Once upon a time I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras, Central America. That was a different lifetime, back when I knew everything and was poised to save the world. I spent 2 years living in some of the poorest areas of Central America, where many kids had no shoes and only two sets of clothes, one for the week and another for Sunday. For perspective, I lived on $100 a month and was among the wealthy elite in my town. You see a lot of things when you live in places where living is hard. I remember the body of the man who drowned in the river, crumpled on the street outside the police station. Then there was the time that the teenage mother had her baby on the bus. If your eyes are open – and it’s hard for them not to be – you learn a lot of things. Hopefully the lessons include humility and modesty, and that we are all part of the same fabric that is knitted across the surface of this planet.
One of the lessons I learned was that I was a long way off from saving the world. It was hard to deliver a conservation message to parents who were wondering how they would feed their families when the bean crop failed. Plus you can figure in that I was an outsider who was only going to be around for two years. It slowly dawned on me, being the young foreign genius that I was, that to have a lasting impact I had to train others. Somebody was going to have to carry the message after I was gone. Preferably that somebody was a local who knew the community and how to talk with people, and who was invested in seeing their neighbors have a better life.
I carry that lesson today. Recently I was the lucky bastard who got to fly to Costa Rica and train Latin American biologists how to climb trees. These young people are the field soldiers that are saving the world out there, not I. I’m “lucky” because I live in North America where I have access to training and expensive equipment. I’m LUCKY because once when I was younger I learned that sometimes the best thing you can do is to pay it forward. So with good friends Jamz, Juni, and Hannah we put on a 1-day clinic amongst the branches of a guayabillo tree. Now I’m trying to piece together the resources to go back and teach an 8-day course, with full-blown certification in climbing essentials and canopy biology methods. Enjoy the pics. Contact me if you would like to donate to young people and the natural environment they serve – I’ll be buying more equipment to donate at the next climbing workshop.
A few good people donated the climbing equipment that you see in the photos. It was all left behind with the biologists we trained. I’d like to thank: WesSpur, TreeStuff; working arborists from the International Society for Arboriculture, Pacific Northwest Chapter; and an anonymous friend with a talent for making Kentucky moonshine – you know who you are. I also thank The Peregrine Fund, where I work. They sponsored my plane ticket and lodging in Costa Rica, and are believers in paying it forward.
Dedicated to Francisco Urbina, my Honduran counterpart from my Peace Corps days.