“It was inspiring to see people from all over the world working with the local community to preserve the Ecuadorean rain forests.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Brett Moody
Age: 19
Hometown: New York City, NY
Nationality: United States
University: New York University
Degree: Film And Television Production
Languages spoken: English and Mandarin (beginner)
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Forest Conservation in the Amazon, Ecuador
Duration: 2 weeks
Start month: January 2016
Claim to fame: When Brett was fourteen, he moved to Singapore where he completed high-school.

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I became a UBELONG volunteer because I wanted to preserve the environment and all of its wonder for future generations. Many of my happiest childhood memories are of my friends and I exploring the nature reserve by my house: I visited that forest every other day for several years and I must have found something new in it every time I went: a neon red dragonfly, a bamboo forest, a herd of wild boar. That meager forest contained more varieties of life than even New York City.

Sadly, a large portion of that forest was destroyed in order to make room for housing. I found this event highly troubling: though I realized that a whole world of life had been demolished in those acres, I also realized that forests were probably cleared for my house’s construction. I wanted to preserve the forest, but I wasn’t sure how to do so.

UBELONG offered me the opportunity to connect communities to their natural lands in an ecologically responsible way. Over the course of my trip, I gave children educational tours of the forest and helped establish sustainable yucca farms with the people of Tena, Ecuador.

There were many service organizations that offered trips like UBELONG’s, but only UBELONG offered high-impact trips at a price that college students could afford through fundraising. Ultimately, this is why my service group decided to work with UBELONG instead of its competitors.

What was your impact on your volunteer project?
Our group made an impact in a multitude of ways. During the first half of the trip, we helped set up a sustainable yucca plantation for the people of Tena. This involved clearing the land of weeds, removing dead plants, tilling the soil, transporting the yucca and planting yucca. When the yucca sprouts, the people of Tena will be able to eat it or sell it to support themselves.

During the second half of the trip, we spent most of our time maintaining the reserve’s biology park: we trimmed the lawn with machetes, raked up the leaves and pulled the weeds. At first, all this hard work seemed somewhat silly because very few people were visiting the park.

But then, on our group’s last day in Ecuador, a group of three hundred schoolchildren from Tena arrived at the park. This was when the impact of our work really hit home for me. When I saw that many of these children were at first more interested in their Disney backpacks than in the nature around them, I realized a love of nature is not something that everyone is born with – even if they’re born in the area of the Amazon rain forest. An intertwined love and understanding of nature is something that’s passed down from generation to generation.

As we toured the children through the reserve, I saw a love and understanding of nature grow within them. When the tour guides would give the children fruits from the garden, the children would eat them with the same curiosity and excitement as our group had the week before. As we talked about a particular plant’s use as an anesthetic or as a sinus medication, the children’s’ eyes would alight with fascination.

By the time that the tours had ended, the children were excitedly speaking and gesturing to each other about the plants that they had seen. I knew that the passion for nature that they had found in the reserve would go onto impact their environmental decision-making as adults.

The tour also seemed to make an impact on the parents that chaperoned the trip. They would ask us question after question about the reserve’s plants. One of the fathers must have asked close to twenty questions before the tour had ended. When I interviewed that parent at the end of the tour, he said, “[it’s great] to get to know our own plants which most of the time we do not know anything about.” It felt great to help the local NGO bring people closer to nature both intellectually and emotionally.

What were your major challenges?
I don’t speak Spanish, so it was at first difficult to communicate with the local staff. When our work leader would explain the day’s work, I would always have to ask my trip partners for a translation. The trip leader and I would have to communicate through a series of hand signals.

However, as time went on, I found myself picking up bits of Espanol here and there. Over time, I found myself discussing pollos and tenedores while working with the staff in the kitchen. When I was out in the field, I would talk about platanos and arboles. Ultimately, I felt closer to the staff because I could speak their language with them.

It was also incredibly hot in the Amazon. I was essentially sweating for two weeks straight. I remember playing soccer with the local team and feeling so hot that it was like I had a fever. A dish rag couldn’t have been more wet. I had to constantly remind myself and my teammates to keep drinking in order to prevent us from getting heatstroke. The heat was tough, but thankfully there was always plentiful clean water.

What is your favorite memory?
My favorite memory in Ecuador would be touring those children around.

My second favorite memory occurred about halfway through the trip. By that time, several other groups had moved into the reserve to do environmental work: there was a middle-aged woman from Britain, three elderly men from Massachusetts, several Ecuadorean Eco-Tourism students, a student from Canada and another elderly women from Colombia. Several members of our group sat with these people and discussed what our backgrounds in ecological preservation were and why we decided to go there. It was incredibly inspiring for me to see people from all over the world coming to work with the local community to preserve the beautiful Ecuadorean rain forests. Afterwards, we sat around and played an Ecuadorean card game called Cuarenta, which was incredibly fun.

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Related post:
Meet Michael Kasunic, a Washington and Jefferson College student who volunteered with UBELONG in the Amazon, Ecuador on the Forest Conservation project.