From Colombia to Columbia


From Colombia to Columbia

Left: Colombia; Right: the Columbia river

Left: Colombia. Right: the Columbia

The process of selecting and arranging a global internship is not easy. We have excellent support from the College, but the possibilities are endless, the world is big, and there are many worthy sustainability projects! Because I have two little boys, the practicality and potential impact of going back home to Colombia, where I have a support system and good connections, tempted me. But what if I could go anywhere? Back in my undergraduate days I read the book A River Lost and since then the U.S. Pacific Northwest region has always fascinated me. Magically, I was able to align (and afford!) related internships at both destinations- and that’s how I went from Colombia (South America) to the Columbia (as in the epic river that divides Washington and Oregon).

Local pride. Left: Cartagena has done a fantastic job of preserving its cultural heritage. Right: Portland, and the state in general, have done an equally superb job at preserving its natural heritage.

Local pride. Left: Cartagena has done a fantastic job of preserving its cultural heritage. Right: the Portland region has done an equally superb job at preserving its natural heritage.

Local flavor. You know you are in Cartagena when you can sip on a coconut while getting a haircut (top); or Portland when Lavender is in season and you can eat lavender donuts! (bottom)

Local flavor. You know you are in Cartagena when you can sip on a coconut while getting a haircut (top); or Portland when Lavender is in season and you can eat lavender donuts! (bottom)

Colombia and the Pacific Northwest share some surprising common characteristics, like a high concentration of indigenous nations, low ecological footprints, dramatic topography, an abundance of rivers and coastline, place-based pride, and lush rainforests (tropical or temperate). However, the two cities where I was/am based out of within these regions are very different. Though both Cartagena and Portland thrive with vitality, scream independence, and enjoy robust (yet unique) alternative transportation systems, there are many lessons the American city can offer its third-world sister -and the rest of the globe. Portland is progressive, smart, sustainable and authentic. I think all sustainability students would benefit from and find inspiration in this place.

Lesson 1: Figure out the garbage issue. Top: Cartagena has trash issues. Plastics are a particular eye sore. Bottom: Portland is on top of its garbage. Composting and recycling at all levels - from street to office to home is the norm.

Lesson 1: Figure out the garbage situation. Top: Cartagena has major trash issues. Plastics are a particular eye sore. Bottom: Portland is on top of its garbage. Composting and recycling at all levels – from street to office to home is the norm.

local food

Lesson 2: Save some green for gardens. Top: Though it is common to buy local seasonal produce from street vendors, Cartagena has done very little to promote edible yards. The aerial view shows how little green area (of any kind) is within city boundaries. Bottom: Portland mesmerizes with its push for food security. Virtually every house has vegetable beds or a fruit tree, or is within walking distance of a community garden. The magazine Edible (published by my host organization) is a major influencer in the movement.

More parallels (and perpendiculars)

One of my advisors was wondering how the two internships overlap. Here it is (Dr. Dorsey, this one’s for you): the concept I am interested in is the economic development of indigenous nations as a conservation strategy. In my work through FundaHerencia with the Itti Take people in Colombia, the idea is straightforward and proposes compensating this rural community for the ecosystem services its forest provides. In contrast, in Oregon I am assisting Ecotrust and its partner, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, with the Native American Economic Sovereignty Initiative (NAESI) which shares this element of investing in Tribal capacity but through a very different channel, and only with the hope -not the requirement- of restoring nature as an outcome. The idea here is to create a fellowship program which trains and equips a cohort of emerging Native leaders with the tools, expertise and relationships needed to respond to the social demands of their Tribes and communities. Whereas the Ecotrust project focuses on Community-based Economic Development (CED) as a precursor to potential conservation, FundaHerencia’s approach bets on investing in Community-based- Conservation (CBC) first, with the hopes that under this framework a local self-sustaining economy can flourish. Alleviating poverty and protecting nature’s life-sustaining capabilities are both means and ends for the two projects I am involved in.

About my new bold organization

Ecotrust was started by Spencer Beebe in the 90’s after he launched The Nature Conservancy’s International program and founded Conservation International. Individuals like him are few and far between, and I strongly recommend reading his book Cache to grasp the significance of this man’s work and find inspiration and courage to change the world. The organization currently has a staff of about 50 professionals working on multiple initiatives like farm-to-school programs, forest banks and the built environment.

Left: the Ecotrust building was repurposed from an 1800's warehouse

Left: the Ecotrust building was repurposed from an 1800’s warehouse “designed to distribute the goods of an industrial economy into a marketplace for the ideas, goods and services of the conservation economy”. Offices are on top, and Patagonia is the anchor tenant. Right: the inside of the building is exquisitely laid out as an open floor space to maximize collaboration, productivity and creative thinking (that’s me in the “intern triangle”)

values

Ecotrust lives its values. All waste is appropriately disposed of. e.g.: (top left) flush up for number one, down for number two; if a grass roof fails, they try it again. And instead of criminalizing, they work with those who live off the environment- like loggers- and even honor them by decorating walls with their pictures (bottom right)

3 comments

  1. Luann Collins · August 24, 2015

    Superb
    Take a picture of that Grand Coulée for me while you are there !!

    Like

  2. Katy Patrick · August 30, 2015

    I love your topic. I also love the Pacific NW and I love how you took that region an Colombia and you’re showing that we have the same concerns across the globe. Brilliant idea. You might consider turning your experience into a book. I’d buy it for sure.

    Like

    • Kari Becerra · August 30, 2015

      Katy, you are too kind. Thank you for your feedback! Hopefully my advisors will feel the same way 😉

      Like

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