The Power of Perspective: How Sustainability is Defined in Belize and the U.S.

I shall not turn my life into a thin, straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I must do. – Clyde Kilby

All too often I sit down and think to myself about grandiose concepts that do not mean that much to me. One of which was the concept of sustainability and the effects that it has had on my life here in the United States. I sat down one day and closed my eyes and thought about this word, sustainability. It means recycling, environment, green peace, liberal, clean energy, stop global warming, etc. I reopened my eyes and smiled because I knew that I associated myself to the majority of these concepts. I conquered sustainability and did not need to sit down anymore and focus on that idea.  I went on with my life believing that this idea that I shaped in my mind was perfect and only a well formulated argument was going to change that perspective, even to the slightest.

A few months later I had a conversation with one of the PLP professors, Dr. Paul Kosempel. He told me about an opportunity to go to Belize and experience a different culture. As he was talking I recognized what this trip would mean to me, small vacation and a way to earn a few more credits for my leadership minor. “Absolutely! If I have the means then what is stopping me.” What I missed within that conversation was the majority of the trip would be focusing on this concept of sustainability.

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Before my trip, I didn’t know much about Belize other than it was a tropical island.

I got on the plane with my fellow peers and we were off. We landed in Belize City and immediately went to Jaguar Creek Lodge where we ended up staying for the next couple of days. After a quick orientation we had time to hang out, jump in the creek, and play soccer. It was perfect, exactly how I imagined. The next day however, was a little different. We had a full day of classes learning about the history of Belize, growth strategies, a private tour through the zoo, and experiencing a traditional Belizean dinner. This day was the first taste of sustainability for me.

One of the speakers in the morning talked about this idea of long term vs short term gain in terms of sustainability. But instead of only talking about the environment, he talked about people and generational impact of poverty. What stood out to me was this idea that conservation is a luxury. How do we expect people who cannot afford an education or even physiological needs to focus on preservation for the future? What I realized in that moment was that this idea of sustainability that I had in my head was so much smaller than the overall picture. Being in the United States I had the luxury to contemplate sustainability and what it meant for me but at the same time I had the luxury to forget about as well. Places like Belize and developing countries across the world do not have that luxury.

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My roommates and I on top of a Mayan temple in the middle of Belize.

The next few days, I moved forward with a different perspective. We met beautiful people creating their own businesses and helping their neighbors. We went to an oil company where their focus was on so much more than just profits. We listened to individuals talk about the Chiquibul forest and the implications it has on Belize and Central America. We interacted with students from a local high school and integrated ourselves within their community. There was so much to take in and so much to learn.

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This is from the day when we visited different entrepreneurs and saw how their work impact their community on a daily basis.

Alongside these experiences, my peers and I let loose a little. Cave tubing, zip lining, cliff diving, chocolate making, snorkeling, star gazing, kayaking, playing games of mafia and tri-bucket, and so much more. I had phenomenal conversations on a private island and met so many creative, empathetic, loving individuals. I can easily say that this was such a balanced trip and an influential experience that I will never forget. On the plane ride home, I had some time to close my eyes and reevaluate the word sustainability. Instead of just abstractions it became a reality.

Post written by: Bryan Yoshida, current PLPer

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