By: Julie Servidio
Reduce, reuse and recycle. This is the motto taught to millions in hopes of a better future with less waste. Students here at JCHS do their part, recycling water bottles in class or during lunch, but what if instead of sendingthese bottles to be recycled, they were used to build a classroom?
Although it may seem far-fetched, this is actually happening in Guatemala. Communities in Guatemala, and recently in El Salvador, have become the proud owners of their very own bottle school that they built themselves with the help of the organization Hug It Forward. These schools will allow the children in that village to have an education that they may never have had otherwise.
What is a bottle school? A bottle school is a building made of what are called eco-bricks. An eco-brick is made of plastic bottles which are filled with trash such as empty chip bags, polystyrene and other non-recyclables until they are hard and compact like bricks. The bottles are then placed in between chicken wire and covered with cement. These bricks are durable and used to build schools cheaply and efficiently, with each classroom averaging only around $6,500 to make. Each classroom takes 6,200 eco-bricks to build and is constructed, by hand, by members of the community including the children who will one day attend classes there.
In addition to members of the community building the schools, volunteers travel to Guatemala with Hug It Forward and help construct the schools. Recently Ms. Broffman, a teacher here at James Caldwell High School, was one of these volunteers. Three JCHS alumni, Chris Dalla Riva, Andrew Goodman, and Val Coughlin, accompanied her to assist in building bottle schools. They traveled in a group of twenty-three people, five of which were members of the Hug It Forward Organization. While there they worked on two different bottle schools; one in Xesuj, Guatemala and one in Chisunuc, Guatemala. They helped mix cement, stuff bottles, and line bottles between chicken wire in Xesuj as well as finished painting the school in Chisunuc.
In addition to the volunteer work they were also able to visit some Mayan ruins and attend the inauguration ceremony for the completed school in Chisunuc. They also were able to spend time with the people of the communities they assisted. They were able to play with the children of the villages as well as visit a special education school and the homes of some village members. Ms. Broffman commented on how fantastic the experience was and noted a few aspects of the trip that were particularly moving. For one it was amazing to see how twenty-three people, mostly complete strangers to one another could come from all over the United States, and bond so quickly. She claimed that in just the seven day span of the trip, from July 8th though July 14th, they had become a family. It was also remarkable to her how, in the midst of poverty, the villagers were so generous and kind to them. She recounted one memory in particular of how all 400 of the children in the village could play together with only two balls to share. The sense of community she felt while she was there was astounding.
It truly is incredible what one small village can accomplish by working together as a community. Ms. Broffman stated that she was, “so happy to do something that connected education to environmental awareness and to see such a strong
sense of community amongst people”. She also claimed that it is one thing to know intellectually about the conditions of those less fortunate and how they live but to see and experience it is a whole new level of understanding that cannot otherwise be obtained. She is planning to take another trip with Hug It Forward this upcoming summer from August 14th through August 20th and if anyone is interested in this life-changing experience they should contact her. Without Hug It Forward none of this would have been possible. Their goal is to help bring the opportunity of education to those who need it so that they can create a better life for themselves and their families.
More information about Hug It Forward can be found at http://hugitforward.org/. When asked about the history of their cause a representative named Adam stated, “We actually keep this off the website for a very specific reason. We want to make sure people understand that it is not about “us” and the really important thing is the communities that we serve.” That being said, he shared a lot of information in regards to the goals of Hug It Forward and their approach to helping others. They state strongly that they, “do not build bottle schools: communities do. We are facilitators, giving them the tools to do what they know how to do.” Hug It Forward is a fantastic cause which is always looking for more volunteers. If traveling out to Guatemalais not an option, the organization also takes donations to help the cause. Information on how to donate can be found on the previously listed website. The Hug It Forward program is by no means limited to Guatemala, the majority of their work has been in that country and Latin America as a whole, but they have also made available a free step by step manual to, “build your own bottle school in your community.” With the help of volunteers, this organization has helped empower communities to make a difference and better their lives through education, a priceless tool. It is truly fascinating; a priceless tool largely made of a community’s will to better their lives.