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Students Take in Sustainability on Mexico Service Project


Fordham students got a firsthand look at issues of sustainability and immigration this month during a 10-day trip to Puebla, Mexico.

For GO! Mexico, a January Global Outreach service project organized by Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) senior Ciara Walshe, 10 undergraduate students lived and worked at Community Links, a sustainable agriculture teaching farm in the Sierra Norte de Puebla region.

A Physical Challenge

Howard Hughes, an FCRH junior, said the physical labor component of the experience was a challenge, given the site’s 7,000-foot elevation. Students stayed in a house constructed from a mixture of mud, sand, hay, and limestone; the group helped construct a kitchen addition by tilling soil and sifting it for use in the mixture.

They also helped tend a garden where corn, onions, coffee plants, soybeans, and herbs were grown.

“It was really interesting to see how they’re able to get everything they need from such a small area of land,” he said. “The idea [of the farm]  was to teach the community that these methods can be implemented across a wider scope.”

Hughes, an integrated neuroscience major, had previously participated in GO! trips to San Diego and India. The Mexico trip—in addition to giving him a chance to use his five years of Spanish lessons—brought him face to face with coffee production, which he said he’d developed an interest in as a high school student on a service trip to Rwanda.

“Ever since then I’ve been obsessed with how it works. I loved working with local farmers, picking the coffee ourselves, seeing the roasting process, and seeing how much work goes into something so simple, yet complex at the same time,” he said.

The trip was also inspiring for chaperone Puja Thomas, GABELLI, 17, who is pursuing a master’s degree in accounting at the Gabelli School and who has an interest in sustainability. Upon graduation, Thomas said she hopes to work in the nonprofit sector.

Touching the Community

Although Thomas has visited Mississippi, Haiti, Ecuador, and Colorado on GO! trips, she said the Puebla trip brought students and community members closer together than any other trip she’s been on. She singled out a man named Renato, who does maintenance for Community Links, and who, coincidentally, helped install the floors of the Rose Hill gym in 2005 when he was living in Yonkers.

“Even though there was a language barrier, he opened up to us and taught us so much. He even joined us in reflection the last two nights,” she said.

“We were able to learn more about the culture of his community because we had that close connection. He took us to meet his cousin, who owns a taquería. I don’t think we could have done that otherwise.”

The group also learned about the global migration crisis firsthand via a visit La Sagrada Familia, an organization that provides food and shelter for 48 hours to people fleeing violence from places like Honduras.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” said Thomas, who said her parents are immigrants too. “I’m a first-generation American, so I’m blessed that that’s not my reality.

“It’s pretty scary to hear about how dangerous their journey is. They didn’t choose to be born into the situations they’re in.”


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