Time is our teacher, and at this time ten months ago, I had no idea what lessons She had in store for me through the AIF Clinton Fellowship. At Orientation in September, our program director’s final words of wisdom before sending us off stayed with me throughout my fellowship experience: “This Fellowship will change you in all the ways you don’t want it to.” Those words were so important to me in the most challenging moments, both personal and professional, yet they ended up being part of my most significant take-aways.
During my short time in Ladakh, I’ve lived among ancient generations, I’ve seen time rewind, time stand still, and time fly. I’ve seen the earth grow old and die, and be reborn through extreme seasons, through silence, song, and a lot of butter tea. I’ve had the privilege to observe and be a small part of how Ladakhi people live in effortless tandem with the ebbs and flows of the earth, regarding the sky, sun, soil, wind, water, human, ice and fire as one, the jewels of the mountain, om mane padme ham. Through harvesting, freezing, sowing, and growing, I’ve lived each season in Ladakh, and learned to appreciate the magnificence of Ladakh’s generations and this blissful interconnectivity of everyone and everything.
However, I also witnessed the destruction caused by commercial tourism, changes in food patterns, livelihood, and education in the name of development. Mountains of plastic on the banks of the previously pristine Pangong lake; people, culture and wildlife being objectified for “selfies” and fleeting stories. Things that were once a seamless part of the ecological fabric of Ladakh’s landscape and culture are now sold as commodities, and that deep connection with the jewels of the mountain is slipping away.
My Fellowship was a collaborative effort to revive and strengthen that connection in the young people of Ladakh, the generation that is growing up in this pivotal moment of development. Students are learning less about local agriculture and the unique biodiversity of Ladakh, and learning more from screens and locally irrelevant textbooks. Through artistic expression, discussion, song, and play, my project helped bring students outside and learning through experiential, place-based education, to inspire future stewards of the environment and a rekindled love for the jewels of Ladakh’s mountains. We don’t need videos or PowerPoints, just a few of earth’s elements to inspire passion and interconnectivity.
The AIF Clinton Fellowship allowed me to grow through challenges and successes, to lean into loneliness, to appreciate my strengths while cultivating new skills through trial and error as well as persistence and patience. Each season was characterized by learning from people and earth, from connections and love. I was fortunate to live with a wonderful Ladakhi family, whose matriarch became my mother, sister, teacher, and closest friend. The relationship we built together was the foundation of my understanding and ability to connect with my host organization and culture. It allowed me to connect with communities and to see a deeper layer of Ladakhi people’s love and mutual respect with all the elements of the earth.
This experience has influenced my overall trajectory toward a continued career in outdoor, experiential, place-based education, specifically in the fields of environmental conservation and sustainable agriculture. It was my experience throughout the AIF Clinton Fellowship that revealed my next career step as a service member through FoodCorps AmeriCorps in Hawai’i, serving as a garden and nutrition educator in a local school. I am eagerly looking forward to my next chapter, while gratefully reflecting on the amount of personal growth, humility, and professional experience the Fellowship gave me the space for. Juley, wild Earth.