By Carly Cowan
Executive Administrative Assistant
I left Washington, D.C. for Cartagena, Colombia with a bold idea, a big hope and a nebulous understanding of what exactly I was throwing myself into. For months I sat behind my computer promulgating Green Apple to any and all international school contacts I could grasp. I spent countless hours talking to people thousands of miles away, sometimes convincing them to take part in our emerging global movement, sometimes walking them through a project and in those intermittent moments of magic, listening to their hopes for their schools. 160 projects and 2400 miles later, I was in Cartagena. What I realized was the small seed I had planted was merely one in a forest of already flourishing trees. Here's my account of what happened on the Day of Service:
Saturday, September 29, 2012
5:30am: After 2.5 hours on the road, my driver, my translator and I arrived. We met with the head of sustainability at Colombia Responde and a representative of Campo Limpio, an organization that works with 19 corporations on sustainability initiatives.
9:00am: We then drove to Ema Cecilia Arnold Educational Institution, which is straight out of a “schools of the poorest regions” report. Adequate day-lighting? Yes, students surely got plenty of daylight through the glassless holes for windows. Electricity saving? Yes, the classrooms barely used any.
However, it wasn’t the deficit that resonated with me. Rather, it was the creation of something where there seemed to be nothing. I was met by the happiest of children who ran to say “hola” to their American guest. I spoke about Green Apple and the importance of their efforts, although I suspect I was merely preaching to the choir. They showed me where they learn. From the recycling bins of artfully painted reused plastic barrels to their edible school garden to the student-made murals, I quickly realized we have a lot to learn.
11:00am: After an interview with a local news station and speaking with a Red Cross representative, I headed into the community—small houses with no electricity connected to one another by dirt roads. A young student was in the midst of a lesson when I handed her a green apple. Through my broken understanding of Spanish I realized she was saying, completely unprompted, that this green apple is a symbol of our responsibility to the environment, our neighbors and our earth. These students have become an army of green school champions singing our song.
12:30pm: We then arrived at the school’s pedagogical farm where students trek weekly to learn about responsible farming. As we continue to the jungle, we meet up with students who had planted 199 trees around the forest’s border, patiently awaiting my arrival to allow me to plant the 200th.
2:00pm: We left the jungle and returned to Ema Cecilia Arnold, where I met with Ema Cecilia Arnold herself, a Swiss missionary who moved to Colombia in the 70s. We spoke about the importance of where children learn, the meaning of a green school and our shared dedication. No common language between us, we were connected beyond the need for words.
By 3 p.m., I had left the school. Along with pictures, videos and a head full of memories, I took home a new confidence in the bone fide power of a movement that could so meaningfully connect people and overcome the barriers of language, national lines and financial disparities. What I went to do in Colombia was strengthen international Green Apple partnerships, promote the mission of the Center and collect international footage for our Green Apple promotions. What I found and what I returned with was more than I could have ever given.