By Michele Tallarita ’12
Doing farm labor under the hot sun, waking up when the rooster crowed, chowing down on rice and beans, and relaxing by the campfire were just a few of the ways Monica Manglani ’13 (Woodbury, N.Y.) spent her winter break.
Through Lafayette’s chapter of Alternative School Break (ASB), Manglani led an interdisciplinary team of students on a challenging 10-day trip to La Gran Vista Agroecological farm in Perez Zeledon, Costa Rica. Organized through the Landis Community Outreach Center, this is the 19th year that ASB students have traveled throughout the U.S. and abroad for community service projects. During the break, students also traveled to Haiti, New York, and Washington, D.C. Over spring break, teams served in Tennessee and Virginia.
Flanked by Costa Rica’s tallest mountains, with fabulous waterfalls and sublime beaches nearby, La Gran Vista is a non-profit project headed by Donald Villalobos, an agricultural engineer with the Ministry of Agriculture. The aim of La Gran Vista is to spread awareness of environmentally sustainable agricultural methods, especially to other farmers in the region. The 12-acre farm successfully employs such sustainable practices as organic farming, soil regeneration, natural herbicides and pesticides, and enhancement of the natural environment. The labor of volunteers from all over the world is integral to the farm’s functioning.
Each morning, Manglani and the other students rose early to eat breakfast in the Villalobos family’s home, then dispersed to perform the important and sometimes physically strenuous tasks of the farm. They made fertilizer, created a fish pond, maintained spring-water wells, and fed animals, among other activities. At night, with the day’s work behind them, the students played games and reflected by the campfire.
Manglani says the trip taught her the true nature of sustainability. “My idea of sustainability was that it could only be achieved by the wealthy because of their financial power to purchase these commodities,” she says. “However, after my visit to La Gran Vista, I realized that sustainability is achievable for all.”
Upon returning from the trip, the students were so invigorated by the idea of achievable sustainability that they teamed with 15 student organizations to create a tree-planting initiative, which occurred on Lafapalooza, Lafayette’s National Day of Service. Students raised over $600 to plant trees on Metzgar Field, reducing the campus’s carbon footprint.
While Manglani’s crew was learning about how to grow food in sustainable ways, geology major Tyler Germanoski ’12 (Hellertown, Pa.) was leading another team of students in Haiti. Working with the Community Coalition of Haiti (CCH), an organization that aims to meet the basic needs of the poor, the students worked hard on a variety of projects. These included building a house for a widower who had lost his leg in the earthquake of 2010, doing electrical work for an operating room at a health clinic, visiting orphanages to play games with children, and distributing water filters.
The students also enjoyed seeing the beautiful artisanship on display in an art district, attending a mass, visiting an outdoor marketplace, and traveling to the mountains of Bassin-Bleu, a waterfall with pools of turquoise water. For Germanoski, the most exciting parts of the trip were forging relationships with the people he met.
“One of the things that was difficult about our trip to Haiti was seeing how beautiful it is and how amazing the people are, but having to accept the reality of the poverty that they live with,” Germanoski says. “The trip for me reaffirmed that although you cannot expect to fix everything, it should not stop you from working to make any difference that you can.”