(Written September 28th)
As I have mentioned, one area of work I am involved in (and have high hopes for) is recycling. Here in Yuscarán, the benefits to be reaped from recycling span from improving the environment (oh so important as we are on the mountainside of the water source and a national protected area), having numerous social and communal impacts from cleaning the streets to creating a sense of responsibility for locals, and income generation from selling collected materials to the intermediaries who work with the two large manufacturing plants in Honduras that recycle as well as creating different artisan goods and homemade crafts for sale from recycled materials. Well, finally we are making a big first step in doing something here about recycling.
The community partner I am doing this through is the high school. This is good as the two natural science teachers as well as the school director have already done small recycling projects and have shown interest in recycling so the motivation is coming from Hondurans and not just some gringo (me). Also, working with youth means that if you can inspire behavior change with them, they could possibly continue to exert the behavior change for the rest of their life and further inspire their kids and maybe even their parents above them (although probably not this last part). Plus, youth generally just have more energy and are more engaged and curious.
What is this first step? After gathering materials from some previous volunteers who have worked on different types of recycling-related projects, I combined some things to create a quick, basic, two-day recycling course to give at the high school. The first day is the information day that includes short lectures or “charlas” on benefits of recycling, biodegration, basic info/facts, etc. The first day also includes a few short activities or “dinamicas” including a reenactment, matching game, a creativity brainstorming session. Then the second day is a practicum where we learn how to make crafts from empty chip bags, which are one of the most popular forms of trash here, as an example of a way to recycle and to further inspire the students to think in new ways about recycling. In total, the course is about 2.5 or 3 hours.
This first course I did with one of the – equivalent to – 8th grade classes. I had about 20 students and the teacher participated as well (an absolute must for any gringo entering a Honduran classroom!). The first day, which involved a lot of me explaining concepts and citing examples off the top of my head, reminded me once again how far my Spanish has to go still. I think it still went well and the points got across but hearing the teacher summarize points in a much more fluent, brief manner and be quite effective after I was done simply shows how much better I could be at it. One of my biggest observations from the first day was that the students really enjoyed the matching game and took home the message there. With this activity, on the board I put a timeline with different periods from 2 days to 4000 years and the students then had to match different everyday products to the different periods based on how long it takes for those materials to decompose. This way there was a visual associated with both the students’ preconceived thoughts and the correct answers shared afterwards. If anything, every one of those students walked out knowing that it takes plastic bags and bottles 100-200 years to decompose.
As for the second day, I had actually already attempted to teach this in the public library (the kids there were just too young but of the women who participated, three have really caught on and may legitimately be able to start up something eventually) so I already had a few lessons learned from my first attempt at it on how to better communicate the instructions of making chip bag bracelets, in this case. While some parts of it were a struggle, more or less the majority of the students successfully got through the whole process (if they had more time, probably 15 of 20 got a hold of it) and several were taking home with them instructions and materials to continue doing so in their free time. Additionally, whenever I do this activity I like to count the amount of bags that were collected and used in the room (in this case about 250) and remind the participants they have already done something good in that now 250 less bags will be burned or thrown in the streets.
So overall, I am very pleased and the course was a success. Now, the teacher I have been working with is allowing me to do the course with another one of her classes and the other natural science teacher is giving me the go-ahead as well. There are 6 sections of (equivalent to) 7th and 8th graders and by goal is to do the course will all of them before the school year ends in early November. That way, when these students all return in February for the next school year, we can utilize their knowledge and awareness to take another step forward. Possible activities could be to do a large exposition or competition where classes have to make things using only recycled materials (similar activities had been done where students created entire houses or dresses) or to establish a formal recycling collection program or to have the students, now capacitated, go out into the community and give the charlas to their families, friends, and neighbors as a way of furthering the recycling conscious in the community. Or perhaps, over the next year and a half we will do all of these things?
All in all, I am very happy about this and despite the myriad of stupid things that have made a seemingly easy and minor thing to do incredibly difficult, perhaps something may actually change from all of this!