Finding Sustainable Solutions

Ben is studying Sustainable Development (SD). What does SD mean, and how it is being implemented worldwide? See below for a more complete explanation of Ben's research topic.

Background on Ben

Ben is an Environmental Engineering major at Northwestern, with an interest in sustainability and renewable energy. He has traveled to Japan, Mexico, and Senegal with family and recently returned from Israel on a Birthright student trip. Ben has always loved the outdoors and is an avid skier. Ben hopes to someday use his environmental engineering degree to work with NGO’s in developing nations to improve the quality of drinking water and the standard of living through environmentally friendly applications. This summer, he was in Evanston conducting research on renewable energy as part of the Kimberly Gray Group. While at Northwestern, Ben has served as the Publicity Chair for the McCormick student advisory board hoping to improve the communication between student groups and facilitate student-administration relations. Much of his winter quarter is spent on the slopes as part of the Northwestern Club Ski Team. Competing in the Midwest region, Ben participated in both Slalom and Giant Slalom racing throughout the season. He been serving as the Social Chair of the team working to promote team unity. Ben is also a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity. Serving as Derby Day’s Chair, he led a philanthropic event that raised $15,000 for Children’s Miracle Network. It was a rewarding experience that required him to both coordinate and promote both his fraternity and a large portion of the student body. Ben hopes that with his experience as a Foundation Scholar, he will be able to promote sustainable development worldwide and use it as a tool that can improve the lives of individuals.

Ben's Research Topic

As an environmental engineer, Ben aims to find solutions to creating a sustainable society while improving the lives of people within local communities. What does Sustainable Development (SD) mean and how is it being implemented worldwide? Ben plans a worldwide analysis of the many trial programs promoting SD in both developed and developing countries and how these programs work in various ways to meet the needs of a given community. Ben will look at the technology being developed to make communities sustainable, and the effects sustainablitity has on the local populations. Understanding SD and the implications it has for communities will provide insight into the most effective technologies and strategies for improving environmental and living conditions worldwide.

Itinerary of Circumnavigation (draft)

  • Ecuador
  • Ghana
  • England
  • Denmark
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Malaysia
GRANT: Ben is travelling as the 2011 Circumnavigator’s Club Foundation Around-the-World Travel-Study Grant recipient.  Each year one rising senior is chosen jointly by Northwestern University and the Circumnavigator’s Club Foundation to travel the world exploring a topic of her/his choosing.  The $9,000 award requires that the student travel to at least six countries on at least three continents.  For more information about the grant, please go to: http://undergradresearch.northwestern.edu/circumnavigators-travel-study-grant-0. The Undergrad Research Blogs are sponsored by the Office of the Provost. Ben has received additional support from the Institute of Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern and the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department

Moving On

As I continue on this journey, I have decided to create my own website to keep people updated on my progress and maintain all my work. The web site can be found at searchingforsustainability.com . I will be updating it periodically on my thesis progress as well as some other projects I have begun working on since returning to school. Once again thank you everyone for reading along and hope you continue to follow this adventure.

A Reflection and Thanks

So my circumnavigation has come to an end. I am now back in Evanston, moving back into my house, seeing my friends and preparing for the start of my Senior year. I can’t believe how fast this summer has past and how much of the world I have had the opportunity to explore. No longer does sustainable develop (SD) seem like an abstract idea in my mind, having seen hundreds of individuals doing all kinds of projects to spread a healthy, more environmentally conscious form of living. I myself have seen so many ways I could improve my own quality of life while living more sustainably. When my thesis is finished, I hope to be able to share with all those willing to read it a view of the diverse range of SD projects being carried out throughout the world as well as how SD organizations can better engage a community and instill behavioral changes that will ultimately lessen our impact on the earth.

I will also be working on a short video compilation of some of my interviews. During every interview, I asked what that person’s definition of sustainable development was and during the forty some interviews did not receive a single repetitive answer. We all understand we need to change our lifestyles but how we see that change taking place is through different lenses and impacted by different factors. With the help of the Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern, I was able to record my interviews and share the faces of the movement with you. Look forward to that in the near future.

A special thanks to The Circumnavigators Foundation, especially Mrs Carol Narup for all her support and guidance with me, for this once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the world, and to know more about people, the world and myself.

To all the new friends and colleagues I have made- from researchers, to nonprofit workers, to university professors and government officials, to communities, taxi drivers, bus drivers, new friends from Couch Surfing… this list could go on.

To all my friends around the world, who so graciously opened their families and homes – Sonia and her family in Ecuador, Akhilesh and Wendi in Singapore, Anthony and Jeff in Malaysia, Doug in the UAE, everyone at PPPF Food Hub in Ghana, Bridgette in Denmark, the whole Arvidsson family in Sweden and my good friends Tom, Rory and Benjy in London. Thank you all for the support and for making an individual’s journey around the world feel more like a bus trip filled with friends!

To YOU, thank you for reading all my stories and experiences on this long journey. Thank you for your emails, phone calls, gchats, facebook messages, comments.. and however else the internet allowed us to contact each other. It has meant the world. This trip could not have been possible without you.

Finally, I want to thank my family for being so supportive during this experience. When you call your parents up and say “so I am going to be traveling around the world this summer by myself and with just a backpack,” there are usually a few parental concerns, but my parents were both supportive and loving throughout this entire process. I can’t thank them enough for the help they gave me in planning this trip, supporting my interests and dealing with what I am sure would have been a stressful summer for any parent.

In my last site visit in the UK, I heard a lot about how if everyone lived like someone from the UK, we would need three planets to sustain us. Similarily, if everyone lived like someone from the US, we would need six planets to do the same. Six planets! Just think about how much of an impact we are having in our daily lives and the damage that will do in the long run. We can change this path however, and with this research I hope to help. In the coming days, I will be working on a new site that will continue to give updates on my research, as well as post information about sustainable development works and links of those who have already done so much. Look for that in the coming days as I get back in the swing of things here in Evanston.

Once again, thank you everyone, as I could not have done this without you,

Ben

Big Ben, Big Ideas, and Big Finale

Less than 24 hours left. After almost 3 months of traveling, interviews and hundreds of inspiring tales of sustainable development, I am down to a less than a day. It is still hard for me to wrap my head around this idea but I will enjoy my last night in London and head back to Chicago to begin Senior year. But enough with the sappy tale of my journey’s end, I am sure you would all much more enjoy hearing about my time here in London.

I arrived in London Saturday morning and my friend, Tom, who graciously has allowed me to stay at his flat, picked me up at the airport and we headed to his place. In the afternoon we walked around central London and I got my first view of the London Eye, Big Ben and the House of Parliament. We got a kick out of all the fellow tourists that kept asking us to take their pictures in front of Big Ben. We spent the rest of the night catching up as we had not seen each other in almost two years.

Sunday, I got a chance to spend time with some of Tom’s University friends at his place for a barbeque. Having finished college last year, they all were finishing up their first year in the real world. Monday, England had a bank holiday, so the city was in 3 day weekend mode. I got the chance to experience the Nottingham Carnival, the second largest carnival in the world. We walked among the thousands of peope in the streets, admiring the paraders showing off a variety of different carribean outfits and music. It was a great experience and I am thankful to have happened upon such a great festival.

The rest of the week was spent on my seventh and final research trip. My first stop was the BedZED development. A model community, BedZED was intended to rethink the way we build developments and build a new sense of community surrounding a live-work environment. After touring BedZed, I then had a meeting with a representative from the Greater London Authority and the London Sustainable Development Commission. In the interview, I learned about the policies and strategies being used in London to address climate change and environmental degradation. I have since met with a couple of NGOs that work on improving the London environment. Each NGO tackles sustainable development in different ways and addresses community building through a variety of tactics. One organization, Get More Local, focuses on capacity building and youth training through a social enterprise model.

Now with my interviews finished, it is now time to begin the lengthy process of organizing my conclusions and writing up my thesis. I can’t begin to express my excitement with everything I have learned and what the future holds. I can’t thank the Circumnavigator’s Club and the rest of my sponsors enough for this amazing and inspiring once in a life time experience.

“The Greenest City In Europe”

Vaxjo, pronounced Vequa (don’t ask me how they came up with that spelling), makes no effort in acting humble over the term used to describe the city in a BBC article in 2007. In my short time in “The Greenest City in Europe,” the municipality and their sustainable smaland initiative presented a good case for why they deserve to keep the title. A fairly small city of 80,000 in the heart of southern Sweden, Vaxjo has been working in areas of sustainability for quite some time.

When I first began my site visit in the city, I was greated by Jesserina, an environmental economist who helped arrange my visit. A Chilean who has lived in Sweden most of her life, Jesserina gave me a good overview of how Vaxjo has been implementing sustainable strategies, as well as her own views on effectively implementing sustainable development. Once again, I heard a similar story about the difficulties in getting into the minds of individuals and changing their behavior. The further on in this journey, the more I am certain that communication may be a larger obstacle than new and effective technology.

I then had a meeting with an individual who had been involved with sustainability work in the city for a number of years. She led me through the timeline. The story begins with a lake restoration project in the 70s that brought new life to the city center. Since then, the city has effectively planned to keep population density high, a technique that often lowers CO2 emissions and energy usage. The city has now moved further into energy efficiency and has developed passive houses with energy positive houses (houses that add to the energy grid rather than take from it) on the way. The two most well known projects in Vaxjo are the biomass plant and the timber construction project.

I got the chance to tour the biomass plant which works on a system known as combined heating and power (CHP). The plant presently provides almost all the district heating in the city while producing about 50% of the electricity. I was led through the plant by the plant manager who displayed how the plant uses woodchips to create heat for heating as well as for a turbine to produce electricity. Here is a picture of the plant and a photo of myself in front of the “fuel” source, a regenerative pile of wood.

From Vaxjo, Sweden
From Vaxjo, Sweden

The following day, I continued my tour of sustainabled development projects and joined a city planner for a tour of the high rise timber construction projects in the city. If you can’t tell by now, Vaxjo likes wood! They have a lot of forests and if managed correctly,trees can be regenerated, becoming a renewable source. Vaxjo has lead the way for using timber instead of steel or concrete in building design. These timber buildings are more energy efficient and contribute less CO2 to the atmosphere. Here are some pictures from the timber projects. I think they look pretty nice.

From Vaxjo, Sweden
From Vaxjo, Sweden

I don’t know if Vaxjo is truly the greenest city in Europe but during my stay here it has made a pretty strong case. The people I spoke with identified transit as the biggest problem in the future. I would make the case that this has a lot to do with effective engagement of the public in an effort to change behavior. This is obviously no easy task but Vaxjo hopes to improve public transit and bike paths to encourage alternatives.

I am now off to Copenhagen for the night and then London to my seventh and final site visit. I still cannot believe this experience is almost over! I have been doing a lot of thinking about my conclusions on sustainable development and keys to its effective implementation. Hopefully my time in London will help solidify these ideas as I will be back in the States in just one week time.

My Scandinavian Tour

Over the last week or so, I have been able to take a short break from the research and see all that Scandinavia has to offer (or what I am able to see in a week’s worth of time). My last couple of days on Samso were a combination of summary interviews and outdoor activities. The interviews once again reiterated what I had been already seeing, that Samso is a really special place with really special people. Two men I met, Erik and Lyfe have both invested in renewable energy projects because they were interested in the projects and it was the right thing to do. Erik was so interested in renewables that he converted his tractor to running on rapeseed oil, something he grows on his own organic farm and extracts with his own press using the biproduct, rapeseed cakes, as a feed for his cows. Here is a picture of Erik’s rapeseed press:

From Samso 2

My last day at the academy was spent helping with a presentation they were doing for 100 d
Danish high school students. It was impressive to see the interest of the students and the concerns they had in addressing energy in a way that was interactive with the community. I really enjoyed the Academy’s coordinator for school visits, Malene’s view that we need to be engaging the public by asking questions instead of suggesting actions. Malene believes in the power of asking questions as a way of sharing a story and common experiences. Unfortunately, my time for asking questions at the Samso Energy Academy was ending as I had to move on to Sweden for my next research stop.

I took my final ferry ride and headed to Copenhagen for a day of sightseeing. Luckily, one of my cousins got me connected with her good friend in the Danish capital who spent the day showing me the sights by canal boatride and chatting over a sandwich and a drink. I got a great view of the city from the top of a tower and it really hit me, not only how much history the city has but also how alive the city was for being fairly small by US standards. Here is a little taste of that view:

From Copenhagen

After Copenhagen, I was off to Halmstad, Sweden to reunite with some long lost family friends who were gracious enough to show me a wonderful weekend in their small southern town. I spent the weekend touring castles and exploring the countryside on the families small traditional red farmhouse. My interest was sparked when I went inside the farmhouse and saw the years of history that had been preserved, especially the pair of old wooden skis that were in perfect condition. Here are a few pictures from my time in Halmstad and there is a link in the bottom righthand corner to the album that contains many more:

From Halmstad, Sweden
From Halmstad, Sweden
From Halmstad, Sweden

Following the weekend, I headed to Vaxjo, Sweden a little further to the north to spend time with another member of the same family and also for a site visit with those involved in planning for the “Greenest City in Europe”, as the BBC once called Vaxjo. The first couple of days I spent my time by the many lakes and relaxing with my friends’ two young children, who are getting a kick out of having a real American staying with them. I will share more about my research in a few days when I finish up my interviews and tours around the city. Scandanavians are unlike us in the US in that it is hard to find someone who does not support sustainability for one reason or another. The Swedish are really unique in that they have an everyman’s right law where anyone is allowed to hike, camp, pick berries and mushrooms, or boat anywhere for a reasonable amount of time in the country no matter who owns the property. This has instilled a love for nature and a concern about environmental degradation that almost seems universal. I think the right to public access is an amazing idea and would maybe help us in America appreciate the beautiful surroundings before they are all destroyed.

I can’t believe that I will be home in a little over a week. With so little time left, I have begun to reflect on what an amazing and rewarding journey this has been as well as being cautiously optimistic and excited for what the future holds for myself and society as we begin this transition towards sustainable development. Thank you again to everyone for following me on this journey.

Catching The Energy Island Spirit

I have now been on the small island of Samso in Denmark for a little over a week. Samso is a small, rural community of about 4,000 residents which at first glance looks like a typical farming village. Upon second glance, you may notice the 11 off-shore wind turbines or the 3 sets of on-shore turbines. As you look deeper you may notice the district heating plants with stacks of biomass to heat the island and as you look even deeper you will see a group of people set on helping the world rethink their energy usage by showing the viability of a completely renewable society.

Twelve years ago Samso won a competition to become Denmark’s renewable energy island. They had to convert within 10 years using existing technology and they did just that. Actually they did it in about 8; they have even converted 70% of the island’s heating to renewables and have accounted for their transport emissions by using credits from their turbines. The initiative has been headed by Soren Hermansen, an environmental scientist by training and a natural orator. I have spent the last week with Soren and his colleagues at the Samso Energy Academy, an institution that was set up to help spread awareness and direct the future sustainability projects on the island. Presently, the Academy is working on a transport proposal to switch the island bus system to electric.

Over the past week I have been living the small island life and loving every moment of this tranquil and peaceful place. I have had the chance to talk to a number of farmers and villagers who have lived on the island and changed the way they think about energy usage as a result of this project: from the farmer who runs his tractor on rapeseed to the pig farmer who has become an entreprenuer, owning his own wind turbine in Samso and investing in solar power in Germany. The people of Samso don’t think they should pay outsiders to ruin their beautiful environment and have therefore taken control of their energy future. It is also interesting to note that some of the wind turbines on Samso are cooperatively owned by the residents further increasing their stake and interest in the project. Samso is a really interesting experiement in how community members can be actively engaged and interested in participating in sustainable development projects.

It should be noted that I haven’t spent all day in interviews and meetings. I have gotten the chance to hike around the beautiful scenic landscape as well as bike through the many small villages on the 155 square kilometer island. Here are a couple of pictures from my time here so far.

From Samso, Denmark
From Samso, Denmark
From Samso, Denmark
From Samso, Denmark

It Has Been A While

I want to apologize for my lack of entries these past two weeks. Internet was a very limited commodity for me in Ghana so I decided to focus on the research and enjoy my time there. That being said. I left Africa yesterday morning and I am now sitting in my hostel in Denmark once again plugged into the outside world. My time in Ghana was an amazing experience but it was made that way as a result of the people. The Perpetual Prosperity Pump Foundation (they will soon be changing their name to the MORE Foundation) is a mix of Americans and Ghanaians with a passion for sustainable deelopment and the hope that someday they can use their methods to “feed all of Africa.” They recently set up their MORE (Modular Organic Regenerative Environment) Research Hub to develop farming techniques that produce ample food for farmers while eliminating the impact on the natural environment. It is very much a foundation in its youth but if it continues in the direction it has been headed it will likely help many in Ghana while promoting environmental health.

I want to spend the rest of this blog discussing the many amazing people who made my time in Ghana. Each had a different and unique view that helped shape my opinion of the organization. I think they deserve as much attention as anything else as this Circumnavigation would be nothing without amazing people like them.

First is the man behind the organization, Jim. Jim has been working in Ghana for a number of years and has started this organization by using his own experiences in sustainable agriculture and his love for Ghana. I never got to meet Jim as he still lives in the US, spending a few month each year in Africa. I did have a number of phone conversations with him and he is definitely one passionate guy. The team in Ghana says that whenever he visits it is like a whirlwind of new ideas and advances for the organization. This foundation is his baby and it truly shows.

The day to day operations are run by Elaine or “Mamalaine” as everyone calls her. A former paster, she came to Ghana on a mission and ended up staying and working in an orphanage, starting her own operation called Hope for Our Future. Unfortunately, one of the partners in Ghana got a little too greedy and she was forced to move on from the orphanage, joining PPPF as site manager of the Research Hub. She is hoping to start a drop in center where she can teach disadvantaged kids how to be farmers using the MORE foundation’s techniques.

Then there are the researchers. Vera, Carietta, Annabelle, and Clara. They are all Ghanains with degrees relating to agriculture. Each one is caring and considerate and took me to villages with them to conduct interviews. We would discuss their thoughts on the foundation and its direction in the hour plus long bus rides to the village sites.

Three farmers live at the compound and help to maintain the crops as well as serving as a layer of security. Nash, Moses, and Prince love to laugh, sing, and joke in the compound. They loved to share the country’s culture with me and helped me find all the local Ghanaian dishes to try. At night we would all sit around and talk about the differences between our two countries. You could see how much they, like many Ghanains, admired America and the many opportunities it provides that their country does not.

While I was there, there were also two volunteers there. Kate was there helping with administrative duties while Joe was there helping with video production for a new website. Both had been to Ghana before on an NYU study abroad program and helped me learn my way around the city and meet people. Kate was passionate about human rights issues and dreamed of someday working for the UN.

Joe also introduced me to two boxers living in Jamestown, one of the poorest communities in Accra, who he had met while filming a documentary on their gym in 2009. Mosquito was up and coming and was hoping to raise enough money to move to the US and study art while pursuing the sport. Mike on the other hand was struggling, having a hard time getting funds for training and not really receiving many fight offers. These two men showed both the hope and continuing struggle that so many face in Jamestown and other impoverished communities.

The final two friends I made while in Ghana were Nafesa and Lizzy. Nafesa worked at the market selling the tomatoes and mushrooms grown on the compound and Lizzy served as the cook, making amazing local dishes like okra stew and banku (crushed yams made into a dough like food that was eaten in the stew). These two women were bubbly, charismatic and lighthearted, always making the days more fun and offering up wonderful insights into the life of a young Ghanaian women.

With this diverse group of people, I learned more about the culture than I ever could have from reading or going to tourist sights. Each one really believes in the organization and loves the interactions with community members as they teach their new farming techniques. I only wish that I was able to share with them as much as they shared with me. With people like this, it was hard to not fall in love with the country and believe in the motivations and goals of the organization.

I am now off to the developed world, spending the next month in Denmark, Sweden, and the UK, where I will look at their strategies for sustainable development and the complexities surrounding projects in already built up nations. Unfortunately, I have once again been having some problems with uploading pictures so hopefully I will be able to share some Ghana photos with you shortly!

A Completely Different World

I have now been in Abu Dhabi for five days and the only way to describe this place is a completely different world. Between the scorching heat and the endless development in every nook and cranny of the city, the UAE is unlike any country I have ever seen.

When I arrived in the city, I meet up with Doug, an employee at the British Embassy and my host for the week. Doug is one of the friendliest people I have ever met and he has spent the week showing me around the city, introducing me to his friends, and helping me set up contacts for interviews. Doug’s focus within the Embassy is Energy and Sustainability, so its safe to say that he has been one of the best resources here for getting me connected within the sustainable development community.

I spent the weekend, Friday and Saturday in the UAE, being a tourist. On Friday, I went to the UAE Heritage village, a glimpse into life before the development began, and then beat the afternoon heat by exploring the huge Marina Mall and even going to see Harry Potter. Sometimes it is nice to get a little escape and relax for an afternoon. Saturday, I headed to the beach in the morning and then explored the Emirates Palace, the world’s most expensive hotel, in the afternoon. At night, I headed over to the Grand Mosque, both an impressive homage to the Islamic faith and a illustrious display of the country’s growing wealth. Still not complete, the Mosque is filled with crystals, gold and wonderful pieces of art.

From Abu Dhabi
From Abu Dhabi

On Sunday, the fun began as I headed to Masdar City to begin my research. Masdar City is a 7 square kilometer planned community that is in its early stages of development. So far, phase 1 is complete, the Masdar Institute, a graduate level university focused on sustainability and renewable energy and affiliated with MIT. The University is a pilot program for many sustainable development projects and the campus has a number of really unique high-tech sustainability solutions. The first of these projects was the personal rapid transit system or PRT which uses computer controlled vehicles to get you from the parking lot to the institute, The hope is to have these PRTs running throughout the city and it is powered exclusively by renewables. Once inside the Institute, the wind tower will immediately catch anyone’s attention. Meant to keep the institute cool, the tower sucks in cool air, adds mist and channels it into the lower walking environment. All the buildings and labs within the Institute are also designed to be energy efficient and sustainable and a 10 megawatt solar plant and solar panels on the roof of each building provide renewable, clean energy to the University. I have been exploring the campus and learning from faculty, staff and students on the effects of the project on their own personal experiences and on the sustainable development community in the UAE.

From Abu Dhabi

The PRT

From Abu Dhabi
From Abu Dhabi

I am in the process of uploading the last set of pictures from Malaysia and all the pictures I have taken from the UAE and Masdar so check those out: https://picasaweb.google.com/114615060684332010371

Until next time,
Ben

“Promoting Sustainable Development Always”

I am now finishing up my first week in Malaysia with four more days of research and touring left and it has been nothing short of an eventful few days. When I got to my hostel I was greeted by the amazing manager, Jeff, and a barbecue on the hostel’s rooftop balcony. It was a nice taste of home, as we grilled hot dogs and chicken on what happened to be July 4th. My patriotic side came out as I dined with my fellow travelers.

The next morning, I woke up early and headed to CETDEM, The Center for Environment, Technology, and Development, Malaysia where I met Anthony Tan Kee Huat, the Executive Director. He showed me around their model house that doubles as their headquarters. The house has a number of renovations including solar panels on the roof, improved insulation, and a really interesting air flume in the middle of the house that carries hot air up and keeps the house cool without the AC units used to cool most Malaysian homes. Anthony also gave me a history of the organization which has been working since 1985 on issues “no one cared about until recently.”

CETDEM’s motto is “Promoting Sustainable Development Always.” You may ask , “why the always?” Anthony’s go to answer: “you can’t have sustainable development sometimes.” When you think about this word, always, you realize how important living a completely sustainable lifestyle is if one wants to have any real impact. So many people may buy local and organic produce while driving hundreds of miles each day, or stress recycling while leaving their lights on at home all day long. What I have seen from those at CETDEM is the importance of a complete lifestyle change that can be done through a number of social, economic and environmental changes and the drastic improvements these changes can have on one’s life and one’s surroundings. CETDEM’s work is all about personal changes, focusing on individuals and searching for ways to live a completely sustainable lifestyle.

I spent my first couple of days getting to know the organization and the city of Kuala Lumpur. One interesting thing that I got to do was sit in on an Information Ministry meeting on promotion of Green Technology. CETDEM was invited to attend the meeting of a number of different governmental branches where each branch presented what they were doing to promote the field in the coming months. It was an eye opening experience in how the Government of Malayia was attacking this new and growing field.

Another day, I got the chance to join one of the CETDEM founders, Mrs. Tan, at the NGO’s Organic Farming Community Centre. Here, Mrs. Tan and a number of volunteers teach classes on Organic Farming, Composting, and Slow Food Cooking (a counter movement to fast food). I spent the morning helping Mrs. Tan turn a compost pile to be used in the Centre. Below is a picture of me as I help pack down the pile so that more garden waste can be added on top. For those who do not know composting it is the process by which food and garden waste is decomposed and made into a fertilizer. In Malaysia, roughly 40% of all landfill waste could be composted and made into a useful product.

From Malaysia

So far I have had some great experiences with CETDEM but still have four more days packed with interviews and visits to other NGOs in Malaysia. It should also be noted that I have had some free time to see the sights and traveled to the KL Tower, the Masjid Jamek, and the Batu Caves. The view of the city from the top of the KL tower was amazing, even on a foggy day.

From Malaysia

Finally, as most of you probably have heard, Saturday in KL was quite the adventure as 50,000 Malaysians took to the streets to push for election reforms. I myself was away from the action most of the day at CETDEM headquarters, 20 minutes outside of the city. Getting back was a different story, as the stop by my hostel on the light rail train was shut down. I ended up taking the train as close as I could at which point I found a bus to get me closer to my final destination. After getting off the bus, it was about a 15 minute walk, so I took to foot, only to be turned back by a police barricade. After waiting that out for about an hour, the LRT system was up and running, so I was able to head home. When I got back to the hostel, the other travelers had stories upon stories of marchers, police standoffs and even a few tear gas stories. In the end, everyone was safe and the demonstrations ended that day. Check out a few pictures of the police barricade and marchers.

From Malaysia
From Malaysia

Only a few more days until I head off to my next stop on this around the world adventure.

A Singapore Weekend

It was sad to leave Ecuador but it was even worse to know that I had a whopping five flights until I touched down in Singapore for a short weekend with a few friends who were doing summer research in the small southeast Asian nation. First, I flew from Quito, Ecuador to Guayaquil, Ecuador and from there it was off to San Jose, Costa Rica. To end the first day of travel, I then had a 6 hour flight to Los Angeles. In LA, I had a twenty four hour layover, giving me the chance to catch up on sleep and run a few errands in the states. The next night, I boarded a 14 hour flight to Manila, Philippines and then boarded the last flight to Singapore. All in all, it took 25 hours in the air, 2 full days of travel and way too many airline meals.

Finally, I was in Singapore with my two friends and staying in a nice, green friendly lodge. First thing I did in Singapore – slept 16 hours. It was just the recharge I needed. Saturday was spent getting to know the city and spending the day with my friends. One friend went to high school in Singapore and showed us around the city with some of his high school friends. I got the chance to watch polo, a sport that has always mystified me. People riding horses at full speed and hitting a ball no bigger than a baseball with a long wooden rod never appealed to me in theory but it sure is impressive. The rider’s coordination and athleticism was matched only by the agility and stamina of the horses.

Sunday, I got the chance to visit some of the major tourist sights in the city. First it was off to the Merlion, a half mermaid, half lion statue and a symbol of the nation. After that we explored the Marina Bay Sands area. The Sands is a huge three tier building with a giant boat-like observation deck on top connecting the three towers. Following the Sands we walked around the city and saw the amazing development taking place all over the city.

The best part of trip to Singapore was undoubtedly the diversity of food. The weekend was filled with food courts of various Asian cuisine, my favorite of which were the dumplings. The most exotic food I tried all weekend was stingray, which was some of the most tender fish I have ever eaten.

I am now off to Malaysia to continue my research with the Center for Technology, Development and Environment, an organization that is working in a variety of ways to promote sustainable development within this developing nation.