08/02/2014 04:56 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Trip to Ecuador

I was recently part of a program called Sustainable Summer, whose mission is to "cultivate the next generation of environmental leaders though transformative study-abroad experiences and field-based learning."

But what does that mean?

Well, to make that definition easier, knowing what sustainability is helps. Sustainability provides for the needs of the present generation, without harming future generations in the process. Sustainable Summer's mission is to teach young adults about how to use the environment correctly, so that we don't contribute to the destruction of the planet.


Some friends and I planting Guayusa, a plant used for making Guayusa tea (Photo taken by Jeff Sharpe.)

The experience was unlike anything I could have imagined. In the Galapagos, I got to swim with a penguin and a sea turtle, made friends with a sea lion, touched a white-tip shark, and saw dozens of marine iguanas and blue-footed boobies. On the mainland, I had a wild monkey jump on my back, a millipede crawl on my face, hiking, interspersed with the occasional sheer rock cliff. Not to mention having a Tribe Leader of the indigenous Kichwa people tour you around a small part of the forest and feed you natural remedies.

Me with a fairly sizable millipede on my face. (Photo taken by Jeff Sharpe.)

Yet my perspective shifted during my adventures in the Amazon. While the experiences were unforgettable, they weren't the focus of the trip. I got to see firsthand what is being threatened by modern needs.

I saw the conservation efforts in the Galapagos; the fight to keep it as natural as possible, yet still open to humans. I learned the land and forest in Ecuador must be protected, yet its only major financial resource is the oil beneath the Amazon.

It's very easy to sit at home and say, "Oh, I love the rainforest and I support the movement to protect it. Meanwhile, global environmental threats and concerns only continue to grow. What Sustainable Summer has taught me is there is no reason why I should wait until someone else takes charge of these issues to work on and resolve them.

Everything from planting gardens, to composting, to bans against plastic bags make a difference. Returning from my trip to the Amazon, I'm going to bring the skills and knowledge with me, so that I can spread awareness about the threatened rainforest and help create meaningful change in my own urban wilderness.

Scenery like this is what is found in Quijos Valley very frequently. (Photo taken by Jeff Sharpe.)