by Kaitlyn Garrett/Lion Staff
“It is a science laboratory in the sky, literally.”
That is how history teacher Mr. Jewell describes Siempre Verde, an environmental escape located in Ecuador, where a group of nineteen lucky sophomores spent ten days in early October.
For the duration of the trip they hiked, completed school work, listened to history and cultural immersion lectures about Ecuador, participated in service work, shopped, and (of course) indulged in Ecuador’s finest home-cooked dining.
The Lovett community has been enjoying Siempre Verde’s timeless beauty for 25 years; they celebrated the quarter anniversary a few weeks ago at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Recently, Lovett students attended an assembly where they learned about the history of Siempre Verde, watched a video about the impact of mining on the local community, and participated in an online game.
On the sophomore trip, students had the privilege of experiencing everything that Ecuador has to offer.
The general itinerary was enjoyed by all, but Clayton Cross says that “The hiking was pretty fun, and the views everywhere were really cool.”
Caroline Long and Lauren Bernard’s really enjoyed visiting a school in Santa Rosa, located at the base of Siempre Verde. “The little kids were adorable,” Caroline says. “We gave them school supplies and played with them.”
The school appeared to be the fan favorite. The kids range in age from 5-12, and “they are so sweet,” according to Virginia French. “You bring them bags and bags of clothes and school supplies and all this stuff, and you get to read to them, and play with them on the playground; it’s just so fun,” Virginia French says. For the kids, it’s like Christmas.
Even the less hands on activities were enjoyable; Olivia Sidman says that one of her favorite parts of the trip was hanging out with everybody around the fire.
The students stayed at the Siempre Verde lodge, which has bathrooms, bunk rooms, a classroom area, a dining room, and a kitchen area. “It’s like a giant house for kids,” says Virginia. “There are two big bunk rooms, and normally there's one for boys and one for girls, but since we had 18 girls we had two girls rooms, and then in the fireplace room there’s a wall and then a room and that’s where all the boys stayed.”
As a chaperone, Mr. Jewell valued the opportunity “to get to know students outside of the classroom setting.” He could witness their reactions to challenges like tough hikes, no lights, and interrupted internet access. And there were the more obvious pleasures like viewing nature, meeting farmers, shopping in an open air market, playing at an old-fashioned amusement park, and laughing near the Equator.
And of course there was the food.
“The food was absolutely amazing,” says Lauren. “It was served family style; it was something different every meal, and it was prepared by the kitchen staff or the host family, the Nelsons.”
So, our lucky adventurers got to take a step outside of the stress infected Buckhead bubble, leaving us to complain about our lives alone as they were out exploring the world.
“The students are in a more relaxed environment than typical day-to-day home life. They are free from technological distractions, well rested, and surrounded by serene nature and a warm fire,” says Ms. Pugh, a chaperone for the trip.
But that’s not the only benefit.
“We caught and measured birds. We saw a very rare species of a night crawling mammal… Mr. Reynolds hung moth sheets with a light and we saw oodles of different kinds of moths. And it is not only In Siempre Verde. On the way to Quito after visiting the cloud forest, we went to a bird rescue park and students were able to hold a larger bird on their fingers,” Mr. Jewell says.
Students also walked away with lessons in their back pockets that stretch beyond the science or spanish classroom: “I learned it’s good to try something new or something different, travel, and do things with people you don’t know that well,” says Clayton.
Sometimes those things pose challenges. Virginia says that her first day was her least favorite, blaming this much on the strenuous hike of their first day.
“The last mile is tropical forest so that’s cool, but there's no views, there's nothing really to see,” she says “It feels like it takes forever and you think ‘oh my god what have I gotten myself into,’ so that was my first impression because I was like, I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Ironically, the huge, exhausting hike they did of the Ariba Trail, turned out to be one of her favorite parts.
“People are gonna think I’m weird, but I thought that was really fun. It’s a hike that’s the equivalent of climbing 250 flights of stairs,” she says.
Others were less sanguine about the experience. “It was 1.2 miles but it took us six hours,” Caroline says. “It was straight up, literally straight up, people slid down,” Lauren added.
But all things considered, Siempre Verde was a rewarding experience, and the sophomores recommend that interested freshman give it a go.
“I’ve had a lot of people say that they regret not going and that they wish they had gone, and what’s the harm in signing up and trying it,” Lauren Bernard says.
At the very least, it’s an opportunity to build some new relationships. “It was great because so many different friend groups go and it’s a really good opportunity to hang out with people who you don’t normally hang out with,” says Virginia French.
Of course, this Garden of Eden 2.0 is not immune to the problems of the outside world, and it has to stand against outside threats.
After senior Jamil Atkinson visited Siempre Verde for his first time, he wanted to go back and help the people who were directly affected by mining companies, and he wanted to be able to find a market for their products in the US.
He put together a system to enable Lovett not only to support the farmers' alternate means of economy but also allowing for them to make more money for their products then they normally would in Ecuador. “What we did was simply partner with the producers and farmers of these products, and offer them a larger market space by selling their products here in the Lovett community,” Jamil says. “Essentially, we've opened up a long-term market for the producers of various products in the Intag region.”
This year, they sold 50 baskets with Ecuadorian products handwoven and made out of cabuya fiber, which comes from a local plant known as Penca, and all of them were sold; half of them were sold to the faculty while the rest were sold at the 25th anniversary event.
In total, they raised $4,000. “We purchased everything in the baskets and then all the proceeds are going back also, so it's like they sold their products twice,” says Mr. Reynolds.
All of the money from the successful event will be split between the groups that made the products, so the people that put in effort and hardwork will quite literally be paid back. Mr. Reynolds says this is one of the things he loves about the selling of the baskets event: “It's not charity,” he says. “It's supporting the hard work these families are putting in for a cause.”
Senior Christina Karem, another student who worked on this project, is glad they were able to raise awareness about the mining problem. “It drew a lot of attention and everything was a huge success,” she says.
Based on our twenty-five year of experiences, it would seem the relationship between Lovett and Ecuador is symbiotic. It first reveals its natural beauty to us, and then we are given the opportunity to help protect the flourishing culture, atmosphere, and people.
“Personally, I think Siempre Verde is genuinely like a home away from home,” says senior Chris Ocana. “The trip is amazing and I can't imagine having never seen it. The people that sustain the land in Ecuador, the region, the markets, the culture and the food are all fond memories and a part of one of the best trips that I have ever taken in my life.”