What is Sustainable Living? Learning How to Care for the Planet in Puerto Rico

What is Sustainable Living? Learning How to Care for the Planet in Puerto Rico

Aasiyah Bilal writes about her experience aiding in hurricane relief in Puerto Rico on Quest, the second phase of the Greenheart Odyssey scholarship program

Born and raised in Chicago. Traffic here, concrete there, smoke up there, and smog in my lungs. When I was offered the chance to visit Puerto Rico, I was hesitant. I was scared. I was anxious to say the least.

Just the idea of traveling without my family was enough to trigger hyperventilation. Imagine my surprise when I was told we would be traveling by plane! I have never traveled by plane, but at the end of the trip I’m happy that I did. Living in the city, my main mode of transportation was either a city bus or train, or even by a vehicle. Walking was the last option considered. Ever. There was a lot of walking in Puerto Rico, a lot!

Being raised in a big city I found myself often disconnected or unaware of what it means to be living in a sustainable way. I’ve never had to think about how much water I was using, how long I left the TV on nor how trains/buses and cars are bad for the air that I breathe. I was always told to take care of my home, but I never realized Earth is my home too. On a more micro level, Chicago is my home as well. Puerto Rico taught me that everything that I have been doing hurts my home.

As I was preparing to leave the “comfort” of city life, I was anxious about being in a new place. Although I was anxious, I was also excited to see a new part of my home. I was ready to travel to Puerto Rico and I was ready to come back a different person. Believe it or not, my main concern was the fact that I would be without internet for 5 days. Typical city-folk worries. Staying in the rainforest offered me other sources of entertainment. I found myself entertained by the people, nature, and the food!

After the second day, I found myself settling in. I remember thinking, “Wow, I could live here. Look at the view!” The mountain tops were beautiful. I have never seen such a sight. A sight that detached me from my previous life and inserted me in this place of serenity, love, support, and hope.

As I was living on the compound, I faced many fears and have overcome them. No one back home would believe that I held a lizard in my hand or went swimming in a natural spring and drank water from a waterfall. The experience was cathartic for me. I felt one and “put together.” I understood myself more than I ever have. I think I needed that as an emerging adult.

I remember being asked if “faraway natural disasters are also my problem?” I replied, “yes.” It’s my problem as well because I am not permanently stationed in the city. The world is my home, Chicago is just one destination. I now understand that if I want to experience more in life and have a deeper understanding of myself it is important that I see the entire world as my home. It is important for my heart to be broken by natural disasters as well. It is also important for me to understand that I have a role in everything that happens on my home. It is my responsibility to help wherever I can. It is my responsibility to take care of home.

I believe that maintaining our natural resources should be my number one priority as I carry on through life. Sustainability is consistent and honest. For me, sustainability is important because I value intergenerational sharing. As I live through my generation, it is important for me to take care of what I have for the generation after me. At the end of the trip, I came up with several ways I could live in a more waste-conscious way to ensure that I am taking care of my home and that I am always challenging and pushing myself towards greatness.

Nowadays, I find myself using reusable bottles versus always buying bottled water. Plastic is killing my home and I will no longer take part in the abuse of Earth. I also have found myself avoiding restaurants that use an excessive use of plastic (mainly fast food restaurants). I often challenge this by thinking to myself “if they are using so much plastic and Styrofoam, I wonder about the quality of the food.” Another way that I take care of my home is by unplugging everything. I found that I don’t use half the devices that I have plugged into the wall.

Although the trip was very intimidating, I’m happy that I went through with it. I wish that everyone would travel at least once in their lifetime. There is something honest about traveling that forces people to confront their inner selves. They are constantly challenged on who they are. I surely was tested to my limits and I triumphed. Human beings have this weird ability to overcome hardships and challenges.

Give back to the environment by volunteering abroad!

Volunteer in Puerto Rico

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