Youth Driven Waste Disposal/Recycling Campaign: San Estanislao, Paraguay

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As a Peace Corps Paraguay volunteer, I ignited the idea for the waste/recycling awareness campaign with the local youth group I work with, Rotaract, a subsidiary of Rotary International for 18 to 30-year-olds. It began with an Asunción-based NGO, Ita Enramada, coming out to San Estanislao to speak about the importance of minding our environment and the tragic impact that the lack of information or recycling programs has had on it. The culmination of the campaign was two-fold. First, we held a competition between the high-schools to design a trashcan to be installed in a popular community park with a message about proper waste disposal or caring for our environment. Second, of the seven local high-schools competing, each was assigned a material from plastic to rubber to cloth, etcetera, to design saleable recycled crafts at a “Feria de Tesoros Reciclados” for a public street fair. Overall, I have never seen such creativity and assertiveness among the youth of my community. I was sincerely proud of everyone involved in organizing and participating in this campaign that I left wondering how I’ll ship all of my new handicrafts back to the States!

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Youth Driven Waste Disposal/Recycling Campaign: San Estanislao, Paraguay

  1. 1. #winning #W Nuestra Tierra Guaraní no es Basurero The Wrapper that Unfolded a Campaign Brienne Thomson, G-42 CED 6 KUAT | August 2014 Photos: Brienne Thomson
  2. 2. #winning#W I stood across the trail from him, straddling my bicycle and overlooking one of the few topographically blessed regions of Paraguay. We were waiting for the stragglers as they pedaled around the rain-washed ruts up the red dirt hill. I glanced over at my corrida cohort as he pulled out a pack of gum from his hydration pack. He chose a piece, unwrapped it carefully and robotically flicked the wrapper onto the sandy trail. “Sí, sí, pero, así es la costumbre,” he responded to my chiding with the same automatic reply as I have heard time and time again in Paraguay when I question the “customary” disregard for the environment; the culture is to blame and that’s excuse enough to carry on. Fortunately, my two-minute conversational milestone with my cycling friend ended with the little metal gum wrapper back in his hydration pack pocket. But a milestone is a milestone for a reason, and the community’s concept of the impact of waste disposal evolved. From conversing about the common Paraguayan “custom” of throwing plastic bottles out the windows of busses, to burning trash, to community members tossing their waste in the river thinking it will just float away (bottles, batteries, diapers and all), ideas began to take shape. Rotaract, San Estanislao’s Rotary International youth group, with whom I brainstorm about civic service, were naturally fueled by the issue and developed an impactful campaign slogan, “Nuestra Tierra Guaraní no es Basurero.” And to initiate the idea, a teacher from a fellow PCV’s site introduced me to Fundación Itá Enramada, a Paraguayan-run NGO with a focus on informing people about the effects of improper battery disposal and other environmental concerns through community workshops. And with these puzzle pieces, a partnership was linked between two inter-country organizations, Roataract and Itá Enramada, boosting the likelihood of sustainability; on a relatable level for workshop attendees and through a local connection for future collaboration. But still, to impact KUAT | August 2014 7 Photo: Brienne Thomson
  3. 3. #winning #W the consciousness of a society without authoritative measures, and in such a significant way as to modify their actions and routine, is an act of endurance and some damn appealing incentive. To avoid “researching the searched”, Rotaract and I devised the best ways to get the community involved, I contacted our always obliging Community Economic Development coordinator, Mrs. Joanna Arnold, and asked her to delve into Environment’s resources and provide me with something I could share with Rotaract to simulate the campaign. I received two thoroughly documented guides about inciting awareness and action. The first is a manual, Basura Cero= Escuela Saludable, that includes activities and games focused on managing trash and implementing recycling across multiple Paraguayan community organizations, from schools to government institutions. The second, Capacitación de Gestión de Desechos, is a guide about teaching locals how to instill these ethics, complete with influential statistics and PowerPoint visuals. We used the materials to hone our focus, but constructed our campaign to satisfy community needs. Taking advantage of the snowball concept, Rotaract chose to center the “reduce, reuse, recycle” campaign on high-school students that focused on three shortcomings to surmount: 1. Locals don’t realize the impact of waste on the environment and subsequently the health of community members. 2. Communities don’t incentivize “reduce, reuse, recycle” efforts. 3. Locals don’t know how to salvage items they deem to be waste. 8 KUAT | August 2014 Photo: Brienne Thomson
  4. 4. #winning#W The physical objective was to clean up the city, but the goal was, and remains to be, to activate a social priority to not pollute the city in the first place. To begin, we coordinated with the founder of Fundación Itá Enramada, Rubén Figueredo, to take the drive out to San Estanislao from Asunción and enlighten community members and committees from seven local high schools on the environmental repercussions of negligent waste disposal. Next, we proposed follow-up challenges to the students—which were pre-approved by school directors—to get their brains and bodies actively involved in accordance with our goals: 1. Raise consciousness of the environmental and health consequences through the Fundación Itá Enramada talk. 2. Incentivize action and sustainability through an inter-high school competition to design a trash can to be installed in the riverside community park with a message as a permanent reminder as to the importance of caring for our environment. 3. To assign each high school a material— glass, plastic, metal, paper, wood or rubber—as their‘matter of focus for a kiosk full of saleable arts and crafts. The culmination of the project would consist of an art fair, Feria de Tesoros Reciclados, where prizes would be awarded for the most unique and useful stands and products, with the goal of motivating the students and faculty to formulate ways to reuse and recycle. An overview of organizational details the Rotaract team accomplished prior to the fair were: •• Submit requests to the municipality to get approval to install the trash cans in the riverside park and to host the fair in the community plaza. •• Organize and promote the Itá Enramada charla as well as secure a location (refer to footnote). •• Sell the high school directors on the idea of participating and sending representative students to the talk. •• Present a PowerPoint with the rules, regulations and assigned materials (chosen by raffle) for the Feria de Tesoros Reciclados following the charla. •• Get trophies made, and to organize audio, judges and judging criteria for the fair. The event was a stunning success, and as a lover of all things hecho a mano, just looking out the window makes my home a happier place to be. Yet, despite the success of the campaign, I want to reflect on some room for improvement tidbits in hopes that a youth-directed recycled art fair can open some minds and spawn some creativity in other KUAT | August 2014 9
  5. 5. #winning #W parts of Paraguay. Looking back, the trophies awarded to the most innovative kiosks and trash cans should have been made of recycled items. Poor planning didn’t leave youth group members with the time to design them, which also meant they had to pull from their savings to purchase them. Secondly, we needed more promotion and something to entice community member involvement. My suggestion would be to open a portion of the plaza to local artisans and/or to host a Feria de Garage for community members to trade and sell their used goods. And, with the success and amazing innovation displayed at the fair, I am hoping that following up and instigating another one might just keep the snowball rolling for future events. I plan to stoke the fire to perpetuate the campaign in this week’s meeting. Please feel free to contact me with any questions if you have interest in disseminating the message that Nuestra Tierra Guaraní no es Basurero in your site. Location Note: We held the Fundación Itá Enramada charla in the local Mormon Church, which proved to be a subsequent and positive eye-opener for the community. The church has an equipped auditorium with benches, a large projection screen, speakers and a microphone – all items Rotaract would have needed to rent – and offered it to the group to use for free. Rotaract’s initial hesitation about having a community event in a religious setting were unjustified. The event was beneficial for the “Tierra Guaraní” and religion-free. 10 KUAT | August 2014 Photo: Brienne Thomson

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