Boston-based intern Beaujena Stoyanchev interviews Eliseo Bo Cruz, EcoLogic's intern from Livingston, Izabal, Guatemala, who works on our project with APROSARSTUN. Read more to learn how the two harness their academic and professional passions to advance EcoLogic's mission, as they advance their own career and academic paths.
By Beaujena Stoyanchev
Without always being fully conscious of their lasting impact on our memory, intricate aspects of our environment and moments in our lives knit together to shape us into who we are. It could be a combination of memories, the way we grew up, or a specific teacher that shaped us and our present-day passions. Whatever it is, we all have a specific set of interests and talents which, if we’re fortunate enough to pursue academically or professionally, shapes our paths.
The time I spent in Guatemala in high school are moments seared into my memory that continuously replay in my mind as I dive deeper into mapping out my future. From the bright colors and scenery as we drove from Guatemala City to Santa Cruz del Quiché, to being tucked away in the vast forests of the Western Highlands, to the tamales the community had made for us for our final meal to share. These moments touched on all of which I know I love: harnessing the power of community, celebrating culture, and protecting and honoring the nature that surrounds us.
My name is Beaujena Stoyanchev, I’m from Winchester, MA, and am about to enter my junior year at Boston University. I’m studying International Relations with a concentration in Environment/Development and a regional concentration in Latin America, with two additional minors in Spanish and Environmental Policy/Analysis. So, you can imagine that when I found EcoLogic and read about its mission, I immediately knew it would be a perfect fit for all of my interests and all that I valued.
Over the course of the summer, I’ve been working closely with our Executive Director, Barbara Vallarino, and our Social Media and Outreach Coordinator Alessandra Granelli as a Content Intern. My responsibilities and tasks have included supporting EcoLogic’s short-term (like editing and adding subtitles to our YouTube videos or writing blog posts like this one) and long-term communications goals and projects (long-term social media strategy). Another large part of my internship, and definitely my favorite part, has been interviewing some folks who are working on the ground at our project sites, like our field technicians and program officers.
At the end of June, Barbara and I were able to virtually interview one of EcoLogic’s interns at our project site in Sarstún. The intern—Eliseo Alberto Cruz— is 18 years old and comes from Livingston, Izabal, Guatemala where he is currently in his last year at the Instituto Técnico en Recursos Naturales (ITERN) in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. There, his concentration is on natural resources and agroforestry systems.
To graduate, Eliseo must spend his final year alternating between his studies and an internship that allows him to gather tangible work experience in the field. Each month is split in half, with 15 days in the classroom and the other 15 in the field – putting to use all of what he’s learned about gathering data, drawing conclusions, and developing methodologies to best sustain the strategies of an organization like EcoLogic.
Advancing EcoLogic’s Initiatives While Forging our Own Paths
Sarstun’s key challenges are tied to the vast loss of forest coverage that has occurred over the last 20 years. A combination of illegal logging, unsustainable fuel-wood extraction, as well as other agricultural practices has exacerbated Sarstun’s rapid loss of forest coverage. As a part of his internship, Eliseo takes part in a wide range of activities to support EcoLogic’s local partner APROSARSTUN, including work implementing various agroforestry systems, installing fuel-efficient stoves in communities, and participating in the general oversight of protected areas in the region.
EcoLogic's field technician for the project, Eliazar Bo Che, will task Eliseo with keeping track and gathering data in the communities they work in, where Eliseo is putting into practice all he’s learned from his studies while also supporting EcoLogic’s efforts on the ground. The internship allows him to gather experience while significantly contributing to EcoLogic’s cause.
The structure of my own internship allows me to do the same. My goals for my time with EcoLogic were to support the organization’s efforts with my own established set of skills, which centered on writing and communications. However, as I dive deeper into my Environmental minor, I wanted to learn more about the world of conservation, and community-based climate solutions and policies. I was able to read and learn about EcoLogic’s work and research-backed strategies as I, for example, wrote blog posts like this one.
In a similar fashion, Eliseo has been able to combine his academic objectives with a project that also gathers important information for EcoLogic as well. As he wraps up his final year at the Institute, Eliseo has begun conducting research for his final thesis. His focus is on fuel-efficient stoves, where he is conducting a comparative analysis of the efficiency of the varying types of stoves used in the communities that live within the Sarstun Multiple Use Area. The analysis is between the traditional “estufas de leña,” or wood-burning stoves, which are the traditional stoves for the community. In terms of fuel-efficient stoves, he compares wood-burning stoves to the CHISPA fuel-efficient stoves used in the community. The data he gathers in this research will become a crucial point of reference for the project site.
Much like how I work closely with Barbara and Alessandra, Eliseo works closely with Eliazar Bo, and other field technicians in Sarstún, supporting the variety of projects taking place in over 18 communities across the region. Elizar participated in the interview as well and supplemented Eliseo’s response with further details about their work together.
As a supervisor and mentor of Eliseo, Eliazar’s key objective for Eliseo is to gather hands-on experience in working with local communities. Eliseo works in over 18 communities in the region and hosts many collaborations and conversations with their members. Community is a vital pillar of EcoLogic’s work, and to become a peer and community leader is “something that is learned,” says Eliazar.
“He is learning to co-exist with the communities he works with,” Eliazar explains. It’s important “that he is more than just an intern, but a leader in the projects we’re executing in these communities.” More than just putting into practice the practical skills he has gathered in school, Eliseo is gathering skills that cannot be learned in a classroom. Skills in listening, conversation, and collaboration–something vital for sustainable change to be made in community development. This is vital, given EcoLogic's mission and desire to create trust within the communities with which they work.
Eliseo is learning to build genuine, trusting relationships with the communities he works with and harnessing a set of crucial leadership skills along the way. Eliazar made a key comment about the value of these internships. He noted, “this gives Eliseo experience and it opens more doors for him in the field to be able to get involved in the future as a field technician.”
This part of the conversation really resonated with my experience. Though I’m working from a remote position, and have never been face-to-face with EcoLogic’s communities, my task as a Content/Communications intern is to uplift the voices of those who we work with as best as possible, and ensure that they are heard in any discussion of our work. This sort of work is core to my passion for inclusion, culture, and community. All of these things work together to uplift all voices within a solution, and when we talk about ‘sustainability,’ and what that really means, we all have a crucial part to play in harnessing change–each with our own skills, passions, and interests.
It’s true, for both Eliseo and me, that these experiences are allowing us to get a better idea of what we want our future careers and pathways to look like. For Eliseo, his past internships were more administrative, and not as stimulating for him as the fieldwork he’s able to do now with EcoLogic. He’s learned that he really prefers hands-on work in the field. On the other hand, my time with EcoLogic has allowed me to learn so much about my future academic and professional interests from a more physically removed position. My role gives me the chance to write, learn, and research a variety of community-based solutions, throughout a variety of regions, and get to speak with those like Eliseo and Eliazar who are on the ground.
As our supervisors and mentors, Barabara and Eliazar have trusted Eliseo and me with a set of hands-on tasks, that involve our own leadership and creativity. We have agency in our contributions, a trust that inherently vests us with a sense of responsibility and boosts our confidence. As Eliazar notes, both Eliseo and I are a lot more than just interns. We are part of the team, learning how to be leaders and trusted with important tasks. We contribute with the skills we have, and along the way, learn many, many more.
What we LoveTo conclude the interview, I asked Eliseo what it was that drew him to study natural resources/agroforestry systems. What drew him to the world of environmental science? He answered simply, noting that he had "always lived in a well-forested area," being surrounded by the natural environment that he then sought to work in and protect.
Beaujena Stoyanchev is a rising junior at Boston University with a passion for social and environmental justice that places Indigenous and rural communities at the forefront of proposed solutions. She is studying International Relations with a focus on Environment/Development and a regional concentration in Latin America, with additional minors in Spanish and Environmental Policy. As a Content Intern with EcoLogic, she helps establish and grow EcoLogic’s online and social media presence, while also getting a chance to learn more about the technical aspects of the organization’s work.