Aug 262009
Authors: Phoenix MourningStar

It’s hard to believe the summer of 2009 is over already. It has arguably been one of the best summers of my life, with a lot of learning and insights and, of course, travel. The highlight of my summer as a student was work I did with one of our Fort Collins Rotary Clubs in Gualan, Guatemala, completing the building, painting and opening of the Los Limones school.

Over the past few years, the Downtown Fort Collins Rotary Club has begun a number of projects in this region of Guatemala and has sent members and students to work on these projects — hand-in-hand, shoulder-to-shoulder — with the Rotary Club of Gualan and the students there.

This year, we were lucky enough not only to be the crew who got to see the completion of the school, but also to be taken on a number of tours to see the struggles and needs of the nation’s most vulnerable people. In 2005, Hurricane Stan came through Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala and some of these people are still recovering from the storm.

The fall of the coffee market compounded this difficulty; coffee was the sole form of income for many workers on plantations. While we were visiting Gualan, we were introduced to a number of people and met their children who were living on the sides of mountains doing their best to make a living and provide for their families.

Many of the houses could hardly qualify as shanties; built from scraps of wood and tree leaves – I could almost swear the baseball cards I had brought to give to the kids were pasted on the side of one house with mud to cover a gap in the wall.

As we took a couple trucks through a dried up river bed deeper into the mountains, then hiked a couple hundred feet through a hardly accessible village, the town’s people showed us their wells used for drinking water. We walked further uphill and they pointed out the latrines being used for waste, shockingly, uphill from some of the drinking water sources.

The homes here were a combination of rocks and tree limbs built on the side of the mountain. Most of the building materials and cooking and heating fuel came from the trees in the surrounding village. I can only imagine the mud slides and loss of life that is waiting to occur there when the next hurricane dumps its rains on this defenseless, deforested mountain community.

You may ask yourself: “So what, how is this story any different than the hundred we hear about on NPR or watch on CNN or FOX and read about in National Geographic every other day?”

It came together for me a few weeks later upon returning to the campus when I visited my department’s graduate coordinator office and began the process of completing thesis/dissertation formalities, proofreading the final printed copy, presenting a copy to Graduate Advisory Committee and submitting two unbound copies to the Graduate School Office.

That doesn’t even include the numerous drafts for each committee member. It seems a few more hard copies may not be a big deal, although electronic submissions would seem to be a greener and more accessible way to go. The families I met in Guatemala were doing the best with what tools and knowledge they had. We here at CSU can, too.

I think we get so overwhelmed by green-ness that maybe sometimes we become green in the face to be the green-est. For all the work that is going on to research sustainability and green up our campus, let’s not forget about the simple steps we can take in being green as students, staff, faculty, administrators — as CSU, to be green.

Phoenix Mourning-Star is an environmental health graduate student. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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