July 22, 2008

Trek Through a Jungle Paradise

By Jonathan Allen, Fort Mill Times, S.C.

Jul. 21--SAVING THE RAIN FOREST: NFHS Environmental Club at work

FORT MILL TOWNSHIP -- Farms have roosters, rain forests have howler monkeys.

"We woke up at 4:45 or 5 every morning to the sound of howler monkeys," Nation Ford High Spanish Teacher Deborah Bustamante says.

Bustamante, one of her students, Christy Zeitler, and Zeitler's mother Lisa just returned from a 10-day trip to Costa Rica to see the nearly 17,000-acre swath of rain forest they helped save through the Nation Ford High School Environmental Club. The group sold T-shirts and candy to raise money for the Earth Foundation, which works with the Nature Conservancy, to purchase and preserve acres of virgin rain forest.

Through the sales, help from Springfield Elementary teacher Patty Granger and grant money received, the Nation Ford club was able to protect 100 acres for $10,000.

The effort was enough to win Bustamante and one student, Christy Zeitler, a trip to see the preserved land on Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula firsthand.

"I'm so thrilled, my goal in the last 15 years has been to have a student experience what I did at least once and take back what I've taken back, to get as excited and motivated about it as I have," Bustamante says.

Bustamante has traveled the world, but this was only her second trip to a tropical rain forest. Ten years ago she spent two weeks in an Ecuadorian forest with a group of middle schoolers. Since that first trip she's been a stalwart supporter of the Earth Foundation's work. During the 2006-'07 school year, she worked with the Spanish Club at Fort Mill High School to save more than 50 acres in Africa. This past year, Zeitler was one of 17 students in the Nation Ford Environmental Club that drove the project.

"With the candidates I had for this trip, it was excruciating who I'd choose," Bustamante says. "But Christy was the best candidate."

"it was amazing, it was so much fun," Zeitler says. "I've been to Mexico and St. Martin, and Costa Rica is the most beautiful place I've ever been."

During their 10-day trip, they hiked in the forest they helped save, rode a 16-stage zip line over the tree canopy of Monteverde, known as the Cloud Forest, swam in crystal-clear jungle rivers, spent a night at the base of one of the most active volcanos in the world, and slept in tents pitched on raised platforms at Pura Vista Corcovado Ecocamp.

"One of my favorite things was the monkeys," Zeitler says.

"All your little efforts to recycle and preserve and reuse are worth it," she adds. "A few people can make a difference."


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