October 2017

2017-18 Featured Students

    Elizabeth Garzón (October 2017)

    Elizabeth Garzón, a junior at Iowa State University, is taking her unique “hands-on experience” of working in Uganda to change her lifestyle in Ames. It all began when she encountered an opportunity to travel with the Iowa State University Uganda Program (ISUUP) on its annual summer service trip. She was one of eight service learners from Iowa State selected to spend six weeks in Kamuli, Uganda to teach life skills in farming and sciences through the lens of sustainability through ISUUP.

    Garzón heard about this opportunity through multiple professors and eventually decided to go for the opportunity, which is housed under the Iowa State Global Resource Systems program. She said her love for travel and her dual majors of global resource systems and environmental science was a perfect fit. This Cyclone not only wanted to aid the citizens of Kamuli, but wanted to expand her knowledge of sustainability.

    “Go with a group that values [the] same things as you and take the leap of faith,” Garzón said.

    Her time in Uganda was filled with many "life-shifting" moments, such as the unique opportunity to work in the bee apiary at a local high school. This experience of working with bees in Africa expanded her overall mindset of sustainability opportunities and the number of ways one person can contribute to making a difference.

    Garzón was paired with a student from the neighboring university, Makerere University in Kamapala, Uganda. Garzón and her partner advised high school mentees involved in a youth entrepreneurship club empowered in managing all aspects of the apiary -- inspecting hives, maintaining productivity, relocating wild swarms, as well as harvesting and processing honey to sell for profit. Connecting the beekeeping to the need for livelihoods and economic sustainability made the experience even more significant for Garzón.

    “Beekeeping is a wonderful way to do this," she said, "The honey [their] apiary produces can be used by the community in products such as candles, waxes, honeycombs, soaps, food and more. It is a highly-regarded skill that would be beneficial to know and have as a young adult.”

    Garzón and her fellow service learners continued to build sustainability with the community by getting involved in tending gardens and growing food, which she quickly learned was vital to preserving a challenged ecosystem. Alongside community members, they took on projects such as rotating crops to fight against soil erosion and deterring pests by using organic compost to reduce waste and create nutrient-rich soil as well as working to eliminate pesticides or herbicides to achieve a low input and high production.

    “Gardens is what we called them but it was more like a small scale farm, not your typical backyard garden. We did everything from creating raised beds for crops like spinach and collard greens, to digging holes and planting banana seedlings, to making sweet potato mounds and much more,” she noted.

    Garzón recounted a visit to a citrus farm to offer assistance in identifying a disease that had been harming the fruit trees. Through discussion with the farmer, members of her group were able to help diagnose and offer useful solutions to the Ugandan resident who would've spent weeks solving it on his own. The honor of working and learning alongside this farmer and experiencing the challenges he faces, as well as the deep love for his farm is something Garzón will always treasure.

    As she reflected on her experience, Garzón noted the connection it had to all facets of sustainability: environmental, social and economic. 

    Socially, she helped empower the knowledge of future generations of Ugandans in local primary and high schools through hands on experiential learning. Additionally, through this diversity of interactions and experiences, she empowered herself. Environmentally, helped address challenges and discover solutions related to protecting and supporting a life-giving ecosystem. Economically, everything offered by ISSUP, including service projects, teachings, and labor was offered at no cost, to the Kamuli community, enabling new skills, knowledge and livelihoods that were finally achievable opportunities.

    Every member of the ISU group was also assigned to teach the local students a course. Garzón was entrusted to teach fifth and sixth graders a science class, alongside her Makerere partner through bi-national teaching. This is where the students have the opportunity to learn from teachers of two nations, therefore getting multiplied knowledge from two diversified cultures.

    Teaching was something Garzón had never experienced before but it was something she grew to love almost immediately. The duo tried to make learning as engaging as possible by encouraging students to write on the board, incorporating song and dance, as well as assigning occasional homework to gauge their students' learning.

    “For example, one week we were learning about biotic and abiotic factors, so we went outside to observe things that represented each part of our ecosystem. My students often taught me things about science and agriculture during our lessons.”

    She hoped this opportunity would strengthen her future career endeavors of possibly joining the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps after graduation, eventually working for a global sustainability company and getting her MBA along the way.

    Because of this service trip, Garzón has been inspired to investigate her own contribution to sustainability since returning to Iowa State. She explained, “I think the biggest way I brought my experience back with me is how I am now aware of how I use resources in my everyday life.”

    She remembered times when water was not always available to the community, so the group had to experience the manual labor it takes to transport water to the fields and for their own use. This came as a wake up call-to-action to actively decrease her water usage because of the constant availability of water she was so accustomed to in the United States. She was also a bystander to the hunger that goes on in the world, which influenced her to be mindful of and proactive about her own food consumption and waste.

    “I try and minimize my own food waste as much as possible, recycle, walk instead of drive when I can, use refillable bottles, and try [to] buy products locally.” She noted that a lot can be done individually if we focus awareness on our daily decisions and consumption habits at work and at home. Every little step can make such a significant difference.

    "To live sustainable, you can’t just check a box and say you live sustainably." It is a pursuit of living in a way that constantly strives towards ensuring an abundance and sustainable lifestyle for all.