by Rie Seu

The first community I visited in Comitancillo, San Marcos, Guatemala was called San Jose de La Frontera. From where I live in Los Bujes, it was about an hour and a half bus ride. We went on a large bus with about 60 or more teachers heading towards different schools to teach. It was a packed and sweltering ride.

When we arrived, I was awed by the beautiful view and expansive land. Here, people have a lot of land to grow crops and raise livestock, unlike where I am staying (which is closer to the center of the town).

Osbely, one of the organization AMMID’s workers, explained that people get water from a freshwater source farther down the hill. I was surprised to see that the small body of water was contaminated and dirtied by trash, such as pieces of plastic, paper and so on.

It was here that I learned that recycling or throwing out trash in a garbage bin was a foreign concept to the people of Comitancillo. Here (and perhaps in other rural areas of GUatemala), people throw out trash wherever they wished, for example in the bushes, farmland, down the hill, in rivers, etc. I was astounded that they didn’t think about the consequences of their actions and the effect it had on the nature and their town.

Osbely mentioned that although AMMID has workshops to inform the children to not litter, the action is already ingrained in their minds and the culture. Therefore, it continues to be a problem that I ponder about. I try to think about another method to stop this action.

The weekend after the visit to San Jose, my group of volunteers and I decided to hike to La Gruta, a river and waterfall down the mountain where I live. I was devastated to see the dump where everyone throws out their trash. A part of the hill was covered with garbage, ranging from clothes to cans to pet bottles to scraps of food.

As a student who strongly believes in the importance of prevention, I questioned whether installing water filters should be prioritized over cleaning all the trash. Osbely taught me that the primary reason that the water is contaminated is trash. How can the issue of contaminated water be solved if people continue to dirty the water?

This problem is extremely overwhelming, in such an underdeveloped country and town. Recycling and garbage collection is more of a governmental project. It is not for a small organization like AMMID with only twelve employees. There needs to be a governmental sector that is responsible for garbage collection and separation for recycling.

Perhaps this topic is so important to me, as I come from a culture that values cleanliness and recycling. In Japan, people carry around their own trash, until they find a trash can. They have strict recycling regulations and are efficient in how it is done. Children are taught from elementary school and onwards on the concept of recycling and environmental science.

The first method to solve this problem is to address AMMID on how big the problem is. Together, perhaps we can brainstorm solutions. Students should learn about trash and what it does to the environment from a young age. It should not be a single workshop. Garbage boxes should be placed throughout the town to prevent littering. AMMID should inform the mayor about the problem and that he should take leadership in proactively solving it. This way, the problem of contaminated water and gastrointestinal diseases can be solved from the core.

Although I do understand the importance of proper elimination of trash and recycling, I must learn more about how it is done successfully in other countries. It is important to do this prior to enforcing this concept and pressing issue. I also have to look into what the most effective way of teaching is. Is it through schools, families, workshops or presentations? How can I turn my ideas into action in the most effective and efficient method?