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How ChildTrek Was Born - The 1st Trimester: A Seed Takes Root

By ChildTrek Founder Miebeth Bustillo-Booth, first published on March 12, 2008.

How an Island Disappears

The year before our daughter was born, my husband Bart and I went to Central America. In Belize, we stayed in Caye Caulker – a small tropical island getting smaller by the year.

The locals will tell you that the ocean is rising. They’ve seen it creep up the shore. The once expansive beachfronts are in some cases reduced to a few feet. The five-mile island is now two islands. In 1961, Hurricane Hattie filled the low lying area to the north and created what is now called “The Split.” What’s troubling though is that this watery passage is getting wider and deeper. The residents know it’s because of global warming. There’s no debate. They are witnessing their island slowly disappear.

What the Sea is Telling Us

While there, Bart and I snorkeled in the Belize Barrier Reef – one of the world’s largest coral eco-systems. Frankly, I did not know what to expect and I was a bit skittish sharing space with sharks and sting rays. But that day would rank as one of the most memorable and rejuvenating days of my life. The reef was lush with a spectacular sea garden unequaled by anyone’s imagination. The sea creatures were wildly beautiful, swimming freely in a serene and awe-inspiring seascape. Swimming there as if I were one with the fish gave me back lost years.

Yet, this unforgettable moment is tempered by what the guides said. This sea paradise is threatened by human activity nearby and thousands of miles away. Pollution is rampant and the water itself is changing. Parts of the reef are dying – some much faster than others.

The Belize government has taken measures to protect parts of the reef. But its jurisdiction and, therefore, its effectiveness go only so far. For now the green sea turtles and the manatees swim in the warm waters like they have since before humans. But their numbers are dwindling and their fate is tied to what’s happening around them. The oceans are rising and cooling as the icebergs melt.

The larger scientific community now largely agree: Sustained dramatic changes in weather patterns caused by global warming are altering ocean currents and eco-activity above and below sea level. Some of the known effects are depleted oxygen levels in areas of the Pacific where sea life has fled or died.

Did you know water could lose oxygen?

Go Slow or Else

On Caye Caulker, there’s a sign that’s at once command, plea, and reminder of the island’s way of life, “Go slow.” It’s quite ironic that some of us fly south for a chance to relax only to find that our fast-paced lifestyle is threatening the Edens of the world.

As much as possible, I took in the island’s stillness and wished the same in me. I stood quietly “at the still point of the turning world,” [1] praying for humanity to go really slow.

How Mother Nature Rebounds

From Belize, we traveled inland to Guatemala. It was a spontaneous, go-with-your-gut kind of trek into the country. Bart and I had not planned to venture there, but something drew us in. We traveled to Tikal and visited the ancient ruins of the Mayan civilization. We learned that this place now covered by a vast wilderness was once a wealthy and bustling metropolis of as many as 100,000 inhabitants. The city fell as it succumbed to overpopulation, warfare, and environmental degradation. The people soon left.

With the populace and its way of life gone, Mother Nature reclaimed the abandoned city by blanketing it with her nurturing seeds and soil carried by wind and rain. A lush and thriving eco-system grew over what was once a prosperous urban center. Its memory faded until nearly a thousand years passed when a group of archeologists realized that in the dense jungle were not hills, but the remains of a great Mayan city. They soon discovered that the once open plazas and sprawling pyramids were consumed by the rainforest, buried beneath dirt and trees. Only the tops of palaces and temples jutted above the canopy. A massive excavation of the past would follow.

The Irrefutable Truth

As I sat at the top of one of the pyramids, I marveled at the power of nature. What humans destroyed in short order, Mother Nature reclaimed at her own pace. But would we be so lucky this time around?

When Tikal fell and it could no longer nourish the people, the inhabitants simply moved to another place. Today, we demand more of our natural resources on a global scale. In our wake, we leave much less behind and return to the land unnatural manmade goods that clog the pores of the earth and poison our water for millennia, if not forever.

Even as I soaked in the massive beauty before me, this tranquility was interrupted by gnawing questions. Where would we all go if we use up our immediate environment? Do we ask more of our neighbor’s? Are we willing to go to war to secure what they have to meet our needs? And how will Mother Nature be able to reclaim the land as we demand more of her?

One thing rang true as I pondered the inconvertible truth: Humans must yield to nature’s way in order to survive. I was reminded by what the great Native American elders have said all along: We are part of the web of life. We are not conquerors of life. We will always lose when we try to overpower nature.

How the Earth Endures

American astronaut Mae Jamison once remarked that when she looked back at our planet, she came upon the realization that the Earth would endure no matter what we did to it. Give her time, thousands of years, and Mother Nature will repair or reclaim ruined landscapes. Jamison, however, deeply worried about humanity. Our average lifespan is measured in double-digits.

The Earth is over 4.5 billion years old. It will outlast us all. It’s been a ball of fire, alive with volcanic activity. It’s been covered with ice for ages. It’s survived powerful hurricanes, tsunamis, and meteoritic catastrophes; and, yet, it goes on. But life on Earth is more fragile. Even as Mother Nature adjusts to new conditions, much of the life we know may not. Raise the global temperature a few degrees and the climate change will wreck havoc in the narrow bandwidth we call our comfort zone. Plant and animal extinctions are happening at a rapid rate. We need the plants and the animals not only for their beauty, but also for the strength they bring to the eco-fabric that makes life on earth resilient.

As we left Guatemala and Belize, a deep excitement and anxiety began to set in: If we don’t start working with nature, we may not be around for the rebound. A seed took root that summer. Perhaps it’s been there for some time. But by the end of the trip, it stirred in me a need to be part of the work. I just didn’t know how yet.


[1] T.S. Eliot, “Four Quartets: Burnt Norton,” 1943.

Next: How ChildTrek Was Born - The 2nd Trimester: Out of the Dark

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