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Luke Pritchard credits his mentors at UBC for a well-rounded education and a global perspective on sustainability - photo by Darin Dueck
Luke Pritchard credits his mentors at UBC for a well-rounded education and a global perspective on sustainability - photo by Darin Dueck

UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 5 | May 3, 2007

US Grad Inspired by Global Mentors

By Brian Lin

An American student has learned the most important lesson of his Canadian university career from a Costa Rican farmer.

Mentors around the world have contributed to his education, says Luke Pritchard, who’s receiving a Bachelor of Science degree from the Faculty of Land and Food Systems’ Global Resource Systems program, where students study science in the context of a region of the world.

During an exchange semester at Escuela Agricultura en la Region Tropico Humido (EARTH) University in Costa Rica last year, Pritchard met a farmer who had spent his life savings on a five-acre piece of land 10 years earlier.

“He then found out that the land’s run-off of pesticides and fertilizers was polluting watersheds downstream,” says the 21-year-old Denver, Colorado, transplant.

“He contacted EARTH University, which helped him regenerate native old growth forest on the property and establish an eco-tourism business. But in the meantime, he lost his only source of income and had to raise his son by doing odd jobs and turning his home phone into a pay phone for the community for the past decade.”

The experience was “super inspiring,” says Pritchard, who spent two months building a bunkhouse and a kitchen and put up signage for hiking trails on the property.

“He had so little to begin with and yet was willing to give up what he had for altruistic reasons -- to help people downstream and ensure the integrity of the watershed and ecosystem.”

Add to that a six-week stint in Thailand and China doing biodiversity fieldwork with a University of California, Santa Barbara study, a trek in Tibet, and presenting a paper at the International Student Summit on Agriculture in Japan, and Pritchard can truly say he accomplished what he came to UBC to do.

“I wanted to study environmental issues on a global scale, and I learned that everything is interconnected,” says Pritchard. “What you do here can affect people halfway around the world.

“What I’ve noticed from the communities I’ve visited is that they’re actually more ecologically minded than we are -- it’s deeply embedded in their culture -- they just don’t have the resources to implement programs where they can both protect the environment and make a living,” says Pritchard. “If you can offer them sustainable solutions, everybody wins.”

This summer, Pritchard and seven other UBC Global Outreach Students’ Association volunteers are heading to Ecuador to help local communities in water treatment, health education and sustainable agriculture.

Personally, the globetrotting has made him give up bananas (“I’ve seen the terrible working conditions in Central American banana plantations”), buy apples locally (“I’m trying to live with a smaller ecological footprint”), and rethink the connection between money and happiness.

“You hear so much about people living under the poverty level, but when I met these people who are supposedly so poor, they were actually some of the happiest people I’ve ever met in terms of spirit and culture. You can’t take everything at face value.”

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My Best UBC Memories

“The one person I’ll always remember is the farmer I met in rural Costa Rica who had turned a piece of farm land into a native old-growth forest. He had lost all his income by doing this and it was really inspiring that someone who had so little would give up the only thing he had to protect the environment and people downstream.”

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Last reviewed 03-May-2007

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