Community Service Reflections

Rachel Weinstein – Spring semester 2017

As my semester in the Galapagos comes to a close, I have three months of memories and accomplishments to reflect on. One of the many accomplishments I will be able to look back on is the community service I did in Puerto Villamil, collecting trash from the beach and trails within Galapagos National Park. It may not be the most glamorous community service project, and many people would never understand why I would ever want to do it, but there’s no project I would trade it for.  I remember one morning in which I was too sick to do my community service and when I saw the other student return I was surprisingly upset that I couldn’t have gone. That was the moment when I realized how much this community service had impacted me. 

Every day when we go out to the beach we fill two full sized trash bags. Now take that mental image (if possible) and multiply that by 16 days. The trash really adds up quickly and I’m very proud of the difference we’ve made. Every piece of plastic, or bottle, or melted balloon picked up is another creature saved and makes this small town that much more beautiful. I feel like I’ve made a huge impact and I truly hope that students and locals are encouraged to continue to clean the beaches in the future because it is both rewarding and necessary. 

Cleaning up trash has also changed the way I see the Galapagos. When I first came to the Galapagos I felt like it was a pristine environment and it was just inherently better than the United States when it came to garbage disposal and pollution. Then I started cleaning the beaches and although my attention was drawn to the fact that pollution is a problem, the beaches are much cleaner than the United States. Not too much later, I had reached a point where my eyes would naturally focus on litter and I realized there is garbage absolutely everywhere. Even when hiking to the top of a volcano or looking at rocks in the middle of nowhere, there is always garbage. Especially around town, there is almost as much trash as there is lava rock lying in the streets. The longer I’ve been here the more I’ve come to realize that wherever there are people, there will be a footprint of litter, and the Galapagos is no exception. It is especially disheartening to be aware of the fact that a lot of the garbage in the streets is the result of stray cats and dogs, and that the issue is more complex than just human laziness. 

As I prepare to leave Isabela, I have to say goodbye to the soft sandy beaches and maze-like mangroves I’ve come to know like the back of my hand and get ready to embrace Miami. For this upcoming summer, I’ve decided I’m going to continue to go to the beaches twice a week to pick up trash. I may not be able to help this community any longer but I now have an obligation to help my own community and keep the beaches clean all over the world. I’m also hoping that I can inspire friends to come with me and become as passionate about picking up trash as I have. I am part of organizations that require community service hours and I really think getting these organizations involved can make a tremendous difference.

On a slightly different note, I’ve come to realize not every pollutant on the beach is really trash. Over the course of the semester I’ve found plenty of interesting items that I plan to keep. Some of these items include: a very useful keychain holder, small decorative knick knacks, and a whole lot of sea glass. I am a strong proponent that making use of the garbage I find is much better than letting it waste away in a landfill and I’m truly excited to keep collecting in Miami and find more hidden treasures.