Zac and Smart Roots Global

I met a guy by the name of Zac Ziebarth on Semester at Sea. His low commentator voice makes you feel automatically at ease and in awe, especially when his stories draw maps in your mind creating a vision of his experiences.

The day prior to leaving Austin, I had called Zac to surprise him with the news that we would be passing through Phoenix. Ironically enough, he was on his way to Austin to surprise me. It even turned out that the day we left, he rolled into town for a day. Gah! I was frustrated! So close to seeing such a great friend, but yet so far.

Then we broke down and spent some time in El Paso, which gave Zac time to return to Phoenix. Another surprise call to him was all we needed – he offered his place and a shower. Seriously, more than we could have asked. Aside from enjoying his air conditioning and clean water, we were compelled by the synergy that was created in his home. Zac is in the process of ramping up his organization, Smart Roots Global, which provided grounds for countless questions about both of our organizations and what possibilities lie ahead.

Smart Roots believes educated students possess the solutions to create a sustainable world. They will empower students with sustainability education by providing teachers with the resources, curriculum, and training resulting in a more sustainable world. He has a lot of obstacles in front of him with many people doubting his idea, but from our visit, his passion was evident. Zac is on his way to bettering the world. 

His goal is to implement his kits in classrooms in Kenya and Ghana by January in hopes of gathering feedback to refine the program. I know he is Africa-bound and will surpass his dreams – keep an eye out for this guy! Reach out to help  him if you believe in what he is doing: [email protected]



From El Paso to Phoenix

From where we parked on the University of Texas El Paso campus, we were right across I-10 from Mexico. We woke up from a nap ready to hit the road at 23:00 – it was time to move on to Phoenix.

Brad was driving the first stretch with the goal to switch every couple of hours. In a car, Phoenix would take about 6 hours, but in Harvey we had to give him time to love the road. As usual, semis continued to pass us. This time we jokingly noted their intense gasoline smells. Soon thereafter, we started to become quite drowsy – something wasn’t feeling right. The gasoline smell persisted and we thought it would be best to pull over in Las Cruces, NM.

We got out and rounded Harvey to find his rear gas tank to be overflowing with the cap still on! This was worrying. I think that I may have overfilled it earlier that day, but we still haven’t found a reasonable explanation as to why the pressure built up at night. I ventured into the gas station to grab some coffee and watched the cashier walk to the door to yell at a lady near the pump.

As Brad stood next to the pool of gasoline, a woman smoking a cigarillo approached him. He looked at her as if she were missing a few brain cells and pointed to the exposed gas laying feet from her. “Could you do that somewhere else?”

“Excuse me! Please smoke that away from the gas station!” yelled the cashier.

I hurried out and we left as soon as possible. We found a place to relax for a couple hours as we thought the problem would subside. Sure enough, after some midnight frisbee, we were back on the road.

We kept Harvey at about 55 mph passing through Arizona and missing a couple of opossums chilling in the fast lane – really? You can’t find a better place to spawn out?

I was driving when the clicking started again. We were extremely privy to this click, so we knew it had to be the exhaust manifold again. Thankfully we weren’t in the middle of a desert…

The hills that stood between us and the next city of Benson challenged Harvey to the point of 20 mph exhaustion. Brad directed us to the nearest Napa Auto Parts in Benson by about 5 in the morning. The heat had begun to creep through the windows as we napped for a few hours, but we were soon interrupted by the sweat that overtook us once again.

I went to open the shop door only to find that it was Sunday and that all Napa stores in Benson were closed. Brad and I deliberated for an hour. Was it worth it to attempt to drive to Tucson and maybe Phoenix? What was our opportunity cost?

Since we were already within 100 miles of Tucson, AAA could tow us there, but our real goal was to reach Phoenix since my friend Zac was willing to let us crash at his place. We didn’t want to quit being productive, but we also didn’t want to destroy Harvey.

We decided it would be best to take the risk.

There is a certain feeling that comes just before the drop on a roller coaster. You know what lies ahead – the impending drop. The unconscious moving of your stomach upward. The clenching of your butt-cheeks. The whitening of your knuckles on the bar that protects you from plummeting to your unfortunate death.

My hands gripped the steering wheel. My butt-cheeks pinched together making me rise in the driver’s seat. My stomach wound itself around my heart so that it would be reminded the blood was still pumping.

Left blinker clicked as we moved back onto the two-lane I-10 W going 40 mph. Here goes everything.

Continue reading…

Where the motivation started – Part II


The grey clouds hovered atop the monstrous natural figure. Its flat form and staggered frame towered over the nearly 4 million who live in Cape Town. We made it to our last destination on the African continent, but far from our last eye-opening experience. A friend and I headed straight for the airport to travel to Johannesburg and it turned out that a couple of other students were on the same flight and staying at a local backpacker (hostel). The owner was picking them up, so we took the opportunity to tag along. On the way, the owner directed our attention to multiple townships off the side of the highway. Once we parked, he pointed a couple streets closer to the city to show how integrated the townships are with mainstream housing.

I ate cow tongue and spätzle for the first time and found it delicious. This taste, however, went somewhat sour when I spoke with the waitresses about their experience growing up in South Africa after Apartheid. Despite the desire to integrate, they felt that the government was making it easier to discriminate against white people. Specifically in the workplace. They brought up The Black Economic Empowerment Act of 2003 and the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act of 2007, which were established to create more equality within the working class and bring a rejuvenation to all those who had been repressed by the Apartheid movement. The implications that resulted were an increase in uneducated and under-qualified employees and a brain-drain of educated and qualified individuals. The women mentioned that the government has not focused on building education and has more so focused on “legally” tipping the scales to favor blacks over whites.

Need for focus on education

Need for coming together as equals

As we drifted away from Cape Town, Table Mountain, and the entire continent of Africa, it was apparent that we wouldn’t see land for 12 days. 12 full days. Only ocean. But it was more than that. For those next 12 days, we grew closer as a community, embracing the relationships that were already sprouting. Some of us engaged in our very own, Atlantic film festival where we created an original video within the constraint of the crossing to Argentina. As we filmed, studied, and let our eyes drift across the constant horizon, it was apparent that we were a nation floating in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Need for companionship

Find wifi – not a constant goal of mine, but I hadn’t been online since Ireland. I touched base with my cousin who sent me the contact information for a friend of his who lived in Argentina. Within 5 minutes of emailing his friend, I received a response.

“I want to let you know that I live in Mar del Plata, city located 400 km from the capital, I have to travel to Buenos Aires the next week, but I could try to move that to the current week to be able to meet with you.”

Rather than meet him in Buenos Aires, I journeyed to the south to Mar del Plata. For the day and a half that I spent there, he took off of work and showed me his city, describing it as “the Miami of Argentina”. I was visiting a few weeks before beach season, so as we walked above the beach, he pointed and spoke about the busiest spots. He spoke in English, broken English, but in English. His goal is to learn how to communicate in English fluently so that he is desirable to U.S. companies.


“Because, the Argentinian Peso is not stable and when I work with U.S. company…eh…companies, I receive a stable U.S. dollar.”

Need for stable currency

Need for communication bridges

We crept into Rio de Janero’s Guanabara Bay as the sun grew from its blended reflection to the east. A plane flew over us and touched down on the landing pad that abutted the bay. Beyond the bridge, to the starboard side, we noticed a brigade of large ships. It was later found out that their purpose is to clean the pollution in the bay before the 2016 Olympics. (

Need for proper disposal of trash

Need for clean waterways

With Brazil to the south, we began our 11 day passage to Cuba, and at that point, we were accustomed to long-distance travel. Along the stretch, the films from the Atlantic Film Festival were presented in front of the entire shipboard community. The effort exerted to create each film was noticeable …except for a couple. For the following few days, “your film was great” could be heard as the video artists walked about the ship – they created a connection on the ship.

Need for creativity

Need for collective support

This was it. The point that seemed so far away when we were first accepted into Semester at Sea. The time that seemed as if it should never come.

Our last port.

It hit me as I walked down the gangway with news cameras recording each disembarking step. I immediately reverted to the first steps I had taken when arriving in St. Petersburg. How much had I grown? Was I more confident? Had it already been 3 months? Reporters swarmed us as we headed toward charter buses. As a requirement of our educational visit, we were to be taken to the University of Havana, to engage in a ceremony with the administration, and to sit through a lecture about Cuba.

As much as I enjoyed the interactions and frank conversations about Cuba, I soon developed a suspicion that made me question everything they were saying. We later found out that in order to meet with Semester at Sea students, teachers and students of the University of Havana went through training that would teach them how to act around us. Precautionary measures, right?

I went out to a bar the second night and saw a couple men looking at girls in my group. I decided it was best to distract them with my presence, so I approached them and introduced myself. I sat with them for over 2 hours (we were kicked out because of closing time) discussing the real life of Cuban citizens. A paycheck of 30 CUC – equivalent to $30 – per month denoted a high paying position, and they were in no position to receive that. The only reason they were enjoying one beer and smoking one cigar each was because it was one of the friend’s birthdays. They spoke of the lack of food they received from the government, the restriction to location on the island, and the limit to advancement within employment. They yearned to be free and to experience different walks of life.

Our last post-port on the ship brought out stories that helped confirm my suspicion. A couple of Semester at Sea students asked a store owner about a shop they were interested in visiting. The owner told them that he would show them the way, but to follow at a distance as to not tip off undercover officers that he was helping Americans. The undercover officers wore striped shirts and would detain citizens if they believed they were jeopardizing the state’s intentions. I remembered seeing these men in striped shirts periodically.

Furthermore, a group of students from the ship went to a gathering hosted by a man just outside the city. This man desired to enlighten his fellow citizens about humanitarian laws that were not being followed in Cuba. Subsequently, the students arrived in time to walk past the police barricades and witness this man being beaten and detained for his remarks.

Need for the adoption of many humanitarian rights

Need for freedom of speech

Needless to say, I have seen a great amount of need in the world. What if I choose not to act on what I have seen? What if I sit here letting my legs go numb? Would it be right to continue living my life like all my friends who accepted jobs in the megaplex of the D.C. area (no offense)? My future “vacations” will not consist of the typical tourist traps, but of action with the intent to build better communities. Is there a way to rid this world of the need that I believe should be changed? I don’t know. I choose to believe there is, so let’s see what we can do.
I am still traveling on this road have a deep desire to make all the difference. When stepping back onto American soil for the first time in nearly 4 months, I realized I had a need to act on my experiences. I will continue to chronicle the need that I see where I travel and offer suggestions and actions to solve the problems.



Where the motivation started – Part I

I graduated from James Madison University on May 4th, 2013. My pursuit of many years of the educational victory had ended. But what was next? Fortunately, I had applied, and been accepted to, Semester at Sea. I was about to embark on yet another semester of classes – only these classes would be taken while traveling the world on a ship.

The day that we embarked from Southampton, England, I lost my phone. What a blessing! Off the grid on a ship, and now off the grid without my phone. There was no excuse NOT to live in the moment. So I did. In every country to which we traveled.

I found myself taking note of the need that resided in each of the countries on our itinerary. I remember stepping into Russia – our FIRST port – and being overwhelmed by the idea that it was illegal to be gay.

Need for equality

In Germany, I went with a group of students to volunteer on a foster care farm. I should have helped paint the walls of their barn or helped assemble their new soccer (futbol) goal. Instead, I spent the whole time playing with the children. I was so intrigued by the life the children and I brought out in each other, it felt like a waste to ignore it. I knew then and there that children had to be part of my future.

Need for foster care parents

Need for children in my life

As I hitchhiked my way from Belgium through France, I couldn’t help but inhale the curling lines of smoke that drifted off the ends of so many cigarettes. The gnarled images on the cigarette cartons made me consider Europeans either as ignorant or as challengers of death.

Need for cleaner air

We arrived in the home of my ancestors, Ireland. It even reminded me of my childhood in Seattle. The gray skies and luscious green grass gave me a sense of security and comfort. However, that comfort dissipated after learning about the country’s massive debt to Germany and France; the economy’s instability; and the price for beer. I even read on posters that there was going to be a vote to eliminate the Seanad (Ireland’s Senate) which could save over €20 Million per year. There was great discussion about this, but many of the people with whom I spoke were unknowing of the entirety of the consequences.

Need for greater political awareness

Need for greater economic independence

Yo solo hablo un poco de español – I only speak a little Spanish – and no portuguese. The language barrier was present once we docked on the Iberian Peninsula. Within a day of visiting Lisbon, a friend and I started our journey to Granada, Spain via hitchhiking. We were fortunate enough to acquire rides without being incarcerated, unlike a shipmate of ours, and with a few drivers who spoke English. Portugal’s economy was declining rapidly and many people were losing their jobs, including many of the family members of our second driver. The Portuguese economy is on a downward trend due to a decline in small, mom and pop businesses who makeup many of their total businesses. Even though anyone can create a company in 10 minutes and with about €50, many choose to work with those who are close and who they trust. This restricts the potential for foreign monetary exchanges and limits their business possibilities to revive the economy.

Need for a more globally focused entrepreneurial incentive program

Crossing into Spain on the A22 Highway was a glorious sight as we bounded over the connecting bridge. We were introduced to the beautiful country with a very California-esque feel. I have been to California; I have lived in California; I have known Californians who work very hard. But in Spain, it is a common expectation that someone else will pay one’s bills. I am sure there are plenty of hard-working Spaniards, but that doesn’t acquit the entire country from being part of the PIGS – this is in reference to the lot of European countries (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain) that were awarded loans from mainly France and Germany and ate them up without any real return.

Need for action

I remember waking up and looking out my porthole to see the shipping containers labeled “Marsa Moroc”. It was my first sight of Africa. The group with whom I traveled disembarked the ship and immediately headed for Marrakech. Taking a bullet train is something I have yet to experience in Japan and this train was far from that. When it finally pulled up, I had a sudden rush of adrenaline as my dad’s stories flooded back into my head. Every night before bed, Papa P would provide the most tantalizing adventures from his worldly travels. He had spent over a month driving through Morocco when he was a few years older than am and it changed his life.

Upon arriving, our tour guide mentioned that we would have some time in Marrakech to wander the Madina. This was where Papa P turned into a bargainer – his skills would later be perfected in India. I attempted to video a dancer in the square, but she automatically rejected my recording and demanded that I pay her.

We traveled to the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains where the native Berber people lived. For the next two days, we hiked and lived with the Berber, eating food they prepared for us. Good food. Food that grew in healthy gardens and fields. Children approached me, as they once approached my father, asking for “Bom Bom” (candy) with scattered-teeth smiles. Many of the children’s teeth had seen better days. That did not stop them from having fun. The boys in the village followed each of my footsteps. Whatever I did, they copied. Papa P told me stories of when he was my age and danced with kids in Morocco. The connection I felt with Papa P standing in a place that he had perhaps once stood was overwhelming. I was so glad to live in those moments and not have a phone.

Need for toothbrushes and dental awareness

Need for children in my life

Our second stop in Africa was Takoradi, Ghana. A bus met us as we disembarked the ship and took us to the front gate of the working port. As we approached the divider, we could see a crowd of Ghanaians waiting for our arrival. We stepped towards the exit and the commotion from the Ghanaians increased. Our arms were grabbed and pulled in each direction. Ours ears were flooded with calls of “My friend” and “Donate to my futbol team”. Shirts were held in our faces. Bracelets with our names were immediately crafted once our names were revealed. I felt my privacy diminish and my anxiety increase. I grabbed my friend’s arms and marched towards a cab driver who distanced himself from his compatriots. We were off to the city center.

As the day’s progressed in Takoradi and then in Tema and Accra, it was extremely apparent how our influence was demanded. Multiple children came up to me and my friends, tugging at our shirttails. “Can I have your phone number? I want you to pay for my education”. A government is only as powerful as its ability to follow through with its agreements. Ghanaian Government would like to follow through on their commitment in their constitution that claims

“All persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities and with a view to achieving the full realization of that right-

(a)   basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all…” (

This is not always possible considering the government’s resource distribution or its list of priorities. That being said, many children within Ghana do not have access to education despite their high demand for it.

When returning to the ship, a group of students presented about their trip to the Agbogbloshie – the world’s largest electronic waste dump. It sits on the mouth of a Korle Lagoon polluting all of the water that meanders beneath it. Through pictures and videos, we absorbed the lifestyles of hundreds of people whose job description consists of burning electronics for the purpose of retrieving valuable metals. There was even a meat market being built on the outskirts of the trash dump.

Need for access to education

Need for proper recycling education

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