Jackie Powell graduated in 2009 from Gettysburg College with a triple major in Globalization Studies, Latin American Studies and Spanish (yep, that’s one major), and Environmental Studies. She’s currently living and working in Guatemala as one of the three “circuit riders” (lingo for a project manager) at Agua para la Salud (Water for your Health), a Guatemala-based NGO. Their focus is water, which means working with water systems, water system maintenance, school sanitary facilities, health education, as well as providing technical assistance and training.
Since 1994, Agua para la Salud (APS) has been working in the Ixil Triangle in northern Guatemala. According to director Lynn Roberts, this was one of the most severely affected regions by the 30-year conflict which started in 1975, reached a peak between 1979 and 1983, and endin in 1996. Most of APS’s work has been in Nebaj, the largest of the three municipalities in the triangle, helping the communities rebuild the infrastructure that had been lost as a result of the conflict.
Hailing from Madison, Virginia, Jackie’s interest in the fields of Globalization Studies, Latin American Studies and Spanish, and Environmental Studies started through a series of trips and connections to Latin America. Her first experience was when a refuge family from Cuba lived with her family for three months during middle school. In this short time, Jackie served as her family’s translator with her “two words of Spanish.” This showed her the practical reasons for learning Spanish.
In college, she went to Nicaragua on a few occasions. Freshman year of college, she went on a program to learn about the differences between fair trade and free trade. She was able to experience the realities of International Free Trade Zones through a personal tour of one of the factories, talk to people in both factories and coffee farms, and work on small coffee farms. Jackie says (and this is something that I’ve also experienced) that her Latin American Studies courses didn’t really sink in until she was living in Nicaragua. It was one thing for her to learn about the implications of free trade in a classroom, and another thing entirely to see the effects of free trade while actually in Nicaragua.
The summer before her senior year of college, she returned to Nicaragua for an internship with the Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD). While there, she raised money and community support for 30 absorption tanks (tanks that thwart run-off from household water sources) thanks to the grant-writing skills she learned at FSD (you can read an article about her time there on Gettysburg’s website).
During her junior year in college, Jackie studied “Culture and Development” for a semester in Bolivia with SIT. It was on this program where she found a common link to her triple major–water. Learning about the water wars in Bolivia, and studying cosmovision (how people in different cultures view nature), she decided that she wanted to be a part of providing access to safe water in developing countries.
The summer after her freshman year, Jackie found an organic farm to work on near her hometown–it was here that she realized the importance of environmental studies. Also coincidentally, her school required a science course to graduate, and she later took an environmental science course from Dr. Randy Wilson. While the course was admittedly challenging, she signed up for more with a summer trip to the Colorado Rocky Mountains with the same professor. This trip took her not only through the scenic Rocky Mountains, but also to casinos, reservations, and the generally less-scenic aspects of Native American culture in this area. Her final paper was a comparison of indigenous peoples in both Colorado and Bolivia, and how they respectively viewed the environment.
Writing her three senior theses also helped Jackie to realize that water was at the root of her interests. After graduation, she spent around six months looking (mostly on Idealist.org) for water-related jobs in Latin America, and ended up in Guatemala working for Casasito (see previous post on my experience building a water tank). It was through Casasito that she was introduced to APS, and she realized that their work more closely matched her interests.
Now her day-to-day activities include supervising water projects–building lavamanos (hand-washing stations) and water tanks–making sure the masons (APS has 6 on staff, and trained 5 this past year) that build the tanks are happy and healthy, and coordinating future plans for APS.
Laura Stephenson is a recent environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health. She is currently studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. Laura writes the “After” Life of an Environmental Studies Student series, telling stories of the activities and endeavors of environmental science and studies students after graduation.