LI: A heart of hope

How one man taught me what it truly means to love the world

Around this time last year, a group of friends and I were on an environmental service trip with Panamanian endangered frogs. These frogs were of all different shapes, colors, and sizes. In fact, some of the frogs looked so bizarre that I never thought they would have existed in my wildest imaginations. However, almost a decade ago, the frogs could have been completely wiped out by a fungus had it not been for one man who went out into the jungle and single-handedly took hundreds of these frogs into captivity. I saw that he did all of these things out of his love for frogs and out of his hope that one day those frogs will be brought back to the ecosystem.                  

The man’s name was Edgardo Griffith, the world’s leading herpetologist in Panamanian endangered frogs and the director of the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC). Edgardo was tall and broad-shouldered, with dark, curly hair, glasses, and had the warmest smile. Our service group had the pleasure and honor of working with him for the duration of the week on various environmental service projects around El Valle de Antón, Panamá.             

Towards the end of the week, Edgardo took us into EVACC and gave a tour of the entire place. As we stood in the lab full of endangered frogs, Edgardo took some out of the tanks to show them to us. It was a frog lab of over 900 different frogs and 60 different species. The place was filled from the floor to ceiling with tanks. Edgardo explained how the frogs are bred in the lab as well as their importance to the ecosystem and to environmental conservation.

Because of their fragility and sensitivity to the environment, endangered frogs provide a firsthand demonstration of problems in the environment. If frogs are dying and are becoming extinct, it is because their ecosystem is out of balance and unsuitable to sustain life anymore. The extinction of these frogs gives off a distress signal and an early sign of severe ecological degradation. If we fail to interpret these signals or work on the conservation of these creatures, future generations of other animals in the ecosystem – as well as humans – will be in big trouble.      

Edgardo described his dream of one day breeding enough frogs in the lab to release them into the wild and restore balance in the ecosystem. However, as he said all of these words, his voice sounded slightly discouraged. Throughout the entire week, I remember Edgardo telling us more about of Panama itself and the background of his story. He told us how the Panamanian government dedicates very little resources to environmental conservation. Despite ubiquitous photos, statues, and frog figurines of the Panamanian Golden Frog, Edgardo told us that most citizens of Panama do not even know that they are highly endangered. In fact, he even said that some people wouldn’t want the population of the Golden Frogs restored because the frogs themselves have become a huge selling point for tourists, ringing in money for the local economy. Edgardo also told us how the Smithsonian had taken credit for his work in past, and that his lab wasn’t getting enough funding. It seemed like the entire world around Edgardo was working against him.

This was when I realized that the dream Edgardo had shared with us earlier would most likely never come true. I think Edgardo knew that very well himself, yet, he worked day to day with just the utmost optimism and hope in saving the endangered frogs. One thing Edgardo said deeply resonated in my heart: “If you have a passion or a dream so deep and so strong, you would do irrational things to see that dream come true.” Because of his love for frogs, Edgardo had been working to breed them in captivity for the past eight years.

As I reflected on my trip when I got back, I came to realize that Edgardo’s story was really a story of hope, a hope rooted in love. I often find myself losing hope and love for the world as an environmentalist. There are so many moments in which I just feel like giving up on the world. When I was in China last summer and saw the countless number of gasoline cars on the street, I thought to myself: “How could this ever change?” When I was picking up trash on the beach during this year’s ASB, I thought to myself: “What impact are we making when the beach itself stretched for hundreds of miles?”    

However, Paul the Apostle once gave the perfect definition of what love is. The words are as old as time and starts with: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs…” The list goes on and on. From Paul’s definition of love, we immediately see that love isn’t as simple as what pop culture has defined it to be, but rather love is extremely complex and multidimensional. Love is something that is easily said or preached, but it is the hardest to live out in action.    

Paul ends his definition with “love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.” Through Edgardo’s story, I came to realize that if we are to truly love the world, then we should never give up hope on all people, all situations, or all things. Seeing what is happening in this nation and around the world, we are so often tempted to lose hope in humanity and give up fighting for what we believe in. When we are in such situations, we must ask ourselves two questions: Does the world need more love? Is love worth spreading? If your answer is yes to both, let us keep hoping.  

Hope is a desire for something good in the future. Hope is the foundation and reason for thinking that our desires may one day be fulfilled. For it is in hope that all things are achieved in this world.  Edgardo had a heart beaming ever so brightly with hope for something as little as frogs. Edgardo had that hope because he loved the endangered frogs of Panama.

Dawei Li is a senior in the College of Arts and Science. He can be reached at dawei.li@vanderbilt.edu

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