she created the Hijos de la Tierra Foundation (Hijos de la Tierra translates as Children of the Earth), a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and addressing the needs of the communities that she had grown to love.
Today, her organization offers a variety of practical workshops which are offered based on the needs and interests of the community. Over the years, her Foundation has implemented workshops on organic fertilizers, waste water treatment, integrated farm management, livestock nutrition, rainwater collection, palm oil processing and cacao production, to name a few.
“What we are striving for is to generate social action; this is the most important part of what we do,” Susana says of the Foundation. “We’re not an organization that transmits technology, but rather a group that transmits knowledge, so that people can make their own decisions in the development of their towns.”
Susana has hired a variety of people to work for her, but has found the best results in looking towards fellow EARTH graduates, “Depending on the jobs and projects that I have, I look for EARTH student interns and graduates as the first option. The Foundation acts as a link between Mexico and EARTH. One of my goals for the future is to have an extensive list of projects and services and to offer diverse opportunities to EARTH alumni. I want to be a source of stable employment.”
Currently, Susana is working with EARTH alumni to spearhead an ambitious new bio-digester project in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico. Bio-digesters process organic waste like plant material, or human or animal feces and collect the methane emitted during the decomposition process. The gas can later be used in a burner for heat, to cook food, or to power an electric generator providing a two-fold solution for waste management and renewable energy for rural communities. The project will install four different bio-digester models in self-sufficient elementary schools and the models will be evaluated for their efficiency and durability. Once the best option is identified, Susana hopes to be able to install many more of these bio-digesters in schools throughout the region.
“I learned about bio-digesters at EARTH with Professor Raul Botero,” recalls Susana. “In reality, it’s an incredibly attractive option for managing waste water. I estimate that we have installed between 35-40 bio-digesters, all in rural areas for small dairy and pork producers. The farmer’s first reaction is usually one of amazement; they just can’t believe that they can use poop to make clean gas, but now there are people who practically make their living from bio-digesters.”
In addition to her dedication to renewable energy, Susana also works to protect the environment through her collaboration with the Carbon Neutral Unit at EARTH. Together with unit director Edmundo Castro, she is working to certify two companies in Mexico as carbon-neutral organizations. She is also writing an educational manual that will be the first-of-its-kind to explain in detail the complex and rigorous process of obtaining carbon neutral certification. Currently, the regulations only exist in concise technical language and do not serve as a tangible guide for businesses interested in becoming carbon neutral.
With her current projects in Tabasco and Chiapas and upcoming programs in Puebla and Hidalgo in 2014, Susana sees nothing but progress for the future of her Foundation and the communities in which it operates. She credits EARTH with providing her the skills she has utilized in her career.
“My time at EARTH University has given me the versatility to be able to work in different fields; to work with farmers who have no formal education, as well as with business owners, professionals and venture capitalists. At the University you don’t just get an education, you gain the ability to relate to people from different countries and cultures and the confidence in your capacity to generate a positive impact in society.”