Name: Kaitlin Tulbert
Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (intermediate)
Occupation: Teacher at Madison Metropolitan School District
Volunteer Abroad: Forest Conservation and Sustainable Farming in Galapagos, Ecuador
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: July 2018
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I have volunteered with UBELONG once before. Three years ago, I worked at an education project teaching English in Cusco, Peru for two months. I cannot speak enough as to how much that experience positively impacted me as a prospective teacher and ultimately as an individual. In turn, I have kept in contact with one of the coordinators at that project and have been able to continue that relationship. As a whole, my first UBELONG trip was very memorable and influential to me, and I knew immediately after that experience that I would volunteer with UBELONG again in the future.
What impact did you make on your volunteer project?
My impact consisted of versatility and flexibility in our unpredictable schedule. I spent almost half of the time helping to pull and machete the mora in all directions of the reserve. Whether we were clearing space for new endemic plants, new vegetable plots, or just trying to eradicate it for the sake of getting rid of it – pulling the mora was a strenuous but necessary task. Some days we would have to pause our focus from the mora to collect bins upon bins of oranges in order to continue enjoying fresh juice for our meals. Additionally, I loved getting to visit Socavon, a local seed bank and sustainable farm. Helping them, in turn, helps the project get more seeds and plants to continue to make our reserve more self-sustainable.
One consistent impact I made was conversing with Jefferson, the English translator in training at the reserve. I had a lot of fun helping him improve his English and he also helped me improve my Spanish. On the other hand, don’t always follow directions from Jefferson without questioning them first. If he tells you to pour out a huge bucket of soil, maybe ask why before doing it. Regardless of Jefferson’s reason, Carlos will question your sanity and make you refill the bucket. And all you can say is, “Jefferson told me to.” 🙂 I will continue my impact in the U.S. by sharing my experience with my science students. What better environment can you use to teach about ecosystems and invasive species?
How did you grow personally during your volunteer trip?
During my project, at times, I internally questioned whether what I was doing was helpful. Because of the seemingly infinite amount of invasive mora that has spread, thoughts of: “This is impossible,” or “This is pointless,” tried to penetrate my brain. By the last day of my project, I had reached an understanding of how my relationship with the Earth is very different than a relationship with another human being. When you work with people, or specifically for me, teach, you get immediate positive or negative feedback from every choice and action you make. You see purpose in the dependence of the relationships you closely develop. It’s not as easy to develop a relationship with the nature around you as easily as you can with a person.
My impact is helpful, but seemed miniscule at times in the grand scheme of the islands as a whole. The Earth doesn’t give feedback as immediately as you wish to receive it, and in most cases, you don’t get to see the effect of your own impact to it. I think that’s why it’s so easy for so many people to mistreat the Earth, because they’re not immediately receiving feedback to change their habits. While the lack of prompt feedback in this relationship can make one question if their contributions are purposeful, the overwhelming positive is that small impacts can sum to large, significant changes. The more people that can volunteer to help will summatively be a significant impact to the islands, the Earth itself, and in turn, future generations of humans and creatures that will call this planet home. This fact is not new by any means, but it took on a new meaning for me during my time in the Galapagos.
Now I appreciate that this relationship with the Earth is a difficult one and perhaps one of the most important relationships of all; it can often feel lonely and one-sided, but you can’t bite the hand that feeds you. This mindset helped me to grow personally and appreciate every moment on and off the reserve. You don’t necessarily have to go the Galapagos to comprehend all that the Earth does for you, but it definitely helps 🙂
In a sentence or less, how would you sum up your volunteer experience?
Exhausting, awe-inspiring, and very rewarding.