Student Essay by Enrique Velazquez-Acero

This student essay was submitted by Enrique Velazquez-Acero from New York City.

What is Sustainability? One of the definitions is “able to be used without being destroyed.” Another definition is “able to last or continue for a long time. For lack of better words, I believe that Sustainability connects to Resiliency. Is our planet Resilient? Are Human Beings Resilient? I learned the answer to both of these questions over the summer when I traveled to Ecuador along with several other students. When I signed up for Sustainable Summer, I was taking an Environmental Class which inspired to learn more about the environment from a first person point of view. I didn’t want to read just the textbooks and look just at the pictures from the internet; I wanted to see the real deal. The program offered me this and so much more.

One of the most important things that I learned whilst in Ecuador was the fact that we are destroying the planet but some people don’t even know that it’s happening. I remember going to a hydroelectric power plant while we were staying in Baeza and we were discussing how this specific power plant was destroying a truly beautiful waterfall, but the workers were not interested all they cared about was having a job. And who can blame them? Some of the people there don’t have steady jobs and live in a poor manner. The first step toward saving the planet is teaching the world that there is a problem; many people don’t see the bigger picture and focus more on the short term gain of a big project.  One example of this is the Coca Coda Sinclair Project. While this project provides a lot of jobs and an alternate way of energy it is ultimately not worth it, as the region loses the aesthetic beauty of the waterfall; not only that but it is also not financially worth it as Ecuador will be in debt. The other significant learning experience I had was when I went to the Cloud Forest and witnessed the cleanup of a landslide. This experience was probably one of the most exhilarating ones as I am terrified of heights. I saw that these workers were trying to make a road through the forest so that cars can have a faster time getting around. This project was being used to try to help the people get around but it was at the cost of the forest. Is our planet resilient? The answer is yes, because even if we cut it up, destroy it, and treat it like garbage, it is still there to fulfill our needs.

Going to Ecuador was definitely a good learning experience but it was also an opportunity to let loose and get to know one self. My personal experience overall was very positive and I enjoyed every event. In order to fully enjoy the program I went to every optional event such as the bird watching, the night hike, the walk to the waterfall and swimming in the springs. I enjoyed all the fun but one of the most memorable events I had was learning how to swim. Before going to the program the deepest water I had ever been in was 6 feet. I remember when we were taken out to this huge river in the Amazon with life vests and I was terrified because I had never been in deep water. I was clinging onto the little inflatable boat and I was just watching everybody swim and doing back flips off the tubes while I was just sitting there. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore as everyone else was having a good time so I threw myself on to the water and immediately felt terrified. For the first time in my life I couldn’t feel the ground underneath my feet and I was just moving my legs around in the water while I tried to move around. The funniest part of the day was that I floated away and a current took me; luckily Jeff and Tim had an improvised rescue and took me back to the shore. A few days later I was given the opportunity to learn how to swim by one of friends in the program. Not many people can say that they learned how to swim in the Amazon. It was definitely terrifying but it was a wonderful experience. Are humans resilient? If I can throw myself into the river and learn to swim next to a waterfall rushing down, I think I can say that humans are resilient and can do anything if they put their minds to it.

Sustainable Summer will definitely be one of those chapters in my life that I will never forget as I had many experiences and saw things that I will probably not see back here in New York. Going to the program also made me open my eyes and be aware of the things happening around me. Two weeks after Ecuador, I went to Mexico and saw something that reminded me that we are destroying this planet (picture below).

Enrique Pic of Mexico photo

It isn’t everyday that your eyes witness first hand the destruction of your own home. While we humans are resilient and our planet is strong, we cannot continue to treat it the way we are doing. If I could relive the Sustainable Summer experience I would do it over and over again.