JanPlan internships offer eco-friendly experience
Hillary Rowse '12 spent this past JanPlan on an 85-acre sustainable living center on the coast of Costa Rica. "It was totally off the grid," she says. "We had to hike two hours through the jungle to get there."
Charlotte Olena '12 travelled to Belize this January, where she visited Mayan villages and helped to launch a sustainable forestry project in the region.
A combination of the growing initiative to promote sustainable living and a fear of freezing cold Maine winters has led many students to pursue environmental studies internships in considerably warmer climates.
Rowse, an anthropology major and an environmental studies minor, completed an internship this January along with friends and classmates Anna Leavitt '12 and Shannon Merrell '10 at the Punta Mona Center for Sustainable Living and Education on the southeastern coast of Costa Rica. The center's purpose is "to educate as many people as possible about living sustainably and to promote that lifestyle," Rowse says.
A community vibe pervaded the center, and the interns' duties consisted of cooking meals for themselves and others and completing other various chores "such as taking out the compost," in addition to working on organic gardening projects.
"It was really a self-motivated internship," Rowse says. "There weren't any rules--there were guidelines, and we got to pick what projects we wanted to work on." That said, Rowse feels like she made the most of her experience.
The physical labor mostly consisted of gardening, and "I hated gardening when I was growing up," Rowse says. "I never wanted to help my mom in the garden." Nevertheless, she was excited to learn more about the crops that the center grows and harvests and she had fun improving her gardening techniques.
"Most of the stuff [that we grew] I had never heard of before," she says, including many different types of herbs, medicinal plants, vegetables, tea trees, tropical fruits and even cacao (chocolate beans). "And a lot of it was multi-purpose," Rowse adds, meaning that an herb could have medicinal qualities.
In addition to being a model for organic agriculture, the center is also an impressive example of how an entire community can exist on only renewable energy sources. "We basically lived off solar panels," Rowse says. There was hot water for showers and even Internet, all thanks to energy from the sun, so "we had electricity on cloudy days, but we had to be careful about using it," she says.
Experiencing such a different lifestyle was a major personal growth experience for Rowse. "The only negative aspect of [the internship] was that I spent the month hanging out mostly with other Americans, so I didn't get to interact with native Costa Ricans as much as I hoped," Rowse says.
Olena, on the other hand, spent most of her internship at the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) in southern Belize, serving as a go-between for the international organization and the native people.
SATIIM works to co-manage a national park with the government of Belize and helps five Mayan communities that live in the vicinity of the park utilize its resources while protecting the "ecological integrity of the area." "That's their favorite saying," Olena says.
Olena is an international studies major and environmental studies minor, and she traveled to Belize with friend and classmate Adrienne Bowles '12. As part of their internship, the pair completed a lot of field work, which consisted of mostly meeting with chief members of the community to launch a sustainable forestry project.
They also did some office work, including writing a grant proposal to a Canadian risk management fund to get money for SATIIM to build a radio tower so they could better communicate with surrounding villages.
"We were pretty nervous because we had never done anything [like write a grant proposal] before, but we got a template," Olena says, and they were able to figure it out successfully. "I definitely feel like we helped SATIIM a lot," she says.
According to Olena, SATIIM "tries to get as many volunteers as they can, but because of their limited resources they don't have a huge volunteer flow. But that was kind of nice," she says, "because it was a small organization and they took the time to walk us through stuff."
Rowse says that her internship was "definitely an alternative form of learning--I learned so much, and it was all based on experiential learning."
Olena agrees, saying "It was great to see everything hands-on," she says. "It was really different from learning about organizations [in class] because we got to see how they actually work."
Rowse plans to incorporate what she learned this January in a possible future career as an environmental educator, and Olena will apply the knowledge she gained later on in life as well.
"I was so excited to do this internship because I definitely want to work somewhere in the international arena," Olena says. "It was definitely a great way to spend January."