Trip Leaders with passion and deep knowledge of our destinations make all the difference. In addition to handling logistics, our CAS Trips leaders are experts in their fields—naturalists, historians, artists, mountaineers—who have a remarkable gift for sharing their knowledge and inspiring young people. In the coming months, we plant to introduce you to more of the people working to transform our trips into unforgettable journeys and bring the CAS Trips mission to life.
Today, we are pleased to highlight one of our Medellín trip leaders, Laura Rubio. An expert guide and biologist, Laura grew up in Cali, Colombia but now calls Medellín home. A biologist and expert in agroecology, reforestation, and sustainability, Laura is passionate about protecting the diverse ecosystems of her home country. When she is not leading groups, Laura takes part in social and environmental initiatives in Medellín, like the community organic garden she runs.
Thanks for joining us, Laura! It is wonderful to have a trained biologist leading the experience in Medellín that focuses so much on preservation and sustainability. How did you come to study biology, and how did you start leading trips?
My love for biology has been in me since a young age. My father is also a biologist, so my siblings and I spent a lot of time in nature. Living in a rural area gave me the benefits of a less urban childhood, where I could interact directly with the environment and develop an appreciation and attachment to all the plants and creatures that make it so unique.
After my studies, I worked as a science teacher for several years, where my passion for education and teaching about the environment and sustainability grew. I love having direct interactions with students and discussing topics like their choices and the impact they have. However, once I advanced to a more administrative role at the school, I realized I needed to get back to doing something hands-on.
As an avid bird watcher and expert in reptiles and amphibians, I naturally veered towards nature tourism. I started as a consultant before becoming a certified tour guide in 2018. I have been working with Kagumu Adventures and leading educational trips ever since.
I love teaching in a more informal setting and running workshops that make people more aware of what is happening in their environment and how their behavior impacts it.
You certainly bring a wide breadth of knowledge and experience to your trips! What are some of the themes you focus on as a trip leader?
I love the program we run in Medellín because it focuses a lot on sustainability and highlights key UN SDGs related to the environment, like Life on Land and Responsible Consumption. Many of the students I work with live in cities or areas where they do not have as much direct interaction with nature, so it is wonderful to be part of what is often a very eye-opening experience.
Overall, I love teaching in a more informal setting and running workshops that make people more aware of what is happening in their environment and how their behavior impacts it.
What are some of your favorite activities to share with students?
I love the first day of Medellín Spring because we get to visit an organic farm in the town of El Carmen. In addition to learning about sustainable farming, the participants have the chance to actually get their hands dirty. We learn about everything from how to avoid waste and how to make cheese to what is needed to run a flourishing farm. The kids also get to participate in a sustainable cooking challenge that is always lots of fun.
The next day, I lead an urban gardening workshop at a community garden I have been running for several years. It ties in nicely because I can show that even on a small scale, you can grow your own food and implement solutions like composting to become more responsible with the biodegradable waste that we generate.
The kids appreciate that they have to step out of their comfort zone, get dirty, and prepare the soil. It is definitely the first time some of them have touched a worm.
Can you tell us more about the urban garden you run?
Several years ago, I noticed an unused public space near my apartment and decided to turn it into a community garden. The initiative really took off as more local people and visitors got involved. Now, regular visits from students and volunteers keep things going, and we have a developed composting system that constantly turns organic kitchen waste into nutrient-filled organic fertilizers.
It is a great learning environment for students, too. Ultimately, the kids appreciate that they have to step out of their comfort zone, get dirty, and prepare the soil. It is definitely the first time some of them have touched a worm. In addition to discovering what goes into food production, it is a great way to teach students how to initiate something meaningful in their community.
What do you think are some of the most important lessons to share with students when it comes to building a more sustainable future?
It is essential to show students that they have the power to make a difference and inspire them to become more active politically in their communities and in local government. In addition to making informed choices as individuals, we all need to work together to initiate change on a larger scale.
From this perspective, the CAS Project Challenge is a really useful educational tool. It allows students to identify and validate a problem and work together to solve it. That’s the beginning— understanding that we can get organized and work to improve our society.
Visiting Comuna 13 is also a great experience we offer in Medellín because it shows this community mobilization in action. Once occupied by illegal armed groups, this area has been transformed thanks to actions taken by local residents determined to realize a brighter future for their community.
Meeting so many new people means that I am also constantly learning and being exposed to new ideas.
Absolutely. We are fortunate to have so many passionate locals contributing to our trip. What do you enjoy most about being a trip leader?
There are many aspects I find meaningful. I enjoy working with different cultures and backgrounds and understanding the various perspectives people bring to the table. Meeting so many new people means that I am also constantly learning and being exposed to new ideas.
Of course, I also love seeing that I have an impact on students. I like when the students mention or remember the activities we did or tell me they will try to implement things in school or at home. It is uplifting to see that things you have shown them made a difference or inspired them.
A huge thanks to Laura for taking the time to share her insight! Her passion, knowledge, and experience help students see Medellín through the eyes of a dedicated and inspired community member.
Stay tuned in the weeks and months to come as we share more stories from our trip leaders from around the world!