For many NOLS grads, their course is the beginning of a fresh perspective that finds its limits far beyond backcountry survival and wilderness ethics. Many students have discovered that leadership experience in the wilderness creates a unique sense of awareness about the environment and ones self that ultimately helps them throughout their lives. Such is the case with Nico Marceca, a 2005 NOLS Alaska Backpacking and Sea Kayaking graduate who found not only inspiration and companionship during his course, but a new direction in life.
Before Nico was 12, his younger sister, Siena, and father became terminally ill. Siena had been struggling with a degenerative brain disorder since birth, while his father was stricken with pancreatic cancer. They both fought to hold on, but by 2001 had passed away within months of each other. This very large and sudden void in Nico’s life left him hurt and looking for answers, but through the pain he never forgot what his sister had represented in his eyes. “She taught me many lessons and instilled in me much appreciation for the delicate life of this world,” he said.
So, in the summer of 2005, Nico headed for Alaska to spend a month in the wilderness with NOLS. It would be full of hardships, as well as good times, but it was something that he would never forget. “NOLS really changed my life, it opened my eyes toward the world, taught me to be a leader and made me realize that one person can make a difference,” he said. The course took him through some of Alaska’s most remote and scenic terrain, but that only characterized part of the experience. “Every night we would sit around with hot drinks and just talk about a life of simplicity, about appreciating the life you have and the people around you,” he said.
As with almost any expedition into the wilderness, much of the atmosphere is defined by the people you’re with. “The interactions with other college-age students who have advocated for change was definitely part of how I was able to redirect my life and my way of thinking,” said Nico. The simplicity of being in a faraway and different place with time that allowed for personal reflection helped him decide what he wanted to do and where to go next.
Once his course came to end, Nico was determined to take his inspiration and do something with it to honor the family members he had lost. Before Nico’s father died, he started a handful of charities around the world in honor of his daughter Siena, so Nico decided on the Siena Home in Eluru, India as his new cause. Siena Home is a shelter that provides food and medical support to impoverished and abandoned children and aims to teach them practical living and working skills so one day they may improve their lives and escape their poverty-stricken situations. Even though it is a relatively new organization, Siena Home has been extremely successful, growing to house over 160 children and continuing to expand due to its spreading word-of-mouth reputation. “Siena Home has grown a lot, it is supported entirely by donations, and at one point poor children from all around the area started to just walk to it, picking more children up along the way, and by the time they got there it was a massive group,” said Nico.
How Nico intends to help Siena Home, and perhaps other charities in the future, makes his situation even more unique because it also encourages a strong environmental ethic. His plans involve Citizenre, a company that specializes in affordable solar energy through the mass production and distribution of solar energy systems to the average home. Nico has signed on with Citizenre as a promoter and receives money for every person he signs up for the program; but, unlike most employees working on commission, Nico intends to give his initial profits to Siena Home. “Right now the home needs a new bore well and rain water collector; the total cost is around $10,000. Through Citizenre, I’m confident I can raise the money because for every person I sign up, I receive $150. Just sixty-seven people would be enough to raise the money for Siena Home, but my goal is to reach over 1,000, and I hope the NOLS community will be interested,” he said.
Citizenre aims to have over 25 percent of the US population on solar power by the year 2025 and works on a system of renting equipment to individuals. To keep their costs down, they plan to manufacture their own systems rather than buy them from a third-party source. Nico is hopeful this system will be successful, and has already been able to sign up five people, with all the commission going to Siena Home.
The final kicker in all this do-gooding? Nico just recently graduated from high school and has signed up for a second NOLS course, a Semester in Baja. Knowing that he was able to take away so much from his first course, it is safe to say that inspiration and purpose shall meet once again.
For more information on solar power with Citizenre, visit Nico at www.JoinTheSolution.com/nico22.