Without a doubt, were it not for the Solar Living Institute, I would not be sitting here right now, in Guatemala City of all places, in the office of the Taiwan Agricultural Technical Mission for Guatemala. Tomorrow morning, I shall follow the Mission's bamboo expert to the Pacific coast of Guatemala to learn more about the Taiwan Mission's work of maximizing the potential of bamboo (which most people are surprised to learn grows endemically throughout Central and South America) as a sustainable, highly renewable (1) wood alternative, (2) income source for the rural poor, (3) low-cost building material, and (4) means of reforestation and carbon sequestration. This particular bamboo expert, Mr. Lin, has already shared his knowledge during a tenure in Costa Rica, which now runs a government-funded program to build 1000 low-income bamboo houses per year. I have been working as a volunteer at the Taiwan Mission in Belize for the past month, and I am writing a "master plan¨ for developing a bamboo industry with similar economic and environmental benefits for Belizeans.

A flashback for context: Exactly 1 year ago, July 2005, I arrived at the Solar Living Institute for my internship with a lot of luggage, trepidation and excitement. After 8 years in corporate America, the last 4 of which involved marketing for an international law firm specializing in (non-renewable) energy projects, I realized that it was imperative to reboot my career path and lifestyle. I had met the friendly folks of the SLI at the Green Festival in November 2004 and saw the internship as an opportunity to determine which aspect of "green business" would suit my skills and interests.

The internship was mind blowing and beyond my expectations. I was humbled by each and every person I encountered....everyone from the 20-year old farm interns to the solar power instructors. I had always thought of myself as pretty bright and knowledgeable, especially after getting an Ivy League degree and working with the movers and shakers in the Big Apple. About 5 minutes into my internship, I realized I was a babe in the woods when it came to sustainability, about the things that really, really matter.

I chose an internship with the SLI because of their coverage of a wide array of topics, namely, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and green building. I knew I would eventually focus my career on one of these areas but did not have enough substantive knowledge to decide. All it took was Board member David Arkin's "Intro to Green Building and Passive Solar Design¨ and I was hooked. But more importantly...

I had thought the SLI internship would just teach me about environmental issues and solutions. Little did I know that my entire paradigm of human existence would be immensely shifted. In my first 30 years, I thought of existence as making enough money to buy the things we need and want. Now, I tend to see human life in terms of our impact on the Earth.

At the SLI, I learned the definition of "renewable¨ and "economic
Localization.¨ I was introduced to the concept of peak oil...and my eyes were opened to the extent of petroleum dependency in modern society. I visualized the world's water cycle for the first time (never thought about where rain comes from or goes). I made my first trip to a garbage dump and was sickened by the realization that much of it will not decompose for a long time. I thought about energy, clean water and human waste disposal beyond just sending a bill to the utility company. The list goes on and on and on. The scary thing is that I believe my past ignorance is the norm among mainstream Americans.

For me, personally, learning about Permaculture was the clincher. The
principles of Permaculture led me to finally understand what
"sustainability¨ is all about. So, after my internship, I took the U.S. Green Building Council's exam and became a LEED-accredited professional (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Then, I went to a Permaculture Design Certificate course in Belize. I thought sleeping in a tent for 5 months at the SLI was tough...it was a breeze compared to the 2 weeks in the Belizean jungle. This course awakened the farmer gene that I must have from my grandparents, so when I heard about the bamboo industry project at the Taiwan Mission in Belize, the dots all connected bamboo agroforestry, green building, business development, sustainable income generation for a developing country. There is a good chance that I will focus on bamboo for my future corporate or entrepreneurial activities. Very exciting for me!

I will always feel indebted to the SLI for being my perfect starting point for understanding sustainability. The SLI is such a magnet and
clearinghouse of knowledge and inspiration for the novices and experts who share a deep stirring to live responsibly and meaningfully. I can vouch for the fact that this knowledge and inspiration then radiate fervently from Hopland, CA to other parts of the world through the interns who have life-changing experiences at the SLI.

Tomorrow morning, as I enter the bamboo farm and workshop, I will stop and imagine that just one year ago, instead of walking into a New York City skyscraper in a navy blue suit, I stepped tentatively into the
spaceship-like intern dome at the Solar Living Center...and have never
looked back.


The Solar Living Institute is a 501 (c)(3) educational nonprofit organization offering instruction in solar training and sustainable practices.  Founded in 1998, we have been providing professional solar training and a wide array of sustainability courses for over 15 years. Our courses are taught by experienced practitioners who bring years of real world knowledge to the classroom with a focus on helping students prepare for job opportunities, start businesses, and live more sustainably.

ACCREDITED BY IREC - Registered Provider of NABCEP

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