The communal kitchen at HI Marin Headlands hummed with the sounds of breakfast preparation and lively conversation early on a Saturday morning. Hostel guests visiting for the weekend mingled with teenagers from the Global Student Embassy, who were staying as part of HI USA’s Great Hostel Give Back program, and over oatmeal and through broken English people got to learn a little about each other. The group of GSE 16- to 18-year-olds from schools in Northern California, Ecuador and Nicaragua were here to do some volunteer work around the hostel and at the beach nearby, and in exchange, they got to stay at the Marin Headlands for a taste of the HI experience. The buzz in the kitchen eventually died down once bellies were filled and dishes were washed, and the enthusiastic troupe gathered in front of the hostel to get started on the tasks for the day.
The Global Student Embassy brings together youth from different countries and cultures to collaborate in tackling local environmental issues identified by the teens themselves. For the kids from Central America, the main concern is combating deforestation by planting trees in areas where they are needed, whereas the kids from California focus on developing community gardens for local food banks. GSE also coordinates exchange programs so that members can visit and experience life in other countries, and in some cases, like this one, they get to come together and volunteer for a common cause. The student leaders’ mission fits perfectly with HI USA’s mission to build a more tolerant world by highlighting the similarities between people, and a stay at the hostel was another great way to reinforce their goal.
As a weak but warm morning sun glistened between the branches of the Headlands’ eucalyptus trees, the large group was split into two: one would stay at the hostel to help clear an area for a future garden, while the others would head down to Rodeo Beach to help clean up the shore. HI Marin Headlands’ Assistant Manager, Meghan, and the Engagement Coordinator, Molly, provided wheelbarrows and tools to remove large logs and rubble to the gardening group, who immediately got to work. Language and background didn’t even seem to factor as the young men and women worked together to lift heavy limbs, clear the garden bed and save salamanders from being crushed in the process.
So, what motivates teenagers to give up their afternoons and weekends for hard work and manual labor? For the students from California, it’s the fact that they get to interact with people from completely different parts of the world and learn about different ways of living. They travelled to Central America with GSE last year and practiced speaking Spanish while learning about not just the differences between them and their counterparts, but the similarities that are much more binding. For the teenagers visiting from Ecuador and Nicaragua, it was the unique opportunity to travel to the U. S and experience the similarities and differences between California and their homes. Most of all, the teenagers recognized the importance of their involvement in protecting the future of the planet.
While the garden was being cleared at the hostel, the beach crew was following the lead of one of the Marin Headlands’ park guides and picking up litter and debris that had built up due to heavy rain. Dogs frolicked on the sand and ocean mist shone and shimmered in the sunlight while the GSE teens picked up any materials that could be harmful to the protected species in the lagoon. The two groups switched after a snack break, so that each could get a taste of working with the dirt and cleaning up the beach as well.
After a satisfying morning of successfully clearing, native garden planting and beach cleaning they went back to enjoying the hostel grounds for some relaxing and a bit of soccer. Though some of the students had stayed at a hostel before, for some it was a new experience and an eye-opener to the opportunities to bond with fellow travelers on the road. The students got to interact with guests, and guests got to learn a little bit about the students’ world. All in all, just another day at a HI USA hostel.