Carolyn Shafer speaks to students in the Carpe Diem Education Borderlands Program at the Fray Marcos monument in Lochiel. Photo by Robert Gay

Eleven students from across the country took part in the Carpe Diem Education Borderlands Program this fall. Carpe Diem is an organization that offers traveling ‘gap year” programs for students on five continents and 18 different countries. The Sonoran Desert trip, which focused on the “complexities of social and environmental justice in the borderlands of Arizona,” according to the Carpe Diem website, was one of the only student trips planned for the fall semester that was not cancelled due to the pandemic.

The group of 11 students and two senior advisors spent eight weeks engaging with communities in Santa Cruz County that are experiencing the effects of immigration policy and climate change. These experiences are aimed at giving the students a more informed perspective on issues of great importance here in the United States and globally. 

While in Santa Cruz County, the students spent most of their time learning and working with organizations such as Borderlands Restoration Network (BRN), The Deep Dirt Institute and the Canelo Project while focusing on sustainability, permaculture and social justice. 

BRN afforded the students the opportunity to learn about and plant native seeds and grasses while creating sustainable gardens. Kate Tirion, at Deep Dirt Institute, led hands-on activities in erosion management, soil development, growing food, compost, designing a permaculture site, and building rock structures to restore arid lands. The students also heard from Carolyn Schafer, from PARA, about threats to the border environment and what is being done to protect it. 

“Over the course of this trip, I have learned so much about myself and about a part of this country I came in knowing very little about,” said Elsie Yang, an 18-year-old from CT. “I have loved hearing stories and perspectives from all of our contacts and have learned so much about sustainability and consumption.” 

The Borderlands education experience was so successful that Carpe Diem has already scheduled additional trips for 2021.