Colombian Fellow’s Wilderness Education Program is Celebrated by NOLS

If you live in the city, you know how difficult it can be to connect with nature and, perhaps more important, to see the impacts of our unsustainable actions. This challenge is heightened in Colombia, where a devastating armed conflict has long kept urban residents from venturing out into rural areas. If they did, they would see how the conflict has wrought heavy deforestation.

Ashoka Fellow Luis Alberto Camargo decided he needed to raise the environmental consciousness of Colombia’s future caretakers—urban youth who have little to no connection with nature— to protect these resources. Through his Organization for Environmental Education and Protection (OpEPA), Camargo instills an affinity with nature in these young people, and works to inspire a desire to take action to preserve it.

Founded in 1998, OpEPA funds environmental courses for Colombian students. This includes everything from hands-on classroom activities to month-long wilderness excursions.

Camargo would like to see his curriculum spread to all Colombian youth of all economic backgrounds. To make this possible, he tailors the length and intensity of OpEPA’s programs to make them accessible to everyone.

This element of the program is what attracted the attention of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), a renowned center for wilderness training, based in Wyoming, that awarded Camargo their Alumni Achievement Award on October 22. The honor is for an alumnus of the school who has effectively applied his or her NOLS education to endeavors in the fields of outdoor recreation, education, or conservation.

NOLS has been providing wilderness education to students since 1965. More than 15,000 students each year—from teenagers to septuagenarians— participate in its expeditions worldwide. As a NOLS instructor, Camargo taught a bilingual medicine course for several years. 

Camargo’s commitment to providing education for future leaders, especially the underserved, made him an ideal candidate for the award. More than 50,000 youth have participated in his programs during the past decade. In 2007, OpEPA expanded to the United States, extending the deep social impact that Camargo wants to spread globally so that the future leaders of Colombia and other countries become dedicated stewards of the earth.