Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Steward’s Adventure in Guatemala

I recently just got back from an amazing trip to Guatemala.  While there, I stayed with a host family in Quetzaltenago (called Xela by the locals), which is a beautiful city with some of the most amazing people that I have ever met.  I was there for four weeks and had many adventures, like hiking to the top of the tallest point in Central America, seeing my first live tarantula, jumping off a forty foot bridge into a river, getting sick from eating some delicious street tacos, and learning more about myself and others than I ever thought possible.

I was able to volunteer at a local clinic there named Primeros Paso.  This clinic was basically the main source of medical and dental care for over 15,000 people in the valley that I was staying in, and it was basically this small “building” with a couple rooms and electricity that would go in and out.   Some of the volunteering projects that I took part in were helping out with a class that taught the indigenous women about nutrition and how they should be taking care of their children, and going out to some of the schools and teaching the kids there about nutrition as well as just some basic life skills while also bringing some well needed medicine to the children and families. I was able to learn so much from these people, more than they could have ever learned from me.  Sure I learned that I should appreciate what I have, but what person goes to a third world country for a month and comes back still not appreciating the fact that they have things like heated showers, or running water for that matter.  Something that I feel was more important that I learned on this trip was that you shouldn’t go into service looking at all the bad that has happened and thinking that your going to be able to fix everything for these people, because in reality that doesn’t happen.  What really happens is that you see yourself in those people, you see the humanity and the similarities with yourself in another person, and you figure out that you can’t fix all their problems.   Thinking about this while on my trip really made me reflect on the Fitz Center, and my involvement with the River Stewards Program, mostly due to our asset based thinking approach to service.  Looking at all the good that the communities had was a lot easier than focusing on all of the bad.  I felt like I got a lot more out of my “service” trip down there then any of the Guatemalan people got out of it. 

I learned a lot about the water resources in Xela.  There actually is a big problem with pollution there, especially because of the fact that a big mining company just bought a lot of land near the clinic I worked in, and basically stripped everything off of it.  Also, this one village that I worked in was located on top of a mountain, and everyday the women had to walk up and down that mountain just to get water.  I actually had to walk up it in order to get to the community one day (since the buses would not go up there because of the incline and the roads were too dangerous).  So, I can tell you first hand that the hike up and down that mountain is no stroll in the park.  Those women must have legs the size of body builders, because in order to walk up and down that mountain and also be carrying a couple gallons of water on their head would take a lot of strength.  I was able to see first hand how not having direct access to drinking water affected these people’s lives, and just how much I can take that for granted.

My trip to Guatemala was one of the most life changing experience that I have ever had, and I think that it has changed some of my perspectives on life and the way that I view the world.  I would not trade the experience that I had or the relationships that I built for anything.

Nick Racchi
2017 Cohort



Thursday, June 11, 2015

"A year of life after River Stewards"

It's been one year since graduating from the University of Dayton with a BS in Biology and SEE, minor. When friends and family ask me what I've been doing or what I've done since graduation I usually give them the short version, "I've been taking a few seasonal jobs and applying to graduate school." While that is true, it nowhere near encompasses the experiences I've had, the people I've met, and the landscapes that I've seen. Right after graduation I took an internship with the Ohio EPA in their surface water division in Columbus. I specifically worked under the Wetland Ecology Group where I got to assist two biologists and two other interns in taking National Wetland Condition Assessments (NWCA) and Ohio Rapid Assessment Methods (ORAM) of Wetlands. Basically, these assessments grade different aspects of a wetland such as hydrology, vegetation, soils, buffer area, and more to determine wetland class and health. I learned so much about each assessment method, soil profiling, and even got some lessons on bryophyte identification. 
After working the summer on wetlands, I headed out to the prairies of Montana for the months of October and November. I was volunteering for an organization called Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) on a project called Landmark. ASC partnered with the American Prairie Reserve to collect wildlife data. If you have not heard about the American Prairie Reserve, it is definitely worth looking up. In short, the American Prairie Reserve is an organization aimed at creating and managing a grassland reserve that could reach as far as three million acres. The reserve reintroduced bison in 2005 and will soon be nearing 500 total bison. Anyway, the six Landmark crew members lived on the reserve and our job as volunteers was to hike 8-12 mile transects and record field observations on wildlife. We would carry a tablet, GPS and other equipment in the field and every time we saw an animal we would mark the location, number of animals, approximate age, health, behavior, and the direction it was moving. We were also responsible for maintaining motion-activated camera traps, which was always fun to review the footage to see what the camera caught. On these transects we were likely to see bison, pronghorn, mule deer, white-tailed deer, coyotes, bald eagles, golden eagles, rabbits, prairie dogs, sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse and different species of hawk. On a more rare occasion, we'd catch a glimpse of a badger. Being on the prairie in a remote location was a completely new experience for me and it gave me a lot of time to take in the landscape and to reflect. I got to experience -20 degrees in November, see the Aurora borealis, see a black footed ferret (an endangered species), and meet some great people from all over the country and Germany.  If you ever get the opportunity to visit Montana, don't forget about the prairie. They call the state Big Sky for a reason and the sun rises and sunsets are unrivaled.
The prairie was absolutely beautiful, but I was off again onto a different landscape. In February and March, two other technicians and I helped a University of Tennessee graduate student with his Elk Forage research project. We were tasked with taking vegetation data in North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area which is about an hour north of Knoxville. We would set up 40 meter transects and identify the vegetation (mainly trees) that crossed the transect and looked for evidence of deer and elk forage (basically if a branch had been chomped on). Since it was winter in the mountains of Tennessee we experienced quite a bit of snow and got to test our winter driving on unplowed mountain roads. We got to see a ton of white-tailed deer and turkey, practice our animal track identification, and we even glimpsed a few elk. Personally, I had never had any winter tree identification, so I was able to learn a great deal from the other techs and graduate student. 
As for my most recent excursion, I will be heading up to northern Minnesota to work as a wildlife technician for the National Park Service. While I don't know what is entirely in store for me, I know I will be taking data on wildlife (such as grey wolves) using camera traps and hair snares. I'm really excited to be working for the National Park Service this summer and can't wait to meet the other wildlife techs that I'll be working with. And as for the future, I am currently applying to graduate schools for wildlife ecology or management. 
While I can't say that this is a typical career path for a recent graduate, I can say that this was definitely the right one for me. It has been stressful constantly applying for jobs and not knowing where I'll end up next, but I have seen some amazing things in the past year and have leaned more than I ever could have hoped for!
River Love
Allie Rakowski (2014 River Steward Cohort)

Thursday, May 14, 2015


May 9-11,2015

Léa Dolimier

2016 Cohort

  In the belief that we can bring groups of people together around something as essentially simple and common as water, the wonders of the Ocean  in Whitsunday definitely proved  so. Whitsundays is the lower extent of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. This past weekend 23 other water adventures and I, along with our three incredible crew members, boarded a catamaran and took off for the outer reef for two nights. Having known no one before embarking, we all quickly began to chat like old friends as the excitement of the coming weekend mounted.

Over the next few days I was able to do three snorkels and my FIRST dive ever. There is certainly something magical about the first moment when you look under the water. A whole colorful, chaotic world, unlike any that can be found on land, opens up in front of you. An everlasting scene of colorful corals and fish of all sizes going about their daily routine as you, a guest in their world, can do nothing but gape at the wonders below.
The whole trip was beautiful. After hours spent in the water and exploring the world renowned Whitehaven beach, nights were then spent with cups of tea and sunsets, followed by long twilight conversations below a star filled sky. This is where we built our community and grew as a group. All world travelers, we shared adventure stories and swapped facts about the various countries we came from. The fun lasted long into the night. After a short nap we woke early to watch the sunrise over the horizon and did it all over again.

I learned so much about the world from people from many different places and with so many different perspectives. And the more I heard the more I wanted needed to see.

Then, as most things do in Australia, the excursion ended with a party on land later that night. After a few drinks and lots of dancing we said our farewells and good lucks and went our separate ways. My time with these two dozen people may have been brief, but their stories have touched and inspired me nonetheless.

I will say that at first I was nervous about traveling this trip on my own, but having done it
I would highly recommend it. It forces you to meet and really get to know new people and you will see that many people are wandering too on their own.

Lastly to anyone who has not had the chance to explore the depths of that magical thing we call water - which makes up our world and allows us to live- DO IT! The ocean is one amazing place that will really open your eyes to the unbelievably unimaginable things that our planet is capable of creating.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Water Is a Basic Human Right: In Ireland and Beyond

In the United States, if you’ve ever rented an apartment or owned a home, you’ve gone through the process of setting up a billing service with the water company. You pay for exactly how much water you use in a month. Use less? Save some money and help the planet. 

In Ireland, things are a bit different. 

Here, every citizen pays a “water tax” which helps cover the cost of the water used in the country and takes care of the infrastructure needed to supply that water. Last year however, a private national water company was set up and is installing meters in homes and apartments.

This has sparked nationwide protests and uproar that is only seen in the United States during election time. I was fortunate enough to walk around 2,000 people protesting in Dublin the first week I was here. 

During March, 20,000 – 30,000 people marched through Dublin to “Abolish Water Charges” and have decided they simply won’t pay their bills for water. They’re also calling for the right to water to be added to the Irish Constitution. To the Irish, water is a basic human right, and they won’t step down until that’s guaranteed.

- Sebastian, 2016 Cohort

Thursday, February 19, 2015

It's ALIVE!!!

"It's ALIVE!!!" was exactly what I was thinking when I went to Adventure Central last week. That week I saw for myself these incredibly adorable roots emerging from Red Oak acorns.  These acorns, collected and cared for by the joint effort of River Stewards and Adventure Central, help tell the story of the 2015 Cohort capstone project.

Red Oak Acorns: Just look at those roots grow!

It may be terribly cliche to compare the growth of these acorns to the growth of the relationship between the 2015 Cohort and the Purple Group at Adventure Central... but I can't help but smile when I see this growing process reflected in the existence of these tiny acorns.

Since these Red Oak acorns were beginning to grow roots they were transplanted into growing tubes, labeled, and watered by some of the members of the Purple Group.  Check out their great work!

I promise that this isn't just dirt labeled "red" (there is Red Oak acorns inside those tubes)!

William, like his peers, is becoming an acorn growing pro!
With the warm temperatures in the basement of Adventure Central, and the care from the Purple Group, these Red Oaks were sure to do well.  I was not expecting, however, to go to Adventure Central this week and actually see beautiful green leaves!

Happy and well cared for little Red Oaks!
The reason why I think seeing the Red Oaks sprout is so awesome (and why you should think it is awesome too) is that there has been so much done to make this all happen.  It all started in the Fall when we (River Stewards and Adventure Central) worked together to start learning about collecting and growing nuts and seeds.  This learning process continued as nut collections were done, and bags upon bags of acorns were collected.  Then, as mother nature took over, the 2015 Cohort and the Purple Group continued to foster the project relationship with weekly visits to Adventure Central, and a University of Dayton campus tour hosted by the River Stewards for the Purple Group.

The best part is that there is still more fun (and growing) to be had! Next weekend (on Feb. 28th), the 2015 Cohort will be facilitating a scavenger hunt / River Steward crash course for the Purple Group.  Keep an eye out for Adventure Central vans as they travel around downtown Dayton on February 28th, and find our table at the River Summit on March 20th where we will have our project on display.

So, while the cold Ohio weather makes you shiver this week, I hope that your heart will be warmed when you think of the happy Red Oaks in the basement of Adventure Central!

Peace, Love, and "Grow-light Warmth",

Rachel Bachmann
2015 Cohort
Electrical Engineering Major

Monday, January 5, 2015

African Adventures As Seen Through the Eyes of a River Steward

This is an excerpt from my journal while I was in Zambia this past summer. This particular day, we visited a community well-digging project in another village:

Wednesday, July 2

“In the morning, we got up and prepared to go to Chicumshile to help with the borehole site. We all tightly crammed into a van and drove an hour on a long bumpy road. At the borehole site, Carmin taught us the basic process of digging while the  workers demonstrated. It consisted of a simple pulley system, with 4-6 men using 2-3 rows of tree branches tied to the string and pulling simultaneously to produce force. Above the hole they were digging, about 4-5 men pushed long pipes into the hole with each downward force of the pulley. At the end of the 15-meter pipe was a sharp end to break through the rock and clay. After some time, they would “flush” the system, by pouring water down into the hole and using the force of the pipes to flush out the excess clay or dirt. The clay water would shoot out the top of the pipe and into a small pool that they had previously dug. The goal of the wells being built manually was to reach 15-20 meters underground. This was the distance to the groundwater aquifer, which would supply the local village with clean water for many years.

Throughout the morning/afternoon, our group helped their team in shifts. After my total of 3 times helping with the digging process, I already developed pretty big blisters. But the diggers made me smile when they would yell, “MORE POWER! MORE POWER!”, “2 Hours!”, and “Dig A Well!” It was cool to be a part of this digging process because we helped the team dig from 7m to 11.5m in only a couple hours!”

Bryan Westerlund - 2016 Cohort