David Guijarro/CDF

How was a Leaders Club at the Charles Darwin Foundation born?

Romina Cahuana
11 Jun 24 /

Two years ago, in the Environmental Education office of the Charles Darwin Research Station, a small project arose organically and spontaneously from three questions written on a sheet of recycled paper.

These led us to reflect on how overwhelming it can be for a young graduate to think about the next steps in their personal development after a long time in the classrooms of the island's schools and colleges.

The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), a leading science and conservation organization in the Galapagos Islands, opened its doors to share stories and experiences and inspire young high school graduates to recognize their leadership potential and strengths to empower themselves as young community leaders.

Thus, in March 2022, the first generation of the “Leaders Club” of the Charles Darwin Foundation was born, made up of Ronny, Eimy, Yesthyn and Jacob. Their strong bonds of fellowship distinguished this group of young people after sharing a long time within the “Shark-Ambassadors Science Club” of the CDF.

David Guijarro/CDF
Leaders Club 2022. From left to right: Yesthyn de la Cruz, Jacob Hoyos, Rony Chica and Eimy Garófalo.

Nahomy, Jorge, Diego, Danna, and Damarys formed a year later, in March 2023, the second generation of leaders. Although they came from different backgrounds, they shared the same enthusiasm to continue learning beyond the classroom.

Together with the team of facilitators from the CDF's Environmental Education and Community Outreach Program, the two groups were part of a safe and trusting space, which led them to explore and develop their intra- and interpersonal skills, and to reflect on different social realities; giving rise to an exchange of intergenerational learning experiences.

Rashid Cruz/CDF
Leaders Club 2023 in the interpersonal skills workshop. From left to right: Nahomy León, Danna Zhunaula,Diego Sánchez, Jorge Estrada and Damaris Loor.
David Guijarro/CDF
A Cafecito between young people from the Leaders Club and Ana María Loose, Executive Director of the ECOS Foundation.

The activities of the Leaders Club carried out in four stages: The first focused on motivating them to take their first steps on the path of self-awareness, through emotional intelligence workshops with local experts. In addition, during this stage, there were opportunities to meet and connect with people in the community; one of the most important activities was meetings with community stakeholders such as Galapagos pioneers, community leaders, and scientists from the island. These meetings were called “Un cafecito”, where they talked about several topics from their fears of leaving their comfort zone to their childhood experiences, allowing them to collect stories, identify issues of interest, and practice active listening, but after all, increase their confidence to ask questions without fear of being judged.

David Guijarro/CDF
Un Cafecito between young people from the 2024 Leaders Club with a young local professional from the community.

Later, in the second stage, the young people explored concepts about leadership through short workshops that involved analyzing international leaders, reflecting on previous experiences they had experienced within the school or in other environments, and theories for managing groups.

In the third stage, with high energy and enthusiasm to put their skills into action, the two groups of young people played an active role in the “Summer Club” where teenagers between 13 and 15 years old participated in experiential activities for ten days. Although the CDF team of educators were the main facilitators, each young leader accompanied a subgroup.

During the process, it was evident that these dynamics help young leaders share their knowledge about the conservation of the Galapagos and inspire others to continue connecting with their environment through support in creating their “nature journaling”. Furthermore, through this spontaneous exchange between young people, strong bonds of friendship and admiration were made between them; and a great sense of belonging to the place where they live, because they realized what they could provide to their community.

Fernanda Loayza/CDF
Damarys, Jorge and Diego leading their group in the FCD 2023 Summer Club

To close this period of learning and experiences, in each of the editions of the Leaders Club, the young leaders were part of the Charles Darwin Foundation team as volunteers of the Environmental Education Program for 2 months.

“Thank you very much (..) for this super nice experience, in every stage that I have been in the Shark -Ambassadors Club, Leaders Club, and volunteers, which was like a great finishing touch, and you will always be in a part of my heart (Jorge Estrada,2023).

My experience in the Leaders Club and volunteering period has been truly great. Through the club, I have learned to lead with empathy and vision, thus learning to get along better with people. Volunteering experience has allowed me to learn and get directly involved in projects with a positive impact on our ecosystem. These experiences have strengthened my commitment to caring for nature and given me valuable skills that I will apply in my personal and professional life (Danna Zhunaula, 2023)

Now, as I write this blog, sitting in the same office, it seems amazing to me to think that a recycled sheet of paper, with ideas and questions written in different colors, was transformed into this club.

This year, the leaders club grew a little more: Enrique, Jazmín, Damaris, Henry, Isa, and Willy were the six local young people who were part of this 2024 leaders club and in this same way, it expected to continue growing exponentially to contribute to local young people development, who inspire others.

Carlos Espinosa/CDF
Leaders Club 2024

Romina Cahuana

Environmental Education Assistant

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Andres Cruz

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