Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Jen made a worthwhile comment to me after my last blog post that I’ve become accustomed to listing out my activities and posting photos of them instead of reflecting on or going into depth about my time here. So, I’m going to switch things up a bit this month and discuss one project that I’m working in: Eco Amigos.

I mentioned in November that Darwin and I were giving some workshops on solid waste management, and then in December that the students who went to those workshops started an environmental club and made and presented a Christmas tree out of garbage. Well, in January the high school students started a three-month break and things have died down a little, but we still have good attendance and participation. In total, we have had 29 kids who have participated at one time or another. Of those, there are about 15-20 who regularly participate.

I’m proud of the kids and their participation, which is complicated, not because they’re particularly busy, but rather because parents here aren’t used to kids being involved in their own activities and families depend on children being much more involved in the household. Also, several of the group members live in communities outside of Zapotillo and it’s more difficult for them to get into town: they have to pay for transportation, it takes longer, etc. For these and other reasons, often times parents won’t let kids leave the house to go to club meetings and activities.

I have two ideas on how we can improve this. One, I want to invite the parents to a meeting where the kids can present what they’ve been doing, maybe we can get some representatives (professionals) from town to talk about why their work is beneficial, let the parents socialize, etc. I’d like to create more of a sense of community among the families, particularly since there’s been talk about sending the kids to the city for a conference and I can just imagine how a father would react to his 15 year old leaving to go to the city for a week with a gringa he doesn’t know and for a club that he’s not even really sure what they do. Also, I’d like to do is have a set weekly meeting time. Until now we’ve been planning meetings and activities as needed and it’s been difficult to communicate. The kids didn’t want a set meeting time at first, but I think it’s best now to have one.

Also, the kids have to fight a social resistance which I commend them for; the general attitude here is not one of environmental conscientiousness. There’s been a shift towards consumerism and consequently social stigmatisms towards the rural population, which is seen as contrary to the consumerist ideal. The rural population, whose way of life was not too long ago the social norm, looks to meet its needs as locally and naturally as possible. Consumerism supposedly looks to meet needs with the lowest economic cost through commercial activity. However, with the influence of things like marketing and externalized costs, the market usually ends up serving corporations and itself meaning that consumerism looks to feed and grow the market. The rural populations grows its own fruits and vegetables; raises its own animals; know how to work the land; were brought up using local seeds which don’t require chemicals but whose products can’t compete commercially; reuses its waste; are concerned with survival of themselves and their families; etc. The new generations shop in supermarkets and transport plastic bags of processed foods to their homes in their own cars or taxis; encourage the use of agrochemicals for hybrids and other plants that aren’t naturally suited for the local climate and soil; have become more concerned with fashion, status/image, material wealth, and physical appearance, etc.

These differences manifest themselves in attitudes and habits that at first glance don’t seem to be connected, but are. Let’s take, for example, the overuse of plastic bags. Tradition in this area is to have reusable baskets woven from local, natural fibers, which were used to carry locally-produced fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, etc. This doesn’t much help any market because nearly everything is part of a closed system where the producer is also the consumer. At best it would enter into a barter-and-trade system within the community. Consumerism tells us that this results in high costs because the scope of what is involved in the definition of costs in the current system of economics is extremely narrow (externalization of costs). So the consumerist mentality is that we should outsource the production of both the foodstuffs and the basket. The market decides that it is best to have fruits and vegetables grown with chemicals; meats, dairy products, eggs, etc. from animals raised with hormones and processed feed; and finally plastic bags in place of the natural-fiber basket. Not that any of these new substitutions actually cost less, but more of these costs can be externalized. I.E. the producer doesn’t have to pay for them and thus the consumer does not pay cash for them…the damages to health caused by working with chemicals with little or no protection or supervision in order to keep producer costs down and yield larger and more crops than natural; the damages to health in consuming residual chemicals; cost of education denied to children workers; cost of water, air, and ground pollution from agrochemicals, factories, transportation, and the fabrication of all the machines involved in the factories and transportation of goods, etc. What I mean to say here is that modern economics does not factor in all the costs of production, but rather a small percentage of the total costs which either the producer or consumer must pay with money or opportunity costs meaning how much productivity potential (also monetary value) you give up for any particular decision you make. And in those terms, buying processed foods in plastic bags comes out a lot less expensive than the traditional model. However, human beings do not just produce, in fact our lives and the factors that decide our quality of life are much more complex and vast than the current economic model. It's crazy to think that just because certain costs don’t figure into the current economic model, they somehow don’t exist or don’t matter. Like it or not, we do depend on this planet, on the environment. So, anyway, in life terms instead of modern economic terms, the traditional way of obtaining foodstuffs is much less expensive. But modern culture here values consumerist tendencies and thus processed foods, supermarkets, and plastic bags become status symbols while locally produced whole-foods and natural-fiber baskets become social stigmas. Perhaps not everyone recognizes it as such, but it is evident in the attitudes and habits of the people.

Although the highlight of my work thus far has been outings to the reserve, I’m excited to switch to an environmental education focus because the people themselves are the strongest protection that the reserve (and environment in general) could have, but in order for that to happen, the people must value the forest and feel empowered to be able to conserve it. Hopefully I will be able to start working in environmental education in the high school as well, but I haven’t made any concrete plans yet.

Outside of work, life is still wonderful here in Zapotillo. Time goes by too fast, there are too many things I haven’t gotten around to doing yet. I’m trying to shape up some vacation plans for this year, but don’t know when to fit all the traveling in. And now, for those of you who don’t like words, pictures!

The current waste management system in Zapotillo:
Public Waste Receptacles (at least this one is in use...not too common here)

EcoAmigos meets with the mayor to present a project proposal for carnavales (fiestas)

Zapotillo's "Sanitary Landfill." Yeah...right

Painting reused garbage cans for carnavales

More world map project, Cabeza de Toro


Community bank meeting

Haha i got my picture in the paper...again...and they're always really bad pictures...

I painted my room :) and got a new comforter with bday $ from dad (thanks!!!)

Stupid crickets have been eating holes in everything. they got my swimcap (which by the way has lasted me nine years) and i went on a killing spree, getting somewhere between 50-100 of them in my room alone.
Alright, that's it for January. Now that it's March I'll get started on my February update...haha much love!


LCpl Roger Willey, USMC said...

EcoAmigos? So basically they're the Planeteers and you're Captain Planet. That's awesome.

Let me know when you have concrete travel plans for this year. I may yet be able to come see you somewhere in the United States, but don't get your hopes up, because I'm consistently broke. I'm also consistently noncommittal. But, luckily, I'm also consistently amazed with your genius and humanity, so it just might be worth it. Let me know! In all honesty, despite my lack of financial stability, the thought of spending a day or two with you is probably worth at least a month's pay (even if I'm no good at accumulating even a week's pay). Hope things are going well sweety!

sarita said...

wow, thinking about it like that made me love my job even more...soooo guess what? my dad moved back to chicago (lombard specifically) which means 1) i will be very close to you the last week of june and first three weeks of july and 2) i will be looking for ways to get out of the suburbs. lucky you. ;)

2 weeks of my trip will be dedicated to an expedition with my dad and possibly (hopefully) siblings, but the other two weeks i'm hoping you'll find some time to kidnap me and take me somewhere green. pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease???

LCpl Roger Willey, USMC said...

I would have liked to have seen Montana (licks finger, marks off point in the air for an awesome movie reference). But I was REALLY not looking forward to making my way there via 30-hour train ride or torturous 25-hour solo drive, whilst living paycheck to paycheck, so this is great news indeed. I will begin scheming immediately.

sarita said...

you know, i never once doubted why my dad likes you, but thanks for confirming it yet again... ;)

all i can say is, if you're happy i'm happy. well, not really, i was really looking forward to going to montana and...well, have you ever been to lombard? i'm pretty sure they don't have geysers or bears...