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Cloud Forest, Rain Forest: A NYC Eco-School Goes to Ecuador
Guest post by Margaret Palmer
This past spring, my high school (Stuyvesant High School), an NWF Eco-School in New York City, gave me and twenty-four other students involved in our Eco-Club the incredible opportunity to travel to Ecuador with four teachers for a week. The goals of the trip were to learn about cultures and experience environments that differ from those we encounter in New York, by volunteering at a school in the rain forest for a day, and working on a reforestation project in an Andean dry forest.
In our first days there, we saw a cloud forest where an environmentally sustainable community called Yungilla existed. In Yungilla, community members made jams and cheeses and helped raise trees and other plants in an outdoor nursery.
The cloud forest was the complete opposite, as the name suggests, from the dry forest we worked in later in the week. That area was named Jerusalem, after the Holy City, because travelers thought that the plants growing there were similar to those in the areas around Jerusalem. Indeed, the dry forest was very desert-like and the reforestation project (planting and watering small seedlings) was hot and grueling but, ultimately, very rewarding work. We learned about different traditional medicinal plants that grow in the dry forest and even saw the bugs that are used to make some red food dyes.
For me, however, the most incredible part of the trip was when we visited a school in the rain forest. The community was small and, according to one of the guides, most of the people there were related to each other. The school building itself was two rooms and a soccer field. We spent the morning touring the area—we saw a lot of raised houses and the wild crops the people depended on, like cacao and green oranges—and then worke to make the field more functional and built a jungle gym set. As our day drew to a close, we played a quick soccer match with some of the locals. We lost the game, but gained so much from the entire experience.
Overall, the trip taught us all to respect the environment and to honor other people and their cultures. It was an incredible experience that left us all changed in ways we never would have expected and with friendships that span continents. I hope that more kids from the U.S. will be able to experience the incredible variety of ecosystems and cultures that exist on this planet.
When we got back from the trip we raised money to send books and toys to the school in Ecuador. This winter, partly with funds that we hope to raise from our DonorsChoose project, our club plans to build indoor gardens to bring a little bit of rainforest into our New York City classrooms.
Margaret Palmer was born and raised in New York City and graduated from Stuyvesant High School in the spring of 2013. Her time in high school was focused on studying law, human rights, and the environment. In order to further her studies in the latter, she, some other students from her school and a handful of teachers traveled to Ecuador during her senior year, a trip that changed her life and was her first time (but hopefully not last) abroad. She is now a student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania and plans to be a Political Science major with a minor in Environmental Studies