For my community service I chose to spend my Earth Day cleaning up a lake near Switzerland. I was actually very happy to do it because it had been my first time since January doing any sort of manual labor which is something I really enjoy doing when I am home. I should clarify however that this was the only community service even I could find in the Lugano area. Lugano is a truly wealthy area with some of the lowest unemployment and poverty rates in the entire world so soup kitchens and clothing drives were hard to come by. The lake clean up was put on by my school and ran by my Freshwater Conservation professor, who I had just recently spent two weeks with in Slovenia, and a woman from one of the environmental societies in Switzerland.
They explained that for all of the things Switzerland does right, especially in terms of the environment, Lugano in particular occasionally has a tough time balancing being environmentally friendly and things looking nice. The issue we were tackling that day was getting rid of two of the most destructive invasive species in Lugano, bamboo and palm trees. The real kicker though was that both of these plants are still sold in nurseries and stores around Lugano. These two trees out-competed and eventually suffocated the other plants around them leading to much less biodiversity which is horrible for the ecosystem. So our crew went to pull out and cut down these plants and hopefully give back to an area that I have enjoyed running in all semester long.
I find great personal and communal benefit to volunteering at home but especially here abroad. I always feel great after working a hard day and enjoy the idea of giving back, but contributing to a community that I have been calling home for a few months now was invaluable. I really hope that the hours we spent down by the lake will have a lasting effect on the area because I felt that we did the right thing. In general, it is important to give back to the communities that have given us so much in terms of experiences and memories. Being a part of this Global Community it is important to work toward certain goals that move forward the world in the right direction, and making areas more environmentally-sound is one of them. I really appreciated this experience because without having it in my head that I should give something back I likely would have never done this. Having this class to make me more aware of my surroundings and the great opportunities that studying abroad have given me has made me infinitely more gracious.
Some of my key takeaways that cleaning up the lake and my freshwater class in general have given me are a greater realization to how bad the rest of the world has it. The biggest problem facing a place like Lugano is what kind of plant life they have growing around a lake, and the biggest problem facing the Quinnipiac Community is a lack of housing. Meanwhile I just did a project on how over two times the population of the United States does not have access to even remotely clean drinking water and the entire country of India will likely be in poverty for many years to come because water companies control the government with an iron fist because the monopoly that gives the water threatens to shut it off every time the government doesn’t do what the company wants. The class, community service experience, and study abroad as a whole has really put into perspective how good I have it.