By Jack Gallagher
Being part of The Wild Center’s Youth Climate Program was the best thing that I could have possibly done for myself in high school. It opened so many opportunities for great educational experiences. Being able to travel to different parts of the country and now the world with the Youth Climate Program has allowed me to meet people from all over trying to make a positive change in their communities. Also, during all these trips we have had a great group of people who became very close working together on these projects.
One of the biggest challenges I have endured working with this program has been staying focused when we were preparing presentations. However, without doing those presentations with the AYCP, I would not have the public speaking skills that I do now. It’s a result of all the practice doing the presentations, and it actually opened up a job opportunity for me. Anyone new to the program or thinking about joining it should take as many of these opportunities are possible and put in a serious effort. A lot of people are willing to listen to what you have to say and want to see what you can do.
The trip itself was really eye opening. I had a lot of culture shock and never fully adjusted. It was hotter and more humid than any place I’ve been before. However, I was able to see places I never imagined I would go to, and liked how we were able to see so many different places in such a short amount of time. The religious temples we went to were amazing, and we drove by some that were just as impressive. Everywhere we went, we had delicious food, including the fresh fruit on stands just off the side of the roads. I was overjoyed when I had the opportunity to see elephants being able to roam freely on their own terms. Whenever we stopped and talked to anyone they would ask us lots of questions, like: “Do you like Sri Lanka? How’s the food? What is it like where you are from? Still getting used to the heat?”
The actual summit was great- The students were enthusiastic and ready to find solutions in their schools. Presenting to a group from halfway across the world was challenging, as I had to speak slow to make sure everyone was able to understand the material. It took some practice and concentration, since I normally get excited and talk fast when I present. Presenting to people where English was their second language was challenging, but I think most of the students could understand what I was saying. The workshops were mostly panel discussions, and not quite as hands-on as other summits I have been to. My favorite one was the climate justice workshop, which was a really intense discussion on how climate change is going to affect the world’s poorest people. It also discussed how Sri Lanka can play a role in a force for good, even though it’s such a small country. My favorite part of the summit was being able to talk to the students during our tabling session, and I was impressed with how prepared they were. They had everything they needed and then some, and we even gained some ideas to use at future summits. Most of the climate action plans I saw were achievable projects that students were ready to work on. My favorite one was a proposal to build an outdoor study area out of bricks made from recycled material.
The thing I will remember the most from this trip other than the heat and incredible food will definitely be the opportunity I had to talk to these students, and their views on how to fix the word. This program has given me all sorts of knowledge that I will have for life- Not just all the scientific facts, but also the people skills. I really hope this program will be able to continue the positive work they are doing for a long time.
Being abroad in Iceland, during fall semester, was an amazing experience! After being in this country for nearly three months now, I can say with assurance that the natural and cultural landscape of Iceland is truly extraordinary. Trying to adequately epitomize this adventure wholly would be too extensive for the parameters of an article though, so I’ve chosen to concentrate on my involvement in the Sóleimar community.
Upon landing in Keflavik I remember not being able to see much of anything from my window seat; I soon realized Iceland was archetypical of a damp, overcast temperate climate. I had already met up with Sarah and Joe (fellow Smitties), Andrew, Jason, Brenton, Bryce, and Hank (one of our CELL instructors) at Logan International Airport in Boston, but it was in Iceland when we finally all came together. There were twelve of us: Andrew Siva, Brenton Kreiger, Bryce King, Dave Buenneke, Hans Tepel, Jason Brody, Jiaorui Jiong, Joseph Brod, Nicole Lorence, Sarah Harley, Serena Cueva, and myself. Karin Whittman and Hank Colletto would serve as our educators and mentors for the semester. Since our aeronautical peregrination was a red-eye flight, we were impaired the first few days from the ensuing jet lag, but during the following week and a half we gradual acclimatized to the village and our new home in the Brekkut guesthouse.
Before I elaborate upon our relationship with the community, a brief history of Sólheimar is necessary. Inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s theories on Anthroposophy (“Human Wisdom”) and Britain’s Camphill movement, Sesselja Hreindís Sigmundsdóttir founded Sólheimar (“The Home of the Sun”) in 1930 as an integrated home for children with and without disabilities. Sesselja’s emphasis on equality within her integrated community, and commitment to Sólheimar functioning as a home, not an institution, are still essential to the management of Sólheimar today. Another important date in the narrative of the community is April 1997, when “The Global Ecovillage Network” proclaimed Sólheimar the first sustainable village of the country. With more than one hundred people currently residing in Sólheimar, and forty-three individuals with special needs, the goal is now to give every individual an opportunity to live in a sustainable society.
A weekly aspect of our education in the Eco village was service learning in various departments of the community. Such subdivisions were: Sunna, a greenhouse complex and one of the largest producers of organic vegetables in Iceland; Ölur, the only organic forest nursery in Iceland, established in 1991;
Nærandi, the food production quarters in Sólheimar providing a wide range of baked food to not only the village, but also to stores in Reykjavik; Vala and Græna Kannan, the local shop and cafe in Sólheimar; and the candle-making, weaving, organic soap-making, art, ceramics and woodworking work shops.
Along with service learning, we had classes in: Icelandic history, language and culture; Global Warming, a course that identified our individual and collective power to shape an effective response to climate change, as well as an introduction to Iceland’s response to the crisis; Sustainability, a class that explored the field of sustainability, and identified the principles of voluntary simplicity in regard to there applications individual and communally; and Crossroads Thinking, a course that encouraged us to identify essential intellectual traits, question long-held assumptions or biases, evaluate ideas, reason honestly and open-mindedly, problem-solve, and form objective conclusions. These classes took place in Sesseljuhus and on weekend and day trips around Iceland. Additionally, for our Sólheimar Community project, I was given the chance to design and construct the framing for a community greenhouse, with Joe as an assistant. As a carpenter, I especially enjoyed this project and the opportunity to build a timber-framed structure from almost exclusively hand tools. In hindsight, I was privileged to get the chance to be involved in an assignment that had extant physical significance in the community.
Outside of class time, we had many ways to entertain ourselves. Sólheimar has a geothermal heated pool and hot tub, a gym and more importantly a ping-pong table, and miles of beautiful trails around the valley. Between activities with my fellow CELL students, home people, and EVS volunteers, I had no problem staying busy. Moreover, we were blessed with occasional outbursts of the Aura Borealis in the evenings; this phenomenon gradually occurred earlier in the evening in accordance to the six minutes of daily sunlight loss.
My experience in Sólheimar was nothing short of life changing. From my time in the ecovillage with this didactic sustainability study, I have identified several societal, environmental, and economical paradigms and am inspired to promote subsequent betterment. Additional, I would like to return to Sólheimar and volunteer in the community during an ecovillage tour, post college.