“I don’t think I’ll ever visit places in the world in the same way again.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Brian Buford
Age: 52
Nationality: United States
University: University of Louisville
Degree: M. Ed. in Counseling Psychology
Occupation: Assistant Provost for Diversity/LGBT Center Director
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (beginner)
Past travel experience: Avid
Duration: 10 days
Start month: May 2015
Claim to fame: Brian started the first LGBT Center at the University of Louisville over 10 years ago when it was nothing more that a cubicle big enough to fit a small desk against the walls.

Why did you decide to join a UBELONG program?
To be honest, I saw the poster advertising a trip to the Galapagos on my campus and that’s what jumped out at me at the time. I always wanted to visit, and this seemed like my chance! I didn’t even realize until awhile later that it was a UBELONG trip or that we would be working with the local community and getting our hands dirty (literally!). And what’s interesting to me now as I reflect back… I don’t think I’ll ever visit places in the world in the same way again. I’ve always loved to travel but approached it as such a consumer, just thinking about the destination as an opportunity to see something interesting or to be a tourist or whatever. I believe that my UBELONG experience really has changed me in a deep way, and now I find myself thinking about how to marry my love of travel with the powerful experience of being a part of the local community and doing something that really makes a difference.

What is your favorite memory?
On our last night on the island, all the volunteers had a farewell dinner with one another and told stories of our experiences. But knowing my passion for social justice and LGBT issues, Adriana also arranged for us to have a group conversation with Caesar about LGBT life in Ecuador that was amazing. The volunteers asked questions and we explored the progress being made there so far. It was my favorite memory because it was such an act of generosity for Caesar to be open to talking about a challenging topic and for Adriana to make sure we got to talk about it. It felt like one of those moments in life—and they don’t happen very often—when everything seems to come together in a magical way and WHO you are is aligned with a special place and a special group of people. I’ll never forget that.

Who impressed you the most?
It’s hard to describe Caesar in words, because he’s truly a larger-than-life character, but I can say that I’ve never met anyone like him and that he’s a great example of someone who is living their authentic purpose in life. His knowledge of the island and its ecosystem is undeniable. I mean, there’s nothing this man doesn’t know about how to grow food in a sustainable way on his farm or about the trees, the animals, the weather. But beyond that, he is just a miraculous combination of many things. He’s a benevolent drill sergeant, keeping up with dozens of volunteers (mostly college age on my trip) and knowing at any given moment what they are supposed to be doing and who’s perhaps skipping their shift to take a nap.

He’s a gifted teacher, explaining why it is important to clear invasive vines in a way that makes you excited to start swinging your machete and more clear about the reason it matters. I imagine he gives the same talk over and over again to new audiences of volunteers, but he has a way of communicating to you that YOU are the most important person he has ever spoken to and that he really wants you to know about his work. And then of course, he’s a unabashed entertainer, knowing just when the volunteers are feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, and taking out a guitar to reward them with a song. Walking down the streets of the town with Caesar also makes you realize what a community pillar and good friend he is to everyone around him. Wherever you go, people break in big smiles and call out his name when they see him coming. And it’s clear that each of them has a story about Caesar, how he helped them, or how he made his community better.

I was happy for my students to experience Caesar, to get to know someone like him who is living in such harmony with his surroundings.

What was your biggest challenge?
I’m a seasoned traveler and not afraid of hard work, but I was surprised at how difficult the actual farm work was for me to accomplish and how the climate challenged me to the core. The Galapagos is tropical in every sense, and the heat and humidity are intense. I found myself exhausted at the end of every day and longing for the comforts of things like air conditioning and a shower. And let me tell you, believe what they tell you about the mosquitoes on the island. I scoffed at first, but I was humbled by the end of day one!

Best packing advice.
Leave room in your suit case to purchase some of the coffee you helped roast on the farm and bring it home to share with your friends. That was the best gift possible and when I opened my bags after getting home, the aroma of the coffee was the perfect finale to a beautiful experience.

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Related Post:
Meet Maria, a Business Management student at Broward College, who volunteered with UBELONG in the conversation project in the Galapagos.