What is Helena doing in Guatemala?
Guatemala — Uniterra
Many friends are asking me what I am doing here in the beautiful Atitlan Lake in Guatemala. So, I will dedicate this first article on my new blog to answer that question, exactly one month after arriving in the country.
The area is located in the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range, in the Sololá Department. The lake, originated by volcanic activity has many towns surrounding it and it has an important Mayan community. I am living in the most tourist oriented one: relatively busy Panajachel.
I am working on a project of CECI called ProAtitlan, dedicated to helping managing waste and educating about garbage reduction and recycling.
My duties can be divided in two parts: helping the different teams in their activities, and fulfilling the mandate given to me by CECI.
I have many years of experience in Environmental Education in Quebec. I started in 2005, in the Saint Michel Environmental Complex in Montreal, explaining different subjects: the green building of the TOHU, how to manage waste, the history of the site and also visiting the Recycling Center with school groups and visitors.
Because of this, I felt very comfortable helping the Education team preparing materials, explaining concepts in the Waste Sorting Campaign launching in Panajachel, and in an Environmental Fair in Santiago de Atitlan.
I visited landfill sites, recycling centers, and composting plants with the technicians, and I participated in two studies of waste characterization with the consultants. We also interviewed the families working directly in one of the dumps, collecting the materials that have market value.
One of my favorite activities until now was to participate in a one day cleaning campaign of the Lake. Because I love to swim, I spent seven hours in the water and on the boats, removing an aquatic plant called Hydrilla, which is an exotic invader. In the afternoon, I helped clean the shore of plastic bottles and bags. I really felt useful that day!
The second and main part of my mission is to analyze the different aspects of the recycling market: quantity of the available materials, prices, people and companies, women and youth involvement, and how to improve the whole system.
I will do all this by interviewing the main people involved, by contacting the companies, by studying the quantity of waste produced and by doing secondary research (consulting documents and Internet sources). Also, I want to observe the little familiar enterprises of transforming waste in handicrafts and of textiles reusing by selling second hand beautiful traditional costumes, mostly made by the Mayan women in all the towns of the Lake.
My secret mission is to work to reduce the use of disposable plates and cups made of polystyrene, that are used so much in all the food stands, and that are mostly not recyclable.
I hope I answered the initial question, and I hope most of all that I can make a difference in the environment of one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Wish me luck!