Written by Michael Pantano, a Peace Corp Volunteer in El Salvador.
On November 16th-18th, fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Shelby Fallon and I had the honor to participate in an international conference hosted by the environmental non-profit “Let’s Do It”. The conference was hosted in the western department of Sonsonate, El Salvador bringing together delegates from 28 different countries including the Americas, Europe and Asia. The Let’s Do It , movement began in the small country of Estonia in 2008, when 50,000 people came together to clean up 10,000 tons of illegal garbage from roadsides, forests and towns, cleaning the entire country in just 5 hours. Since then, its mission has quickly spread to 96 countries all sharing the same goal: to create a cleaner world, free of garbage.
In 2010, the Let’s Do It movement reached El Salvador, and the congress was held here as a way to bring together representatives from many of the 96 countries that make up Let’s Do It World, as well as local and international NGOs, with the goal to share ideas, past experiences and failures. Participants came from Argentina, St. Lucia, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, the Philippines, Peru, Russia, Estonia, Canada and the U.S., and the conference was filled with a lot of energy and passion. The Let’s Do It El Salvador team while young, was made up of a group of very motivated Salvadorans with big dreams, and they did a great job of organizing the event.
Presentations were given by members of Let’s Do It Russia, Estonia, and St. Lucia, explaining the history of the Let’s Do It movement in their own countries, the different ideas they have implemented, as well as advice on how to get an entire country involved in the country wide cleanup campaigns, which is no easy task. Those from the Let’s Do It team, realize that the cleanup campaigns are not the solution to the environmental problems that are affecting the world, and that in order for real change to occur there needs to be a commitment to changing the way that we think, treat, and respect our world, but the cleanup campaigns serve as a tangible way to make a small change and help in spreading awareness about the larger issue.
Of all of the presentations, one of my favorites was the presentation given by Enriqueta Ramirez of VivAzul (http://www.vivazul.org.sv/ ). She spoke of the different ways that plastic waste is contaminating the oceans, and the wildlife that depend on it. Some of the statistics that she gave were frightening and painted a dark picture for the future, but this sort of information needs to be put out there in order to spread the awareness that is needed to motivate us to change our ways before we do irreversible damage to the world that we live in.
Shelby and I were humbly able to contribute to the conference as well by giving a presentation about our respective Bottle School projects that we are currently implementing in our Salvadoran communities. The feedback was great, many of the attendees were deeply moved by our presentation, and were eager to help stuffing bottles during our “Eco-Ladrillo” competition. All in all, people loved the idea of reutilizing plastic waste that is so harmful to our planet, while promoting education at the same time. We were approached by many of the delegates afterwards looking for more information about how they can potentially recreate these projects back in their home countries. The possibilities are limitless and it will be exciting to see where the next series of Bottle Schools will be constructed. It was an honor to represent “Hug it Forward”, and promote this great way to make use of the plastic trash that contaminates our world and which is becoming an increasingly serious problem. Innovative ideas like the Bottle School, and Patricia Toribio’s use of truck tires (http://nuevaya.com.ni/?p=13662 ) are small but helpful contributions to make good use of and redefine what we consider to be “trash”.
I, as well as many others who attended, left the conference feeling inspired and motivated. The challenges that lie ahead are huge, the real issue of cutting back on the waste that we produce is no easy task, but it was inspiring to meet so many other people who are so committed to starting this change that is needed. I want to thank the Let’s Do It team for allowing me to take part in this inspiring weekend, and I hope that those who attended will help continue to make Bottle Schools a reality all over the world. Many thanks to all participants for sharing, and please continue to keep up the great work. For those interested in learning more about the Let’s Do It and the different organizations that presented during the conference, I am including a link of the websites of some of the participants. Let’s Do It El Salvador’s first countrywide cleanup campaign is planned for May of 2013, so stay tuned to see how things turn out!