SFRC Stories: Joshua Castro – “Explore, Learn, and Evolve”

The Spark

When Joshua Castro (MFRC ‘18) was in third grade, he was transported from his classroom in Stuart, Florida to life in a jungle through the monthly letters from his class PenPal, a Peace Corps volunteer.

“Each month we’d look forward to hearing new stories of their adventures. When you’re that young you don’t realize that not every other place is just like the US. It was fascinating to learn about the culture in a country so different from your own.” Joshua’s class PenPal sparked an interest in learning more about the world. He began reading books by Margaret Mead and other anthropologists while still in elementary school.

That passion followed Joshua through to his undergraduate career. He attended UF and majored in Anthropology. After graduating, he worked a series of interesting jobs, including positions with a recycling center and later, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. “I had always had the dream of joining the Peace Corps. A few years after graduation I decided to look into ways to serve.”

Serving Abroad

In 2015, Joshua joined the Peace Corps through their Masters International Program, which allowed students to earn credits towards a master’s degree while serving abroad. With the support of his SFRC faculty advisor Dr. Michael Andreu, Joshua, who had only left the country once before, took the plunge on a 2-year assignment as an Environmental Conservation Volunteer in Trinidad, Paraguay.

Joshua was assigned to a World Heritage site that was home to the largest Jesuit ruins in South America, Jesuit Missions of La Santisima Trinidad del Parana. With a community of over 3000 people, the site was relatively large compared to those of other environment and agriculture volunteers, which typically had between 250-500 people.

Joshua with his host brother.

Joshua partnered with the local schools (3 elementary schools and 1 high school) to focus on trash management, one of the community’s primary needs. He set a goal to get the students out of the classroom and participating in hands-on outdoor STEM learning. He then coordinated several different camps, borrowing the name ‘Kids in the Woods’ from the USDA Forest Service program. In Camp ‘Chicos en el Bosque’ campers ages 8-15 learned animal tracking, tree identification, and cultural and medicinal uses of native trees and other plants.

A geography lesson with students.

Earth Hour

Joshua’s largest project, Earth Hour, was hosted at the world-famous ruins. He partnered with local, national, and international organizations to present at the event, including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Encarnacion Sustentable, PRO COSARA (an NGO that works towards the protection and conservation of the San Rafael Reserve), and SENATUR (National Tourism Secretariat). Joshua promoted the event on local radio stations and by visiting schools dressed as the iconic WWF panda.

Joshua in costume to promote the Earth Hour event.

The 2016 event was a huge success, though not without its stressful moments.

“One of the main cultural features of the area was that everyone shows up late. So for the first 45 minutes, absolutely no one was there.”

An hour after the event started, a large crowd started to form and excitement grew. Joshua led the group through the ruins while traditional music played through hidden speakers. Outside the ruins, local artists held raffles and the partner organizations tabled. One resident recorded the event with a drone, and Earth Hour was covered on regional news stations.

Due to the previous year’s high turnout and great publicity, the 2017 Earth Hour went much more smoothly from the start.

“It was incredible. Within 10 minutes the entire room was filled up, with people standing and lined up outside the doorway.”

Distributing candles to one of the hundreds of participants at Earth Hour.

What’s Next?

The Earth Hour program continues to grow, with his successor taking over the project in 2018. In a full circle moment, Joshua was PenPals with a 3rd grade class while he was abroad. He hopes that his letters inspired the next generation to “explore, learn, and evolve”.

Joshua graduated this spring with a Master’s degree in Forest Resources and Conservation. He will be rejoining SFRC in a new role this fall as an Adjunct Lecturer in Dendrology.