A Community Effort
Building a Bottle School in GuatemalaPrint this Page
- By Laura Kutner
- Country: Guatemala
- Dates of Service: 2007-2010
- Related Publication: Slide show | A Community Effort
Buenos Dias! My name is Laura Kutner and I am serving in my third year in Guatemala as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader for the Youth Development Program.
The first two years of my service I lived in a small rural town of about 900 people. It is a mostly ladino* town, with small Mayan Indigenous Achi and Kaqchikel populations. Its one circular road is nestled amongst the dry, hot mountains of the Sierra Chuacús in the department of Baja Verapaz.
My primary project was to work in the middle schools teaching life skills education to the students, as well as training the teachers on how to teach the material.
Another very exciting project we began was to build two additional classrooms for the local elementary school out of plastic bottles and trash. Interest in cleaning up the environment around the town was ignited after an Earth Day event that I had coordinated with the school. Although the town's people knew how important it was to take care of the environment, due to habit, the trash was either burned or thrown on the ground. The community wanted to do something to clean up the trash around the town to make it more beautiful and an all around healthier place.
After consulting the bottle construction manual from the non-governmental organization (NGO), PuraVida, as well as receiving technical support from local engineers and Peace Corps, we began to collect and stuff 600 ml bottles, or "eco-ladrillos," also called "eco-bricks" in August of 2008.
The elementary school principal was absolutely incredible throughout this process; her motivation and enthusiasm was contagious, and soon the entire community was on board. Every student in the town helped to stuff bottles; we needed over 6,000 for a 7 meter by 20 meter space. The local stores donated their inorganic trash, the mayor pledged to pay for materials, the teachers helped to count and store the bottles, and before we knew it the town was cleaner and we had enough bottles to begin construction.
The frame of the classrooms and the metal roof already stood before we began collecting bottles; the principal had wanted to finish the structure even before I arrived. Finishing it with bottles appeared to be a perfect way not only of achieving this goal, but of improving the environment as well!
First we had to make sure that we could safely construct the walls with bottles and trash with a metal frame, instead of a wood one, because metal had not been used before with an eco-brick project. It turned out that not only was this an appropriate method, but that because metal decomposes slower than wood, the classrooms would last longer.
In February of 2009, we were trained by a Peace Corps trainer David Castillo, on how to put the bottles in the wall, and by July of 2009, after months of work with students and teachers, we had almost all of the bottles in place! But at this point the community had run out of funding to buy cement and other materials. I was then replaced by another Peace Corps Volunteer named Rebecca, and around that same time found out about an NGO called Hug it Forward. Rebecca helped coordinate logistics in the town, and in October, Hug It Forward sent down five volunteers and provided the rest of the funds necessary to finish the classrooms. The local hardware store and families in the town also got together and donated the last 60 sacks of cement needed to finish the floor.
On October 29, 2009, over a year after we first began to collect bottles, we inaugurated the classrooms. The community truly realized a dream come true. A week later, Rebecca painted a beautiful mural illustrating our tale of construction on one of the walls of the new classrooms. This project was a lot of hard work, but we all learned that not only can you clean up a town and turn trash into building blocks, but you can have a whole lot of fun at the same time. To this day, the town is cleaner, and I believe that there now exists a deeper understanding of the importance of appropriately disposing of trash.
The Principal summed up the success of this project when she said: Es increíble lo que se puede lograr cuando trabajan en equipo." "It is amazing what people can accomplish when they work in a team." This project would not have been a success without the time, dedication, and enthusiasm the community and other participants provided.
Throughout this entire process, I learned a great deal about development work, about community, and about myself. I learned that any development project will only be successful when working with a community, and not for a community; I learned how invaluable patience and flexibility are, and how the process is many times more important than the end result. But from all of the lessons, perhaps the most important, are that you should trust your crazy ideas, and have faith not only in yourself, but in each other.
Ladino: Guatemalan word for Indigenous and Spanish mixed-race person^ Back to Top