In the midst of the 2019 Stewardship Season, SUWA rolled out its Field Service Scholarship Program to expose students of color to healing in the wilderness, pathways to conservation careers or academic tracks, and direct service. Nothing speaks better to the value of these opportunities than the words of the scholars themselves. We hope these words inspire you:
Siempre se puede! Trying to find ways to pay for college education, I was connected to Brenda Santoyo at the Salt Lake Community College Dream Center who introduced me to SUWA. “Here is an opportunity for you,” she said. The application process [for the scholarship] was easy, Olivia Juarez the Latinx Community Organizer was friendly and encouraging, plus I was able to apply using my first language which allowed me to express myself in a more comfortable way. In preparation for the trip, I spoke with some friends to borrow some basic equipment such as a tent and a sleeping bag. In addition, the opportunity to participate in the field service project inspired my next career-based choice. As a writing scholar, I am going to focus my master’s degree in advocacy on behalf of underrepresented populations by raising awareness of the necessity to protect wildlife and wild lands.
When on site for a morning reflection in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, before heading to the worksite, our conversation started a chain of eye-opening moments that I didn’t know were about to hit me like fresh water in the desert. The main reason that made feel happy to be there was the deep feeling that to preserve life, we need to preserve nature. The excitement of working with a team of people willing to do their contribution while enjoying the beauty of the place contributed to this jubilant sense too. Finally, listening to the conversations of more experienced hikers and backpackers, I realized that the mountains of my hometown have so much history and beauty in them from pre-Hispanic constructions. The caves, trails, rivers, falls precede the Spanish impact by far. Although I grew up visiting those majestic places, I didn’t have the knowledge or awareness to appreciate life and nature at the level I was exposed to during the field service project. Ultimately, on the way back home, this last bucket of fresh water hit me again: the American dream for immigrants should be the preservation of life through nature and harmony instead of aiming to live a materialistic life. Today, I am grateful for the eye-opening experience that I was able to live over the weekend.
A poem even emerged from another scholar:
It is the encounter of the human being with its origins
It is to recognize the grandeur of the wild and wild beauty of our lands
It’s like a boy on his knees in Wonderland
It is a whisper of breezes
It is sound that this world is real and unique
It’s to be absorbed by the purity of these lands that still retain their virgin purity
We are privileged to have the trust of several community members willing to travel as far as 350 miles onto the Colorado Plateau to serve our wild places. We are blessed, honored, and humbled by the opportunity to share what we know about BLM wild lands conservation with these volunteers. We, in turn, learn from them how to improve our service ethic. The increase in voices and advocates for the redrock should and will inform our ongoing efforts both to facilitate group experience and then translate that experience into lifelong advocacy. Lupita’s and Rita’s words are the frontline of a defense that begins with equitable experience.