Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Green Movement in a Place that's still Green

Secretly (I announce in the intimate setting of the world wide web), sometimes I want to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in the environment program. It isn’t that I find their goals (environmental education, reforestation and trash management) more reachable or valid than my own health oriented ones, but I find myself attracted to projects involving both environment and health, and sneak in environment activities wherever I can (self-esteem workshop, group of peer educators, health promoters). Environmental stewardship and issues have always interested me, but the situation here is different and demands more urgent attention than vague ideas of conservation.
In the United States, we are experienced polluters. Fortunately we are beginning to change our lifestyle, yet even with drastic changes our carbon emissions and general footprint will remain enormous and damaging. In Musho, however, people use and waste far less. Few people have cars; even those that do will spend most of their time walking. A good portion of the food is grown within a mile of the house (and carried by the family or on a donkey), and precious few have energy burning devices like refrigerators or computers. There is little cement and the roads drain naturally, into the fields. Organic waste is mostly given to pigs, and families have little inorganic waste to throw away to the trash truck that now comes weekly.
However, this is not to say that an intervention is not necessary. Deprived of Captain Planet and other propaganda tools, children (and adults) litter shamelessly. In the potato fields, on the paths of the national park, trash is everywhere. Furthermore, farmers, more and more, use chemical fertilizers and insecticides, and have lost some of the traditional methods of soil-maintenance It seems to me that the people are at a crossroads, one way leading to the polluting and rampant consumerism of the US and the other an opportunity to heal and develop in a more sustainable way than we did. For that reason, outside of my program goals, I spend time running around giving environmental chats, planting trees, and teaching compost.
The other wonderful thing about having an environmental focus is that it can be both new and practical to people. Important as it is, people (especially mothers) are saturated with information about the need to feed their children a balanced diet and wash their hands. This does not necessarily mean it happens. Many people have never heard of compost—a fertilizer made from things that are free and abundant: poop, weeds, vegetable peels, and dirt. Free fertilizer is exciting. When I gave a chat about the environment to a group of authorities, I had them guess the decomposition time of different items (from an orange peel to Styrofoam). Their reaction to Styrofoam was perfect: Never? Well, why don’t we build houses out of that? Why not?
Health, I admit, is still my passion, and there is plenty of work to be done. There is almost a 25% chronic malnutrition rate among children, not to mention outrageous rates of anemia, parasite infections and respiratory illness. However, I came prepared to face these problems, so environmental issues and campaigns are a grab bag of surprises and challenges. I don’t have written or numerical goals for it, so every success is personal and helps sustain my energy when coordination with the health post is most difficult and straining.
Thursday was Earth Day, and we celebrated in my two schools by having street clean-ups, with a prize for the grade that collected the most trash. I awarded a homemade banana coconut cake to the 6th grade in Huambomusho, and I’m not sure what was more gratifying: that they loved the cake or that they collected about their weight in trash. Happy Earth Day!

1 comment:

  1. I love it! Styrofoam houses- that is a great idea, I bet they are well insulated. I saw in the paper that an enterprising grad student built a house of water bottles somewhere in South America.