A New Canaan and Darien duo have gone into business, creating an Ecuadorian ecological education experience called Sustainable Summer.
The roughly 15 or so students who will travel to Ecuador this summer will participate in activities ranging from feeding livestock and preparing breakfast on an organic farm in the mornings, to ziplining, paragliding and surfing in the afternoon.
The program offers a three-week session on Ecuadorian coast and the Andean highlands, which focuses on agricultural sustainability, and a two-week session in the Amazon Basin, focusing on natural resource management.
Participants can participate in one session or stay for the full five weeks.
Sharpe said he expected about 15 kids to join the program in this, its inaugural year.
"We want to help kids think for themselves and come up with solutions for being more sustainable as an individual or as a part of their community in the future," Sharpe said of the program's focus.
A normal day for the program's participants, according to the program's website, would start at 6:30 a.m., with farm chores, include classroom learning, a field trip in the late morning, a cultural activity in the afternoon and free time before bed.
One of the focuses of the three-week session is agriculture and food justice.
"On the most fundamental level, I would love the participants to really question where their food comes from and whether the way we're feeding the world's population right now really makes sense ecologically and socially," Fenton said. "We are very fortunate to go to the grocery store and have anything we want. We have to consider the real cost of what the food we eat is."
Sharpe began his exploration of foreign lands while he was in the Youth Group of the New Canaan Congregational Church. Even after he graduated from New Canaan High School and attended Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, he remained a chaperone, even leading a Youth Group trip after college. In all, he estimates he's been on at least eight trips with the Youth Group.
"That was an experience and traveling to countries and communities that were a lot less fortunate than us in New Canaan. It was certainly eye-opening," he said.
The pair met at one of Sharpe's previous business ventures, a test prep company called Vertex, at which Fenton was a tutor. Over the years the two continued running into each other at internship fairs and industry events.
"We immediately had a connection beyond test prep," Sharpe said.
Eventually, they decided to work on the project that became Sustainable Summer together. Now they are engaged to be married.
They took a trip down to Ecuador together to take sustainability classes at a place called Rio Muchacho Environmental School, and felt that Ecuador was the right place for the program.
"It's a really fascinating place to visit for any reason," Sharpe said. "It's almost a perfect case study in that it has a tremendous amount of natural resources -- oil, timber, arable land -- and is developing quickly, economically speaking. There's a lot of economic pressure being brought on natural resources."
The duo said they felt the ecological aspect of the program would give intellectually curious teens a summer experience unavailable to them elsewhere. Fenton said a program like Sustainable Summer would fill a niche in the market for summer experiences.
"The current offerings in this market didn't touch on these themes of sustainability and it seems like the right moment to launch a program like this," she said.
Sharpe added that in the future, they are looking at expanding their offerings, including gap year programs for students taking a year off between high school and college.
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