Ana Zabala is a high school senior at Colegio Rochester in Bogotá, Colombia. She wants to work towards the empowerment of farmers in Colombia by expanding and promoting sustainable agriculture and defending seed freedom and sovereignty. Last October, Ana participated in Project Green Challenge (PGC) and was selected to attend the PGC Challenge Finals in San Francisco, California. After presenting along with other finalists, she was named the PGC 2014 Champion.
It's amazing to think that a year ago my mind was completely different from what it is now, and my purpose in life didn't seem very clear to me. In September 2014, when I filled out the application for the Project Green Challenge opens in a new tab (PGC), little did I know that it would be the most inspiring, motivating and life-changing experience of my 18 years. When I heard about PGC, I didn’t believe I could learn much more than what I already knew about sustainability. I chose DIY (I made my own shampoo!), worked to consume less, refused plastic bags and planted trees. I mean, there's not so much more that I could do — right? Wrong! I learned, no matter how sustainable you think you are, you can always improve, learn more and make better choices.
PGC is a 30-day initiative that informs, inspires and mobilizes students across the globe to make positive changes in their own lives, schools and communities. Each day of the challenge has a different theme (hemp, food, water, fair trade, etc.) that offers up to four challenge opportunities at various levels of engagement. At the end of the 30 days, a group of up to 16 finalists are selected from the global pool of participants and flown to San Francisco to be part of the PGC Finals, a three-day eco-summit. There they share their PGC experiences, collaborate with peers and eco-leaders, and spend time developing platforms for social action around key sustainability issues.
PGC encouraged me to change for the better, share what I envision for the world and include others in my journey. Change starts with one but happens with many; mobilizing others is crucial and communication is key. This was evident to me at the PGC Finals, where I was surrounded by passionate and affable leaders who have visionary ideas and pursue them. I met people who not only shared my thoughts but also wanted to encourage positive changes with me.
PGC completely transformed the way I saw the world and lived my life. Now, I find myself questioning everything I do in terms of impact. I realized that what we see and experience is a small part of what happens all around the world, all the time. And sustainability is based on consciousness — seeing beyond what's obvious. For example, take your morning coffee. Where did it come from? Think about the conditions of people included in the process of seed to table. Are they fair? Think about farming and processing methods. Do they harm soil, air, water or biodiversity? Will Earth be sustained if those methods continue? Think about where your money is going. Are the practices of the businesses you're supporting in accordance with your values? Another thing I took away from PGC was the concept of voting with my dollar. (In my case, I’m voting with my Colombian peso!) As consumers, if we demand environmentally safe and socially responsible brands, we have the power to shift the supply chain. Now, I support ethical companies and producers and vote for a just, sustainable and thriving world.
I think words alone are insufficient to express my gratitude towards life, which has given me opportunities such as PGC. I not only acquired extensive knowledge, but I experienced empowerment as I had never before, and was inspired to materialize what I want for the world. I saw the power that lies within all of us, our ability to dream and do. I was able to cross paths with others who care as deeply for the world as I do. I realized I don’t stand alone in this quest for progress, equity, justice and sustainability.
My PGC story didn't end with the finals. It was the start of an incredible journey with Turning Green opens in a new tab and a lot of people around the world who work for a better future. I went to the Natural Products Expo West, the Gaia Herbs Farm, started projects at school and was an intern for Turning Green in California. For me, this program was more than just a 30-day challenge; it was about the mission of my life — always make the better decision that will do no harm and benefit all to cultivate thriving communities.
PGC has given many thousands of powerful, dynamic, passionate young leaders from around the world an opportunity to step up to "be the change" in their own lives, school campuses and local communities. Where will Project Green Challenge take you or a young person you know? Sign up opens in a new tab and see.