I was homeless for three years. After my family was evicted from our home, they moved in with my aunt in Yonkers. I chose to stay at my grandmother's nursing home, because I refused to give up attending Aquinas, an all-girls private high school in the Bronx. I earned a dual scholarship to attend Aquinas, and if I moved to Yonkers I would have to commute three-hours each way. Unfortunately, living with my grandmother was a temporary solution, because management forcibly removed me after six months. I was out of options.
The cold, dirty, urine-infested New York City subway trains became my home for three months. My bed was a cardboard box. I covered my freezing body with my childhood Winnie the Pooh quilt. I was afraid to tell my school because I didn't want to lose my scholarships. On multiple occasions, I was tempted to end my pain and jump in front of the train tracks. I would shower at my friends' homes and stay for dinner. I had gone from being fiercely independent to overstaying my welcome. My friends became suspicious and confronted me. Fortunately, my friends' families welcomed me into their homes. I rotated to a different friend's home each week and earned my lodging by doing household chores.
My sources of motivation were my mother and grandmother, who told me "Tu educación será tu liberación," which when translated to English means, "Your education will be your liberation." I applied myself academically and got straight As. School was my safe haven. Importantly, before my grandmother past away she told me stories of our homeland, the Dominican Republic. She described the fruitful and sacred forests, mountains and beaches. She taught me environmental stewardship at a young age, which is where the concept for Schools for Sustainability came from.
Schools for Sustainability will establish high schools that teach students how to construct and maintain environmentally sustainable closed-loop systems. Our students will obtain a high school degree and get certified in water harvesting and purification, renewable energies, horticulture, sustainable materials, and waste management. Our students will acquire marketable job skills and be able to propagate "sustainability franchises" all over the world. The goal is to foster economic development in impoverished regions by teaching and modeling proficiency in integrated green technologies and techniques.
The first school will be in the Dominican Republic, where my team has ample cultural capital and because the government welcomes the project. Another logistical advantage to beginning in the Dominican Republic is that it is tropical, has plentiful rainfall, and a rolling planting season. The school in the Dominican Republic will be residential, because I want to create a space where impoverished teenagers can live and learn. The students and faculty, in addition to their academic work, will cultivate crops, generate energy, and remediate water and manage waste in closed loop systems.
On December 20, 2013 my Co-Founder, Dr. Adrienne Redd and I, are going to meet with the Former President of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernandez. We will network with government officials, local business owners, the agricultural department of universities, and non-profits in the area that are willing to collaborate with us. Most importantly, we hope to obtain land in order to begin construction.
Follow Alyssa Ramos-Reynoso on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Schools4Sustain