Diane Berthel is an extraordinary woman. She is the principal and Co-Founder of Berthel Shutter, LLC, an investment consulting firm in Minneapolis. She holds degrees from the University of Northern Iowa and Harvard University, and she sits on numerous public and private boards. She has traveled extensively throughout the world and partakes in service at home and abroad.
In April she volunteered for one week on the conservation projects in the Galapagos as part of a team of 20 highly accomplished professionals. The team was organized by The Prouty Project, a leading consulting firm that holds an annual “STRETCH” for employees, clients, friends and family members.
In 2012 Prouty partnered with UBELONG to hold its Stretch, and the itinerary included a visit to the US Embassy in Quito, as well as various meetings, talks and outings to learn about the Galapagos and conservation efforts.
Why did you join this UBELONG volunteer trip to the Galapagos?
It was the convergence of two things that are very important in my life. First, I’m an adventure junkie and there’s no place like the Galapagos. Second, I’m a big believer in service and giving back. So, when this opportunity came up I thought it would be perfect.
In regards to the service piece, I believe the best way to understand people is to work with them and see them in action. This was an opportunity to do so; to work alongside Ecuadorians in the thick of protecting the Galapagos environment. I also was very attracted to the environmental work itself, which I had never done before. I wanted to help on a different type of project, and was very allured by the physical piece. I wanted to get out there and make a difference through my hard work. There was something extremely rewarding about being in the middle of the Galapagos outside sweating, working hard and seeing the small but real positive impact I was making.
From what you observed during your experience, what were the three most important characteristics of a successful international volunteer?
Well, when you first arrive it is easy to think the challenges of the lifestyle are insurmountable. It is daunting at first. When we first pulled up to the reserve I was shocked by how basic everything was. But you get over it very quickly, and that process was one of the most rewarding pieces of the trip. You get used to the bugs and showering in a shower that consists of a mud floor and pipe coming out of the wall. You get used to being sweaty and always dirty. Seeing how you’re capable of adapting so easily is very empowering. So, don’t worry about adapting, you will!
Second, be ready for the physical challenges of the work. There are mosquitoes, cockroaches and your clothes are never quiet dry. You work hard and it’s very physical, especially the work with the machetes to clear the invasive species. But that also becomes unimportant very quickly. The place is so spectacular, from the plants to the animals to the people. Let yourself embrace your surroundings and be proud that you’re playing a part in protecting it. You’ll meet a person in yourself that you never knew existed.
Third, do it. This sort of experience is not traditional. You’re not on a National Geographic Boat. Your coming face to face with the islands and its people in a much richer and more real way. It’s an incredible experience, and one that is very powerful.
What kind of impact did you have on the community?
One time we were on the reserve cutting down invasive species with machetes and hoes. I had been working for a solid hour and was just filthy and starting to ache. I looked at how much I had cleared, and it barely covered 3 feet. But then I looked at what the rest of the team had done and how collectively the cleared area was significant. And that was important, to realize that I was a small but important piece of a larger effort.
In our work at home we’re so used to being strategic and looking at the big picture. But in the Galapagos I was just a very small piece looking at a narrow part of the overall effort. And that was very enlightening, to be able to step back and understand that alone you can’t change the world, but collectively we can. It made me think of when I was hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. I had learned that workers had dragged these enormous stones from quarries seven miles away. It took 1,000 men to drag each stone, and getting the stone in place could span the lifetimes of two people. But collectively the work got done, and I think that can be difficult for we Americans to understand. We move quickly. We build buildings in six months. We expect things quickly. But, like the workers in Peru, in the Galapagos I was a small but meaningful part of the Galapagos conservation efforts.