Guest column by almnus Max Metz ’10, for the alumni enewsletter
As you approach the small roofed structure you’re not quite sure what is going on. You stumble a bit as you descend a narrow path more frequented by horses than human feet, being wary of snakes, dodging rocks and sharp sardine cans, getting closer to the building. You hear an incessant squeaking, sawing, and clunking of plastic. Laughter and voices in a strange tongue fill the air. After a few more steps you see sunlight shining through one of the walls of the structure—its rays bent into green and amber flecks. The building, a community-based recycling center in the middle of its construction, is made primarily of plastic bottles. The sound you heard was a team of children and parents, dressed colorfully in their traditional clothing, working together to hone more than 5,000 plastic soda bottles to complete their recycled recycling center. Their excitement is contagious as they place one bottle after another and their soda wall advances toward the sky. There are three identical centers like this one being constructed throughout the forested, ridgeline community.
If you look closer you’d see two “gringos,” two Americans, in the mix. That would be my wife and me—Max and Lorraine (Wolfe) Metz—Northland alumni and Peace Corps Volunteers working in a rural, indigenous region of the central mountains of Panama. At this point we had been working hand in hand with our community to help them create a sustainable trash management program in their community, our home—Chichica. In a community where there is no electricity, unreliable access to water, and where some children go to bed hungry at night, the elders saw the importance in protecting their environment and its resources for future generations. When we arrived to Panama in February 2013 they had already been talking with the Peace Corps about cleaning up their community and improving their quality of life—placing, by themselves, the first few stones in a much larger highway toward a healthier community and environment, and paving the way for the two of us to help them help themselves.
Thinking back to our time before working with these amazing people in the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé, Panama, I am brought back to northern Wisconsin, USA. After graduating from Northland in 2010, my wife and I were lucky enough to remain part of the Northland community as members of the admissions and advancement teams. In those three years we saw, even more acutely, the strength of Northland’s vision and how it manifests itself in our incredible alumni family. This continual drive to help others lay their own paths and to spread our values, helped drive the two of us into three years of volunteer service with the Peace Corps.
As Peace Corps Volunteers we never forgot our environmental emphasis, and always sought to enable those we served to address the challenges of the future—empower our community to pave their own highway toward sustainability. As I look at my fellow alumni around the world, all serving in their own ways, my resolve is strengthened. Our alumni family is investing in generations of change agents, helping them achieve their goals and create a better life for their communities. The value of volunteerism and the vision of our alma mater is not lost on our alumni. However, every day we must remind ourselves of the power that has been given to us through receiving a high quality liberal arts and sciences education, and never forget to pay it forward and pave the way for others.
Max Metz graduated from Northland in 2010 with a degree in outdoor education. He worked as an admissions counselor and as an associate director of admissions, finding future Northland alumni. Max has been a member of the Northland College Alumni Board since 2011. Lorraine (Wolfe) Metz also graduated in 2010 from Northland with degrees in geology and water science. She worked as the advancement specialist, serving Northland alum every day. After starting their Peace Corps service in 2013, they both have finished their traditional, two-year service in Panama and have extended an additional year to continue helping Panamanians achieve their goals.