Balancing Progress and Paradise

Daniel Williams ’14 proposes road construction projects in Ecuador

Ecuador is home to more than 1,800 different species of birds, and is a paradise for Gettysburg College senior and birding enthusiast Daniel Williams.

Before enrolling at Gettysburg, Williams spent a gap year in 2009 on the eastern slopes of Ecuador, in a rural community eight miles outside of Quito, where he worked as a naturalist guide and studied local bird populations.

Bird"I've always loved and been fascinated with birds," Williams said. “Since my childhood, I’ve always had a huge interest in everything about them. As I got older, my interest only got bigger.”

Little did he know pursuing birding in Ecuador would ultimately propel him to explore new strategies to solve real-life dilemmas facing the South American nation.

While settled in the foreign countryside, Williams took note of how eastern Ecuadorians possessed deep-rooted connections with the land they occupy. Although eastern parts of the country are filled with natural beauty, they’re also isolated and have little access to basic necessities.

“Where I lived and worked is nowhere to be found on a map,” Williams said. “You have the land to live off of, and that’s about it. It’s a very humbling way to live.”

Now take western Ecuador – it’s urbanized and overpopulated, which has resulted in high crime rates, limited job opportunities, and cramped living quarters.


Through his first-hand experiences birding within the country, Williams realized that the best way to alleviate overpopulation in western Ecuador, while mutually bringing necessary resources to eastern parts of the nation, would be to jumpstart road construction projects across the country.

Williams’ capstone research reveals how road construction could serve as a huge payoff for Ecuadorians. Construction would ease transportation woes within the congested western half of the country by providing alternative avenues for travel, while also exposing easterners to new resources, such as medical attention, schools, and easy access to clean water and electricity.

Williams, an environmental studies and Latin American studies double-major at Gettysburg, understands that while the construction would introduce a number of benefits to the region, the ecological concerns of the undertaking cannot be ignored.

“We want everyone to have a good quality of life with everyday necessities and fundamental supplies,” Williams said. “That’s in direct opposition to a lot of global environmental priorities like forest preservation or protecting an endangered species.”

As a lifelong birding fanatic, Williams knows the importance of natural land preservation and how human development can negatively affect animal species, but he also recognizes the harm of overpopulation within western Ecuador and the need for expansion.

Balancing the two crucial issues will be a necessity if his construction endeavors are to ever come to fruition.

“It’s easy to overlook the human crisis throughout Ecuador, especially from a purely environmentalist perspective,” Williams said. “We need to preserve the earth, but we also can’t ignore the needs of an entire country.”

Danny Williams with childrenToday, Williams is appreciative that he chose to attend Gettysburg College, as he believes it has given him the means to gain a deeper understanding of the ecological and sociological tensions in Ecuador, and a platform to raise these issues more broadly.

Within the Environmental Studies Department, he found encouraging faculty who supported his research and helped him apply it to his time abroad. At the same time, he also started taking Latin American studies courses to further his understanding of Ecuador and other South American countries.

“My year abroad and my time at Gettysburg really gave me the ability to research exactly what I wanted,” Williams said. “In Ecuador, I saw how lives are reliant on the country’s land. As soon as you could build roads, peoples’ lives change right away. It’s a solution to a very demanding problem.”

Following his upcoming graduation in May, Williams plans on returning to Ecuador to help its citizens pave the way for a better life.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Mike Baker, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6521

Posted: Fri, 18 Apr 2014

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