One of the first things I noticed about my host family’s kitchen is that it didn’t have a garbage can. Well, that’s strange, I thought. Where on earth am I supposed to throw my tea bag? After a bit of snooping, however, I discovered a pot of compost on the counter for my tea bag and a tiny jar of paper waste for its tag. When I did finally find a trash can, it was practically empty, filled only with a recyclable plastic bag. Most trash cans seemed to be replaced by rows of color-coded recycling bins.

Color-coded recycling bins

Environmental consciousness has been a recurring theme throughout my time here. In fact, one of my favorite parts of our Metodista tour was admiring recycled seats in their Center of Sustainability and talking about the earth with Vanessa, our wonderful and gracious organizer here at the university. But the part of our Brazil trip I’d been most eagerly awaiting was visiting the Atlantic Rain Forest.

Our class, saving the planet in the Center of Sustainability

Though I had been anticipating this particular excursion since I’d first heard of it, when I finally did set foot inside the forest, it wasn’t what I was expecting. Because of the nearby road, we could still hear vehicles whiz past and we could see the tangible difference between the side of the forest next to the road and deeper inside—just like our guide Prof. Waverli had said. While next to the road might look healthy and beautiful, rich with the same flowering trees, the air pollution caused by exhaust had kept the less resilient trees from growing there. Inside the forest, these less resilient trees grew.

Only a small road or a little bit of air pollution suffocates the trees, quenching the biodiversity near the border. It’s easy to be discouraged when such small things make such a big difference. However, in FYS, I remember visiting the Susan B. Anthony House with my class. After explaining how little support Anthony had at the start of her efforts, our tour guide urged us to commit to one small choice about something we cared about every day. Even if that choice didn’t make an immediate observable difference, it kept the spark of hope alive in our hearts. A single person can make a difference, but giving up the fight means giving up hope.

The recycled stool without its slip cover

Little things like, say, having a conservation room for students at the Metodista to talk about how to better care for their environment, or making chairs out of old bottles, cardboard, and uniforms instead of buying new ones. On Sunday, my host mom took Lauren and I to magazine stands, and I was blown away by what beautiful lanterns artists made out of what I might consider to be, well, trash. Even though a little bit of waste makes a difference, so does a little bit less waste.

The truth is that I haven’t been good about choosing to make one small difference each day because it simply does not feel like enough. But that’s no excuse. With her rainbow recycling bins and soda bottle stools, Brazil has reminded me that it’s okay to start small—because after standing up and taking one little step, it’s so much easier to keep going.

Categories: Brazil 2019

4 Comments

Amy Kovach · May 23, 2019 at 2:31 pm

Sarah,

A little does go a long way and if we each do a little. . . .

<3 Dr. Kovach

Sandra Brown · May 23, 2019 at 6:00 pm

I agree, Sarah! Such a valuable life experience to notice that small changes add up to a lot! I have one of those counter compost bins-mine is bamboo! Filling it and adding continuously to the yard waste composter in the back yard supplies most of my raised bed garden soil needs each year! Enjoy your time in Brazil 🙂

Carrie Starr · May 24, 2019 at 2:43 pm

This was such a powerful reminder, Sarah, that little things do indeed make a big difference, especially when we do them every day. Thank you so much for writing about this. You are an inspiration!

Waverli · May 27, 2019 at 2:32 pm

Sarah, it is great to know that you were so inspired by our visit to Mata Atlântica and the Sustainability Center room and how you connected everything and find a way to go on with this vision! Really remarkable!
Waverli

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