Planta! Camp 2019: the footprint multiplies (part 2)

Our anecdotes about Planta!’s Student Camp continue. Along with 29 students of several Cuban universities, Juan Carlos experienced four days of intense learning: leadership, project management, working with the community, science communication, science ethics, among other topics related with biodiversity conservation.

Every April, Planta!’s Capacity Building Program offers an extracurricular camp to university students from all over Cuba.

Ayeli, the “tourist”

“As I was approaching the bus I wondered: What would I do for five days in a place where I do not know anyone? I better stay home. Upon our arrival to the Garden, we found out that we were sharing bedrooms with other students, like in college. So here I was, a little esceptic about the upcoming days and yet so eager to experience what the Camp had to offer”.


She studies at the Faculty of Tourism, which is why some of her Camp fellows friendly call her the “tourist”. Her vibrant personality definitely does not go unnoticed at this Camp.

Ayeli (to the left) is monitoring plant individuals made of “candy” in her first experience as an ecologist

“At first, during our discussions, I felt like people didn’t really understood why I was there. One of my motivations to participate in the Camp was to show that tourism could be sustainable and have a positive impact for local development; that it could raise funds towards the preservation of ecosystems affected by different causes.


Ayeli attended several Planta!’s events before. “I was aware of the background of the organizers and the participants, I thought I was not going to be selected for the Camp. My biology knowledge is very basic and I was worried that it was going to be a limitation for me”.


Nevertheless, she was a perfect fit for her team. Her innovative vision of conservation and sustainable development influenced most of their points of view, and actually her team was proclaimed the winner of the Camp. Ayeli thinks that the key is that “everybody comes openminded to learn and respect different criteria”.

«I strongly believe I can support conservation. I can raise awareness among stakeholders of the tourism industry and make a change. That is also conservation».

Ayeli González Reyes

Tourism student

University of Havana

“I think about all I could do in my field to save the aguacate cimarrón (Dendrocereus nudiflorus) in Varadero and my faith is renewed.

Is Dracula here?

“Transilvania is a protected area”, this is the clue for the next task the students have to develop. Curiously, no one in the Camp, not even Dracula himself, dares to doubt this statement. The scarce spare time the students have in three days of intense work, would have to be used to develop a conservation project following Planta!’s style, but with their own words.

Ayeli and Jesús (to the right) make a team, they would have to integrate points of view to come up with a conservation project in four days.

They need to include every person involved in the area: the government, the farmers, the touristic industry, forestry workers, the social media. This mix of roles and scientific research integrates their knowledge and implies the active participation of every member of the team. The information offered to design the project is fragmented, so only through debate students can put all the pieces together to solve the conservation challenge they face. None of the participants suspect that they are actually designing a project with information from a real site of Cuba. The game is full of secrets, fantasy and morals, like every good fable.

Mister Planta! 2019

Jesús and Ayeli are in the same team. When their conservation project was discussed it was surprising that hers was the dominant point of view; even though Jesús is a true Biology nerd interested in invasive plants.

Jesús dreams of winning a Nobel prize and he is passionate with plants.

“They are very competitive, and quickly adapt to new environments. I find them fascinating, since they develop their own ways to survive. I was studying invasive plants in my first year as part of a reference review presented at a scientific event. After that, I got involved with Planta! and went on an expedition with the team”.


He openly confesses that it is hard for him to integrate and team up. “But I like the way we have worked during the Camp, because that is how you work in science. At the Camp, people develop skills they did not have before”.


Another task the students have to accomplish is to design a flag for the team. Every member of the team will be deprived from their dominant skill to encourage them to develop other skills and to make space for their peers. In the case of Jesús, his voice was his lost ability, so Ayeli’s voice became the dominant one and the correlation of forces changed.

The biggest challenge for Jesús (to the center) was working in teams.

Jesús quotes Napoleon when he says that after being a General he could never be a soldier. “I know it is not quite like that. I have worked in a molecular biology lab and you work on your own most of the time, but when it comes to conservation, clearly the best way – or sometimes the only way – to achieve your goals is by joining forces”.


He wants to win a Nobel prize one day but it is not available for the science he studies. However, this time he did go home with a prize. He was voted Míster Planta! 2019 as part of the never ending celebration the Camp is. On the last night, many of the students could not sleep at all. Not because they were tired, they were just nostalgic.

Planta!’s Camp has graduated over 230 “plantophiles” in its eight editions.