Wed | Nov 20, 2019

Perfecto Sanchez: On a Quest to save the planet

Published:Friday | July 3, 2015 | 12:00 AMDaviot Kelly
Perfecto Sanchez (right) and rowing partner Greg Maud.
Perfecto Sanchez takes his turn rowing as he crossed the North Sea to raise awareness of the damage to the oceans and overall environment.
Perfecto Sanchez makes a point during an interview at The Gleaner on Tuesday.

Remember the '90s cartoon Captain Planet? Perfecto Sanchez is no superhero but, like that character, he is fighting to save the world's environment, particularly its oceans. Recently, Sanchez and adventurer Greg Maud rowed across the North Sea to raise awareness of the damage being done to marine ecosystems.

"The truth is, as a global society, we lack the awareness of the impact of our behaviour on the Earth," he told The Gleaner in an exclusive interview. "This is our Earth. If we don't protect it, then not only will our children not have the same things we had, but we're going to damage it to a point of no return." He believes there is "passive ignorance" that stops people from taking action.

"I believe that it's not governments that will change the world; it's not corporations, but most importantly, individuals," he said. "And even if it starts as one or two persons, it will grow hopefully into a better future."

Sanchez is American-born but readily admits to his Jamaican roots. His grandparents George and Odilia Campbell and his mother Maureen are Jamaican, and he says he considers himself culturally and ethnically Jamaican.

War veteran

But before he became a fighter for the environment, he fought for democracy with the United States troops in Iraq. Sanchez joined the army after graduating from the prestigious West Point Academy.

"Joining the army is a lot different from just signing a paper; it's a commitment to an ideal and to a belief, and also an opportunity," he said. "It was an opportunity for me to make the most of my life and to represent my country that has provided an opportunity for my family and to serve my country in a time of war."

Sanchez wanted to be on the front lines, so he chose the infantry division. He did two tours, one to Ramadi, the most dangerous city where he served as platoon leader of 35 troops. From dodging explosive devices (he saw troops killed by them) to all-out firefights, it was very intense.

"Fear ... can be debilitating, it can also be inspiring," he said. "When one knows what one believes in and represents, fear can also reinforce that. So for me, I strongly believed in my country's mission. I felt I was doing the right thing, not just to fight the enemy ... but to also bring hope and promise to the normal person."

After his second tour, Sanchez was ready to move on from the army, but still wanted to give back and serve his community. So he made the move to marketing and was doing very well, starting out at Kraft Foods.

But he always asked himself whether he was fulfilling his potential and serving the community the best way he could. In the role of senior marketing manager of Evian for North America, he met rowers who were seeking sponsorship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. That's where his present mission began.

Inspired by adventure

"Professionally (sponsoring them) wasn't the right match, but personally I was really inspired by adventure," he said. He offered his help and they suggested his best bet was to get in a boat and row. As with his military career, Sanchez was not content to just watch. He was ready to literally dive into this new area.

He had six months to train and started while still at Evian. But he felt he couldn't follow his newfound passion and live with purpose (his mantra) while working for Evian. So he left the company about the time his training was complete. His military discipline helped him prepare for the row. He treated it like a mission, familiarising himself with the tools and the boat. He had no background in sailing and admitted to a reasonable fear of the open ocean.

"What are the biggest forces? Love and passion. Those were big drivers for me," he said, noting they left the day before Memorial Day (May 25 this year), when Americans remember their Armed Forces heroes.

"Symbolically, I was thinking about the soldiers I lost on tour and a part of me was leaving that behind and rowing towards something, a change I really wanted to fight for, which is awareness for ocean sustainability."

He and Maud left Southwold, England, and rowed approximately 200 miles to just below The Hague in The Netherlands. The North Sea is a major shipping area, so they had to navigate currents, cold weather, and massive ships. Persons estimate the journey can take about four days; Sanchez and Maud did it in 45 hours.

"Our system was two hours on, two hours off. While one person was rowing, the other person would get into the priorities of work," he said. Those priorities were safety first, navigation, hygiene, food and sleep. "So all of that within two hours, we didn't get a lot of sleep because for you to be done and go straight to sleep, you're going to ignore all the other four things. So you're going to get us killed, get us lost or you're going to get hurt or sick and not be able to row when your time comes."

But they made it, and now Sanchez wants to continue spreading the message of environmental awareness, inspiring others to take action. He works with Mission Blue, a charity organisation seeking to safeguard the world's oceans; less than one per cent is protected.

Working for other causes

"So, in reality, it's open water to where illegal fishing, dumping and just degradation of the environment happens without anyone doing anything about it," he said. He also wants to do more adventures, including a project with Whole World Water, working to bring clean drinking water to Madagascar.

Locally, his family collaborated with Food For the Poor (FFP) to build a home for a needy family. He hopes to do more work with FFP as he travels globally, raising awareness of the environment. He would like employees to get their companies involved and hopes the video of his North Sea exploits will inspire others.

"People who don't have the means to readily provide for themselves often resort to inadvertently damaging the environment," he said. "So if we can help people get out of poverty, and provide them a way to provide for their families, we are directly and indirectly helping the environment. I am very passionate about this."