Permaculture project abroad receives grant from WMU Office of Sustainability

"Health and Permaculture in Guatemala," Spring 2017.

By: Raine Kuch

The Western Michigan University Office for Sustainability has selected a permaculture project, part of the 2019 study abroad program to Guatemala, as a recipient of a sustainability grant. 

Dr. Lee Penyak, director of Study Abroad, and Marshall Kim, a Study Abroad peer adviser, applied for the $1,750 sustainability grant titled, "Sustaining Natural Ecosystems: A WMU Service-Learning Project Abroad." 

The study abroad program, "Health and Permaculture in Guatemala," is led by Dr. Jennifer Harrison, a WMU professor of social work, during the University's spring break. It explores the interplay among permaculture, sustainability and health care in Guatemala.  Approaching the fifth year of the program, "Health and Permaculture in Guatemala," works closely with two organizations that promote sustainability in local communities: "Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute" and "Mayan Families." 

"Health and Permaculture in Guatemala," Spring 2017

"Health and Permaculture in Guatemala," Spring 2017.

"It is beneficial to learn about sustainability outside of the United States, to compare and contrast our understanding of sustainability with that of other cultures," Penyak said.

As part of the sustainability grant, WMU study abroad participants will work to raise up communities, contribute to health and wellness for families and learn about sustainable agriculture and education practices. Students will work on projects for Guatemalan communities such as: lasagna composting, seed banks, water filtration, ancient grain products and a medicinal herb garden.

"I think its important for students to be able to travel and bring their experiences back to Michigan," said Marshall Kim.

Students participating in the service project will give a public presentation following their travel. Selected students will also meet with the Office for Sustainability to discuss ecological gardening techniques. Findings may be applied to the WMU Gibbs House site, a permaculture research and demonstration site for students to implement their sustainable design solutions and projects.

The WMU Office for Sustainability funded six sustainability grants this fall. The Office for Sustainability rewards grants each year to support students and faculty promoting a campus culture of sustainability. Western Michigan University sets aside $75,000 annually to support student research and project grants. 

"We want grant proposals that will change something about this university for the better," said Justin Gish, project manager for the WMU Office for Sustainability. 

Sustainability grant allocations are decided by a student body on campus known as the Student Sustainability Grant Allocations Committee, comprised of nine undergraduate and two graduate students.