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Fall 2008 - Students

Destination Purdue > Fall 2008 - Students

Students using their skills, assisting villages in Ecuador

By Elizabeth Ballard

Several Purdue Agriculture students have been shaping the landscapes and lives of people in small villages thousands of miles from campus.

Student Megan Martin

Photo provided by Kim Wilson

Megan Martin, a 2007 landscape architecture graduate, measures an area in San Francisco, Ecuador, that could be used as a village plaza. Purdue students designed a central area that city leaders hope will draw tourists to the market on their way to the nearby hot springs.

For several years, juniors and seniors studying landscape architecture have traveled to Ecuador during the summer to lend their landscape architecture skills to villages in two different regions. The three-week service learning trips are a way for landscape architecture students to experience a greater, global community, and to help others through eco-tourism. In 2007, the students helped the villages make important improvements that could attract tourists while still maintaining their culture and environment.

Megan Martin, who earned a bachelor's degree in landscape architecture last year, said the trip was eye-opening. "It's one thing to see poverty and developing countries in documentaries," she said. "It is another to experience it. To see it with your own eyes, smell it with your own nose, to feel it with your own fingers. It is so much of what you see on TV, and yet not at all."

Despite these experiences, Martin said she saw plenty to make her hopeful. "It is extreme poverty, it is people in need, but the major difference is that they are not helpless or pitiful," she said.

The Purdue students helped residents of several villages improve their economies by developing master plans for the village landscapes. Villages included San Miguel, San Francisco and Tumbabiro. In San Miguel, the master plan will help guide village expansion, such as where to add new homes, where to put the school and possible locations for a plant nursery.

In summer 2008, Purdue students returned to the village to work on a main path that leads to the river. The existing path was deteriorating from rain and wear and the plan was to protect it against future deterioration. Kim Wilson, professor of landscape architecture and the trip leader, is already making plans for 2009. "We are a global community," Wilson said. "Visiting a developing country reinforces and exaggerates the need for us to look beyond ourselves."

Martin agreed. "In the grand scheme of things I know so little, yet still have something to offer: my time, diligence and heart."

Another 2007 landscape architecture graduate, David Witte, said this trip was unlike many other study abroad programs. "It challenges a student to engage in a mutual give-and-take relationship with members of the communities, and their peers," he said.