Ecuador trip sparks activism at UVM
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After returning from a study abroad trip to Ecuador, two students are sharing what they learned with the campus community.
Sophomore environmental studies majors Emma Trainor and Margaret Gish plan to start a club at UVM aiming to promote environmental alternatives they learned during their time abroad.
The environmental studies course, “Policies of Land Use,” comprised a two-and-a-half week trip over winter break. The course was taught by lecturer Pete Shear, who currently lives in Ecuador.
“The purpose of the class was a very hands-on way to observe different ecosystems and landscapes as well as economic alternatives to sustainable agriculture,” Gish said.
An important focus of the class was Ecuador’s mining conflict, particularly copper mining.
“Copper mining has been going on in Ecuador for 25 years, and a lot of local citizens have battled against big companies gaining rights to the mining concession and using these sites, which have caused problems like sickness and water contamination,” Gish said.
A Chilean company currently has a four-year mining contract in Ecuador and is causing serious impact on the surrounding environment, Trainor said.
“The site [being mined] is one of the most biodiverse in the whole world. It’s very important to the organisms living in it but could all be gone,” Trainor said.
The on-campus club Trainor and Gish are working to establish will address the important ecological issues in Ecuador.
“We’re in the process of working on a petition against copper mining in Ecuador and hope to start tabling at the Davis Center,” Gish said.
“Going on this trip was such a privilege,” Trainor said.
“Learning that these wonderful locals that we had met were struggling with their economy made us feel helpless,” she said.
Besides raising awareness, the club will also work to implement environmentally friendly alternatives at UVM and in the greater Burlington area.
“The [leader] of Junin got out of jail right when we arrived, and we got the opportunity to speak with him,” Trainor said.
“He went to jail for defending his town against copper mining,” she said. “It was amazing how calm and collected he was after such injustice.”
They look to bring that change to campus.
“Our professor grows his own coffee that’s fair trade and organic, and we’re looking to source it locally at Henderson’s,” Trainor said.
In addition to sourcing Ecuadorian-grown coffee, the two sophomores are hoping to bring reusable Cabuya bags, handmade by Ecuadorian women, to Burlington
“Our goal for not just the year but for the future is to raise awareness at UVM and all of Burlington,” Trainor said.