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Saturday, May 8, 2010

When Climate Changes Your Life

featured in Santa Clara University EnviroNews Spring 2010
When Climate Changes Your Life
By Beth Tellman

It is not supposed to rain in November. But on November 7 and 8 2009 it rained in El Salvador as much as it rained during Hurricane Mitch in 1998. If you are a poor Salvadoran, rains that falls 14 inches deep in under 4 hours will change your life. Indeed, 194 died in landslides, and 15,900 instantly became homeless, and one Fulbright project took a turn for the…interesting. When climate changes your life, you stop studying alternative trade coffee and start asking how long a child with diarrhea can live without clean water. Fortunately I never found out, thanks to Santa Clara Alums like Sam Baker, Brian Belcher, Austin Woody, Emory Lynch, Megan Raimondi, Katy Erker, Betsy Purner, Bianca McNeil, Jen Latimer, Allie Dunne, Pat Flajole, Ashton Easterday (and others) who were in country during Tropical Storm Ida and physically hiked life saving water into communities and helped raise $10,000 in two weeks thanks to our website, Over 200 donors and 70 volunteers later, we raised enough money to begin to reconstruct lives. I´m starting an NGO with 7 other Salvadorans called The CEIBA Collective (Construyendo Espacios Integrales para el Bienestar Ambiental/ Constructing Integral Spaces for Environmental Well-being. After attending 30 communities and 20,000 people with food and water emergencies and connecting those in dire need to the big guys (Red Cross, UN WFP, who came WEEKS after the disaster), we continued work in 3 communities to reconstruct crops with organic agriculture, rebuild emotional lives through art and trauma therapy, and organize communities to prevent disaster and fight corruption. Email me, I´ll send you the newsletters for more info (, or come on our delegation Aug. 5-15 to learn about disaster reconstruction (email Casa Alum/ Future Fulbrighter Jenna Knapp for details)
As for my Fulbright? I´m trying to turn emotional observation into academic inquiry. Why do poor people die when it rains? Why was “too much aid” distributed in the disaster epicenter and none distributed to the margins? What is integrated disaster relief? The academic jargon for what I’m quantitatively doing is a vulnerability and capacity assessment, which I´ll present at UN Summer Academy on Social Vulnerability, Environmental Migration, and Climate Change in Germany this July. I hope it serves as a base for future CEIBA Collective projects, and I’ll be in El Salvador for the next two years fundraising for disaster prevention instead of disaster relief via community resilience and adaption to CURRENT climate conditions. I was always a better activist than an academic anyways ;).

1 comment:

  1. I love it Beth. Thanks for sharing. :) You do have an awesome crew of Santa Clara alums... that was definitely grace in action having them here at the time! Ánimo mujer.