Thoughts on well-being, sustainability and those things that constitute a good life beyond consumption.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Why Ecuador? Serendipity

Last spring, I attended a meeting of community supporters of a new charter school in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania called the Seven Generations Charter School.  I was representing 3 community partners:  the Biological Sciences Department and Environmental Studies program of Moravian College (where I work), the Lehigh Gap Nature Center and the Lehigh Valley Audubon Society (I sit on the board of the latter two organizations).  I mention this for two reasons:  1) the educational goals of the school are closely connected to the theme of this blog and 2) that meeting was the reason I ended up heading to Ecuador.  According to the schools website “The Seven Generations Charter School is one in which students from every grade level engage in activities focused on sustainable living, environmental stewardship, and respect for our planet and all living things. We believe that a school with excellent academic standards can also be a place where students learn citizenship and develop the skills to succeed as they improve the overall quality of life in their communities.”  Wouldn’t it be nice if all schools had such a vision!  Check out more about the school at

At the meeting, I met Sue Brown, a very enthusiastic (and innovative individual as I would soon learn) who was a former public school gifted program teacher.  She is now is associated with the Mountains of Hope foundation – described as “a model initiative in education enrichment, cultural exchange and sustainable community development” (see for more information).   In my mind, the concept of a new prosperity is closely linked to the creation of sustainable communities, so this chance meeting was of great interest to me.  A brief conversation that day led me to Sue’s home a few weeks later to learn more about the work she does.  At that meeting, I also met Paul Murtha, the foundation director.

  Sue Brown at the Pimampiro market.
Sue and Paul work in Pimampiro, Ecuador in the northern highlands – an area heavily dependent on an agricultural economy, but apparently also rife with poverty and complex social issues.  Later in the blog, I will explore more about their work, but for now, suffice it to say that they are interested in a) providing educational opportunities to those who otherwise might not have them (especially girls from remote villages); b) promoting cultural exchanges across national borders, c) introducing organic, bio-intensive agricultural methods to the people to improve personal and environmental health; and d) helping to initiate microenterprise opportunities for indigenous peoples with unique talents and culture to share.

Paul Murtha holding a jar of jam from a microenterprise in the Ecuadorian village of San Francisco.
What I heard that afternoon reminded me a lot of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (see  While these goals are aimed at eradicating extreme poverty world-wide, any solutions to this complex web of related problems, by necessity will lead to more sustainable communities.  The goals are also closely aligned with the report of the Brundtland Commission (World Commission on Environment and Development) entitled Our Common Future that laid the groundwork for the convening of the 1992 Earth Summit, the adoption of Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration and the establishment of the Commission on Sustainable Development (see  In fact, the work of this commission established an early definition for the phrase “sustainable development” – a term that is overly used these days, often in the wrong context.

So my interest in Mountains of Hope should be pretty clear.  By why were Sue and Paul interested in me?  They would like to have a formal affiliation with a college or university.  Because I think that this has tremendous potential for immersion service-learning opportunities for students, I headed to Ecuador to conduct a “site visit” on September 6th, 2010.

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