After graduating from Hampden-Sydney with a history degree, Tuebner joined the Peace Corps. He worked for two years in rural Paraguay as an agro-forestry volunteer. Though this usually includes soil conservation projects, Tuebner built biodigesters to produce methane from locally-sourced cow manure. He got the idea while watching his neighbors walk up to three kilometers daily to gather firewood; cattle usually stayed close to the houses, making methane production an attractive alternative. He also secured a USDA grant to build sanitary latrines for the community.
He spent a third year in the city of Quito, Ecuador, again working on natural resources management, as well as on educating school children about water conservation and basic earth science. This experience prepared him for his next career move: teaching environmental education in Brooklyn, New York.
"Despite what you might think, I did pretty well moving to New York," says Tuebner. "From rural Paraguay to the city of Quito was a big change. The transition from a large city in Ecuador to a large city in the U.S. was pretty painless. Though I had a hard time when I came back to the U.S. from Ecuador for the first time for my brother's [Nathan Tuebner '06] graduation from Hampden-Sydney. I was blown away by everything you could get at the grocery store."
While he was teaching inner-city children about geology and pond ecology, Tuebner was interviewing for the co-director position at Un Mundo. He had been recommended for the job by a friend from Paraguay and sealed the deal after the group flew him to Honduras for a face-to-face interview.
"I did not see myself in that position—in such a leadership role—at the age of 28. I thought I might be a program coordinator or a program manager, but not the director of the organization. I am very thankful for the experience."
ROB TUEBNER '03 Environmental Organizer
"I did not see myself in that position-in such a leadership role-at the age of 28. I thought I might be a program coordinator or a program manager, but not the director of the organization. I am very thankful for the experience." Rather than simply giving aid to communities, Un Mundo works with local citizens and leaders to develop programs and facilities themselves. Tuebner and Un Mundo have been building a high school and trade school in the rural town of El Pital. In an area where most education ends at the equivalent of ninth grade, the new school will teach metal working, carpentry, computer programming, electrical engineering, as well as general education.
Another project provides education for special needs children who, in the past, have been left to sit at home because, Tuebner says, no one knew how to provide an education for them.
"One of the challenges working with Un Mundo was the lack of education in the area," says Tuebner. "Many people I worked with could not read or write, so when I led meetings, I had to carefully choose the words I was using and had to structure the meeting to accommodate their education level."
Other Un Mundo projects in the area include a program to provide an education for special needs children and a business development program. Un Mundo is helping a group of women start a restaurant. Tuebner says, "The El Pital valley is a tourist destination, but most of the tourist money does not go to local residents. Projects like this one will help them tap into the tourist market."
When Hurrican Mitch hit Honduras in 1998, many aid organizations came in and gave supplies to local communities. This, says Tuebner, sapped the residents of motivation. "When they would see a white person, they would just wait for you to give them something. Now, as we have worked with local people to set and accomplish goals on their own, that mentality is changing."
Elly Goetz, who worked with Tuebner as co-director of Un Mundo, says, "His humble, kind, and soft approach was his secret weapon to instilling strength in so many hidden leaders in El Pital. He knew how to reach the people, meet them in their world, and cross-cultural barriers, making him everyone's best friend. His role in building the high school has been imperative and will forever change this region and the lives of hundreds of young people in the Cangrejal Valley."
This fall, Tuebner begins a master's program in sustainable international development at Brandeis University. After that, he is not sure what he will be doing, but he will likely be on the move again. "I like to travel and I like the lifestyle of this kind of work, getting to know people and to learn about different cultures. It's very rewarding."