Every April, Planta!’s Capacity Building Program offers an extracurricular camp to university students from all over Cuba. The camp aims to develop skills of leadership, project management, working with the community, science communication, and science ethic among other topics related to the conservation of biodiversity. Today, protagonists of the 8thedition of the camp share their impressions.
Four days are not enough to teach the core of biodiversity conservation. Unless reality is meticulously replicated, and the day has almost more than 24 hours and learning doesn’t stop —says Alejandro, coordinator of the profs team.
After a rigorous selection, the 8thedition of Planta!’s Student Camp gathers 29 university students from all Cuba, and not just Biology students. There are students from Forestry, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Agricultural sciences, Tourism and Social Communication. This network with different points of view is vital to achieve a realistic approach in conservation. Students, who benefit from this experience and from gaining new acquaintances, are very excited with the group.
Just a few minutes to leave their backpacks and bags in the bedrooms and the activities start. The first activity is a crucial one: teaming up. Students are randomly grouped in five teams. Each team will gain points for every activity developed in the classroom or in the field until one of them is proclaimed the winner.
Through dynamic games and lectures, participants go from the “Get to know yourself” to the most powerful concept of the program: conservation is meant to be done in teams, and the more diverse the team, the stronger will be. This solves the conflict of encouraging a competitive attitude, since it is also fomenting a multidisciplinary and anti individualist approach.
Competition is not really what motivates Diana, she prefers the solidarity this strategy inspires. With a special gift to communicate and a passion for dance, she is invariable in her smiles and feedbacks. A former student of Planta!’s camp herself, she is now a member of the team organizing this program. From this new experience, she shares her impressions.
“Organizing the camp is intense and starts a few months ahead. During the four days of the camp, coordinators meet every night to go over the next day activities. We assess the students interest and motivation, we share our perception of the overall progress and assign tasks to every member of the team. Luckily, we are a large team and we also have assistance from some of the best “plantophiles” from previous editions of the camp. However, there is always a risk that something might not go as planned, but we always find a solution as a team and everything works out, we function as a family, really”.
Diana organized several activities for this edition, but one of them was new to her. “Students are asked to deal with simulated situations in which they have to make ethical decisions. For example, they supposedly receive a message from a naturalist offering to pay for a research field trip in exchange for an endangered plant he wishes to have. The discussion between teams, followed by our feedback, is certainly more enriching and effective than just having a lecture about conservation ethics”.
She believes that this year the group is not as “polemic” as those from previous years, in which it was frequent to see many individualities. “Maybe because this is my first experience organizing the camp. However, I definitely met at least three of them: Yusniel, Ayeli and Jesús. They carry fire inside”.
He is one of the tallest of the camp, like a pine or an eucalypt, both important trees in the forestry industry. He is currently studying fourth year of Forestry Engineering and he collects orchids. It is because of them, basically, that Yusniel is here.
“In my career I am taught that a company’s goal is to have proceeds, to retribute its workers, to expand, but often expansion also brings damage. The camp has made realize that the forestry industry could have a big impact on plant loss. I think that it is possible to change the concept and achieve a more sustainable production to protect our native flora”.
Yusniel lives at Las Terrazas, a unique settlement at the heart of Sierra del Rosario, on the borders of Artemisa and Pinar del Río. A landscape dominated by forest, growing on lands that were previously affected by wood extraction, inspired him to study his career.
“The camp totally changes our perspective. Sometimes we say: “I am going to preserve” but we don’t know what to preserve, or how, or which is the best way to do it, or who should be involve in this. At the camp we find answers for all those questions. I have learned to find solutions to real life situations”.
«When I am back, I will tell my classmates about the camp and encourage them to come. I will tell them that the camp takes you to the limits of your capacity, it takes you out of your comfort zone and leaves you enriched with real life lessons”.
His thesis will focused on the conservation of an oak species that grows in the Guanahacabibes peninsula. This is an unusual research theme in his faculty, where most of the students choose topics like resource management, wood extraction or seed production for future wood exploitation. In Yusniel, a different seed germinates.