“One day we made chocolate. We started with the beans and followed the whole process out. It was fascinating and you would never think chocolate was made that way.”


Sveta Milusheva is a bright and energetic young woman from the Washington, DC area. She graduated from Emory University with degrees in economics and international development, and then worked conducting research at Emory and the prestigious Brookings Institution. She focused on numerous areas, including entrepreneurship, immigration and women’s studies. She is now embarking on obtaining her PhD in economics.

Sveta has worked and travelled throughout the world, including Argentina, Costa Rica, Japan, Russia and her native Bulgaria. In June Sveta spent 4 weeks in the environment and teaching projects in the Amazon. She proved to be an exemplary UBELONG Volunteer and we’re happy to introduce her to you here.

What motivated you to seek a volunteer opportunity in the Amazon?
I volunteered because I’m about to embark on a PhD focused on economic development. I have worked on other projects, but none that were focused on the environment. So, I was very interested in seeing how the environment intersects with community development. The Amazon project offered just that, so I felt it was a great opportunity. I also wanted to head to a Spanish speaking country. I want to focus my work on Latin America, and also wanted to brush up my language skills.

What kind of impact did you have on the community?
I had the opportunity to work on both the conservation and community projects. With the community, I was working with high school students to speak about healthy living. I was particularly interested in working with the girls, who are often marginalized in the classroom and society at large. We talked about our backgrounds and experiences, and I think I helped to give them more confidence. I showed them there is a world beyond Esmeraldas and Ecuador, and that women play a crucial part in that world. Whether it’s reproductive choices, how they approach their education or anything else in their life, I planted the seed in the girls’ minds that they have the power to do great things.

On the conservation project it’s very labor intensive and I helped to provide that. I wasn’t the strongest or most skilled by far, but I still contributed. We worked with farmers to plant yuka and cacao. We built a guardhouse because crops often get stolen. We did beach cleanups. And, we worked in the mangroves, which was my favorite. I had never done anything like it. It was a lot of fun and very physical. And it was a great opportunity to learn about an important ecosystem that I didn’t know much about before.

Finally, I think the volunteers all made a big impact on each other. We came from all over the world and we exchanged ideas, experiences and perspectives. We encouraged each other and grew a lot from talking. That was a very important part of the experience.

How did you grow from the experience?
I learned so much. It was great to be able to work on such a local level. I learned about agriculture and all the work that goes into it. In the US we think food just appears on shelves, but it doesn’t. It takes a lot of effort to produce it. One day for example we made chocolate. We started with the beans and followed the whole process out. It was fascinating and you would never think chocolate was made that way. I also took a lot from working in the high school. I really enjoyed sharing my perspectives with the girls, and also learning from them. The whole experience really opened my eyes.

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