Brower Youth Award Recognizes Remarkable Puerto Rican Activist
To understand how Ana Elisa Peréz Quintero of San Juan has accomplished so much in her young life, you'd have to consider her upbringing. She grew up amidst the beautiful backdrop of Puerto Rico. And her father was an ardent member of the labor movement. Before he passed away of cancer, when Ana Elisa was just 13, "he told me to get started at a young age and to follow your passions," she said.
Ana Elisa, now 20, is one of only six young people to receive the distinguished Brower Youth Award. Award winners are selected from thousands of applicants through the Earth Island Institute's New Leaders Initiative. She was in San Francisco this week for the award ceremony.
She said she wasn't expecting the honor and was in the middle of research when she got the call. "It was very surprising," she said. But it shouldn't be.
You can meet her in this video.
At the age of 17, Ana Elisa launched GAIA (Grupos Ambientales Interdisciplinarios Aliados), a youth-led non-profit group that reaches kids and provides environmental education to young students. GAIA networks with other organizations and directly connects kids with hands-on activities, such as urban gardening.
"Sometimes it's challenging getting people excited and then committed, but we've done really well to try to meet the needs of everyone and see what people are good at," she said. “If they are interested in media then we have them work on media. If they are good at coming up with curriculum, then we have them work on that."
Ana Elisa, a member of the Sierra Club's Puerto Rico Chapter, has been in the trenches in the fight to preserve the island's beautiful Northeast Ecological Corridor, a 3,000-acre stretch that is home to 40 endemic and threatened species, including the leatherback sea turtle. Thanks to volunteers and activists like Ana Elisa, the government designated the corridor a nature reserve in 2008. However, a new governor has since reversed the designation and large resorts are targeting it for development.
"A big challenge has been the politicians. But we've been fighting it in a gracious and intelligent way," she said.
Ana Elisa attends the University of Puerto Rico in an interdisciplinary program. "I kind of created my own degree program." Two years ago, she won a fellowship and spent time in Chiapas, where she worked on community farming and the eradication of pesticide use. She wants to get a Ph.D. and study urban planning and its relationship to science and human ecology.
Ana Elisa is the first Puerto Rican to win the Brower Youth Award. Although the award is icing on the cake, there are no signs that she's slowing down. When asked about meeting the other award recipients, she said she's interested in networking with them because there is a sub-community of remarkable youth out there. "A lot of us are doing very similar things," she said.
(First two images are courtesy Sierra Club's Puerto Rico Chapter. The last image was taken by María Gabriela Pérez Quintero.)