How can a garden grow more than just vegetables? When it helps to grow adults, too. That, at least, is among the aims of the Global Student Embassy (GSE), a Sebastopol nonprofit that serves students in Ecuador and Nicaragua as well as Northern California by immersing them in the tenets of eco-activism, reforestation, and organic farming as they grow into their place in the world.
Founded in 2008 by brothers Lucas and Jasper Oshun, Analy High School graduates, GSE now serves eighteen local and ten international high schools, reaching 3,500 students across the globe each year.
Students enrolled in GSE do an annual exchange program that allows them to learn and work. Kids from Nicaragua and Ecuador come to California for three weeks each January; kids from California go to Nicaragua and Ecuador each spring break. They do projects on each other’s land, supporting reforestation efforts, and learning permaculture techniques, among other activities.
Community Foundation Sonoma County provided Global Student Embassy with a $10,000 grant in 2014 to support operations and scholarships for students participating in their Eco-Entrepreneurial Fellowship program. Maya, one of the participants, has found the human connection to be a profound experience.
“I’ve met exchange students before, and it’s been kind of uncomfortable,” she says, noting how stilted such conversations can be without common ground. “[In GSE], you’re talking to people from across the world who are really passionate about sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty and food equity and all these really big things that you only dream about. To meet somebody who is willing to come halfway across the globe to learn with you and share with you is so powerful. Every time the exchange students come, I cry. It’s really, really moving.”
The food that Sebastopol GSE students grow is donated to the families inhabiting the small trailer park surrounding their farm plot—many of whom now tend their own adjacent plots—as well as to the Ceres Project, the Redwood Empire Food Bank, and the Graton Day Labor Center.