Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Very Feliz Día de la Tierra

Text and photos by Emily Rempel

Happy Earth Day and ¡Feliz Día de la Tierra! Although I'm a few days late with this post, Earth Day is something that Pop Wuj celebrates every day. This year the international campaign for Earth Day was focused on Environment & Climate Literacy.

"Education is the foundation for progress. We need to build a global citizenry fluent in the concepts of climate change and aware of its unprecedented threat to our planet. We need to empower everyone with the knowledge to inspire action in defence of environmental protection."
- EarthDay.org

Environmental protection is fundamental to the work of Pop Wuj, as indigenous Guatemalans suffer the brunt of climate change. The problems of disease, poverty, and malnutrition that our communities face are compounded by a lack of safe and clean water flowing through our rivers, nutrient‐rich soils to support crops, and pollution‐free air to breathe. Our communities are also left vulnerable to irregular weather patterns, such as severe storms and late rainy seasons. In addition to the physical importance of environmental protection, the health of the natural world is also paramount to the spiritual health of many indigenous communities.

At Pop Wuj we work with our communities to help build knowledge of the effects of climate change as well as strategies for combatting it. In our Safe Stove Project we discuss the dangers of burning plastic, including its effects on bodily and environmental health. With every new stove that is built Pop Wuj stresses to the family the importance of not using plastic and other trash as a fuel for cooking.

We also offer an alternative to burning plastic ‐ recycling! Our recycling program collects plastic, tin, paper, and other recyclable materials from our Spanish School and Family Support Center. We also encourage families in our Safe Stove Project to bring their recycling to the Family Support Center.

Once we have enough recycling stocked up we head out to the recycling plant. Our last recycling day was in March, and while being a bit impromptu, it was a success nevertheless. Former Environmental Projects Coordinator Mary and I spent the morning repacking all of the recycling (as some of the costales had broken down) and bringing it down into the school. Then, with the help of Carmelina and our Student Coordinator Elizabeth, we packed the many bags of recycling into the back of our rented moving truck and headed out to the recycling plant.

The moving truck packed tight with costales full of recycling
Interns Emily and Mary hard at work 
At the recycling plant the workers compiled our smaller costales into giant bags, which were then attached to a hook and manually held up, so they could be weighed. We were paid a certain price per pound of recycling, depending on the type. For example, the thick plastic medication bottles from our medical programs were worth more than thin plastic drink bottles.

Student Coordinator Elizabeth scoping out the grounds
Any extra money that we receive from the recycling day (after paying for the cost of the moving truck) is invested back into the projects. Unfortunately this day, because we were asked to deal with our recycling before we had saved up enough, we did not make up the loss on the moving truck. Nonetheless, the unfortunate amount of waste that we had generated though the projects will now be repurposed instead of sitting in a landfill or on the side of the road.

Having the recycling project active at the Family Support Center is another important strategy for supporting "environment and climate literacy." By teaching the Center participants about the principles of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" and the impacts of waste on the environment, we're helping to foster a cultural change in the attitudes and behaviours of the kids in our project and their families. To encourage the kids to continue recycling we held a small prize ceremony. Kids that brought in recycling from their homes during the month of March were able to pick out a fun pencil and eraser set. While the prizes were simple, it helped to reinforce the value of recycling at home as well as in the Center. As you can see by their faces, the kids were very happy to pick out their new writing tools.

Teacher Santos begins the recycling prize ceremony
Zulmy brought in the most recycling for the month and was allowed to take the first pick of pencils and erasers!
Jonathan choosing his prize
Rosemeri's turn!
With the rainy season shortly approaching, we will also be starting our reforestation project soon. Our Pop Wuj environmental projects, while simple, help to create cultural change around how we interact with our environment. By promoting recycling, disseminating information about the dangers of the common practice of burning plastic, and working towards reforestation, we can help make small improvements in the health of our world.

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