In 2008, a group of UMass-Boston Upward Bound students were interested in learning about environmental issues and taking action to make positive environmental change in the world. They named themselves the Get Fresh Crew. They went on several field trips to urban farms, hybrid car factories, and architectural conferences. At an architecture workshop about Radically Sustainable Building, the group learned about an amazing project happening in the community of Comalapa in Guatemala. Comalapa is rich in culture, history, and community, but the residents face many challenges. There is no education past the sixth grade in Comalapa. There is no trash collection so people throw their garbage in rivers or burn large trash piles. There is no city sewer to process waste or get clean water from. Many young women do not get the chance to attend school because they are responsible for collecting water. The umemployment rate soars above 75%.
Long Way Home, a US-based non-profit, sought to address these problems in a holistic way and engaged the community in a discussion about their needs and dreams for the future. The community of Comalapa spoke loud and clear: they wanted a new school for the youth of Comalapa. Long Way Home is now building Tecnico Maya, a technical vocational school to teach youth how to live and build sustainably. The school itself is a model of radical sustainability, as it is being built out of waste materials: old tires, glass and plastic bottles, and earth. Students at Tecnico Maya will learn how to build houses out of waste, how to produce energy, how to harvest water, how to repair bicycles, and a host of other sustainable, marketable skills.
This project excited the Upward Bound youth. They asked more questions than anyone else in the room. At the conclusion of the presentation, the youth asked one more question: “When can we go to Guatemala to help build this school?” The answer: The Get Fresh Crew will spend their entire 2011 April vacation serving and learning at Tecnico Maya. They are currently working diligently to raise $20,000 to fund their flights, lodging, and food costs.
This youth-led international radical environmental service-learning trip is a model for what youth can do when given the opportunity to learn, dream, and act. This trip will provide the opportunity for the Get Fresh Crew to learn about radical sustainability, indigenous Guatemalan culture, social justice, educational opportunity, and self-awareness. When the Get Fresh Crew comes back from Guatemala, they are prepared to teach workshops to others about what they learned throughout their service-learning trip. They will be prepared to enter college and beyond with the mindset that courage, hard work, and a dedication to serving the common good have benefits that are too great to be enumerated. They will be future international sustainable developers and green builders with the pursuit of environmental and educational justice in mind.