LearnServe Fellow 2008
We had just painted a school building in a small rural village in Guatemala, and I was being chased by a horde of paint-covered kids. I was half goofing off, and half actually trying to outdistance myself from the kids because I didn’t want to get paint on my still-clean clothes.
It didn’t work. I still have the paint stains to corroborate the story.
What dawned on me was how wonderful it was that I, an American with poor Spanish, was actually playing with Guatemalan kids. I realized that most travelers to developing countries don’t get to see this side – both the exuberant potential and the very real inequalities.
LearnServe was the catalyst for the pattern my life has taken. I must admit that my venture never did make it off the ground. I had planned to start a business in selling recycled computer parts. But meeting environmental activist Majora Carter; learning about climate change at the EPA; and joining the larger social entrepreneurship movement shaped my interest in the environment and fueled my passion for social change. My life has definitely trended towards social entrepreneurship. I’ve had the opportunity to work with the EPA, Navy Yard, and Ashoka’s Youth Venture.
Recently I traveled with a group of fellow college students to Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras – how I ended up playing with kids in a Guatemalan village. Our goal was to both learn from and help the communities we visited – we would conduct community assessments, and then propose a self-sustaining social venture that would address the community’s problems. It was a daunting task given that we didn’t stay long enough in one area to have serious impact. But I found it refreshing to experience education that uses real-world problems and churns out real-world solutions, rather than hypotheticals on a piece of paper.
I am excited now to have the opportunity to explore social and environmental topics in greater depth. I have just completed researching an environmental policy paper on how the materiality of a coal power plan (e.g. where it is and what it spews out) and its distribution of positives (e.g. tax revenue and jobs) and negatives (e.g. CO2 and mercury) have shaped resistance to the coal plant. I was interested in understanding how proximity to the coal plant changed local politicians’ perceptions – and their stance in the debate.
My current research has led me from coal power plants to analysis of land use in the Yucatan. Using GIS / remote sensing and mapping tools, we are looking at the intersection of trade flows, pasture increases, and cattle consumption.
Sometimes my story feels more like an exercise in random luck than anything else. But the more I reflect, the more I realize that I have LearnServe to thank for introducing me to social entrepreneurship, and triggering my passion for environmental work.
Dan Casey graduated from the LearnServe Fellows Program in 2008. He is a graduate of Woodson High School and is now a student at William and Mary.
LearnServe 10×10 interviews and profiles compiled by Melanie Barlow (Fellows 2010) and Julia Peck (Fellows 2011)
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