Project Green Challenge: Reflections from Colombia

by , | Aug 19, 2021 | Culture, Environment, Voices

We live in Colombia, a nation where there is a beautiful range of mountains that gives the city fresh air, keeps the country full of fauna and flora and ensures a great number of rainy days that make our rivers high and wide, which fuels our hope for recuperation of the gray and contaminated Bogotá River. This evidences the contrasting reality of Colombia. In most of the country, from the Pacific department of Choco to the center department of Huila, the rain causes floods, damaging roads, and preventing socio-economic activity. While in the northern La Guajira desert, thousands die because of water scarcity, and in the south, the Amazon burns. We all know that if we would simply take better care of our country and its natural resources, we would solve many problems. However, solving the problems of Colombia and the world is no easy task, and it is even harder when you are a teenager. 

Every day, we hear thousands of negative news stories. Hopelessness is the only word to describe it. In the case of most high school students like us, our days consist of multiple classes and tests that seem to determine our future. And then, when we open social media, we get bombarded by news like the following:

  • 10 thousand hectares of the amazon forest disappear each hour
  • 1 million species are at risk of going extinct 
  • Ocean chemistry is changing (ocean acidification)
  • There are more greenhouse gases than ever
  • The UN announced that we only have one year to reverse the effects of climate change, and the list can go on infinitely

 

We can’t say this seems odd, because it’s everywhere. When you look out the window in big cities like Medellín and Bogota, you see thousands of cars, crowded streets full of hard-working people, motorcycles, trucks, and diesel-powered buses that leave behind a big cloud of dark smoke. All of this is happening while we continue to live our lives as normal teenagers. But what happens when we step out of our bubble and into the real world? We see the kid collecting garbage from the streets, the immigrant family begging for money, the factories based on child labor where one shirt is valued more than a life, the millions of animals who die daily because of plastic ingestion. This sad reality surrounds us daily, but many of us don’t know about it until too late.

We woke up and saw beyond our privileged perspective.

Everyone’s story is different and just because it is not the same as ours or yours does not mean any realization is any more or less valid. After all, we all are rational beings that have a powerful story that shapes who we are and how we react to what is happening around us including our environment, which is what we all share in common, no matter our nationality, language, or religion, planet earth is our home.

The truth is that we are all inhabitants of and participants in society on our shared Earth. 

 

Ivana: I was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, a relatively poor country in Central America. My grandfather, from my mother’s side, escaped Germany from the Nazi party when he was only 20 years old. My mom tells me about his stories in a concentration camp called Buchenwald. His family owned a very successful business, a farm outside a city. It just took one day for all to be destroyed when he was brought to a concentration camp during the Second World War. He and his family waited three times in line for a gas chamber. Fortunately, he had a military friend who prevented the worst from happening. When the war ended, he immigrated to Honduras (the only place that accepted him) to live a happy life, which he did. Nevertheless, all he had was lost. His money, his animals, his life. Little by little, he found peace again. He formed a family, he worked in a hotel, and he explored many ventures all while sharing his story with his family.

Fast forward to my birth, when my parents immigrated to Israel to find more opportunities that Honduras didn’t have at the time. We lived in a Kibbutz, an agrarian Israeli collective community. My parents didn’t have enough money to pay for sodas or any big luxuries. They had to learn a new language and encounter a completely new culture, all while they held in their hands the futures of an eight-year-old boy and a one-year-old girl.  Eventually, my dad found a job in Guatemala. Since then, we have moved multiple times. Looking back, I know my life has been a journey. Some may consider it difficult, but I consider it a miracle. I was able to know that the fact that I can write this and participate in an organization like Turning Green gives me a privileged view of life, which I strongly appreciate. It has made me realize that my meaning in life is to make others’ journeys easier by supporting and participating in movements that encourage me to make this world a better place, not only for me, but for everyone.

I have been able to explore this through Turning Green. My journey started with Project Green Challenge, when each day offered a new opportunity for me to explore all of the impacts we have on the environment. From themes like social justice and sustainability, I was able to gain many tools that inspired me to start new projects and change my lifestyle, perspective, and opinion of the world surrounding me. Because of Turning Green and all of the programs the organization offers, I made a pledge to myself to leave a positive mark in the world that has given me so much. 

 

Mariana: My story is a little different, and involves much less traveling. I was born in Bogotá, Colombia, an enormous city with all possible contrasts and immigrants from the rest of the country, my family being a primary example, coming from the departments of Huila, Santander, and Risaralda, many of them fleeing from the lack of opportunities and political violence. My parents both grew up surrounded by cattle and agriculture in different parts of the country, and were privileged enough to go to university, and eventually, with hard work, both gained jobs that allowed them to provide for both my brother and me. Ever since I was small, we have gone through multiple ups and downs, and for years, helping the environment was not my priority, as it isn’t for most. It was until I was introduced to the topic at school that I realized something was wrong with our system, and that we had no other option but to do something about it. The moment I woke up was very scary, as it is for many. I felt hopeless until I ultimately realized that we have to believe in the future for it to exist. At first, I was convinced that I was going to become a civil engineer to build the infrastructure I saw was needed in the country, but then I realized I could become anything I wanted and still contribute to solving the climate crisis. 

We live in a country and world of contrasts, where fossil fuels are a top priority in the economy, despite the fact that we know both the negative impact they have on our earth and have lots of alternatives we should invest in. Traveling away from Bogotá or Medellín, we can see the beautiful natural landscape with all types of vegetation, due to varied climates caused by the different thermal floors and tropical location of Colombia near the equator. We’ve reformed our country thousands of times, but politicians are carried away with other problems, such as narcotraffic-related issues and the economic situation of the country, which are all important — and also related to the climate crisis and broken systems we live in and wish to solve as well.

This is why we decided to apply for an internship at Turning Green, because Project Green Challenge empowered us to believe that we did not have to grow up and be economically stable to change the world, but that we could begin changing the world right now, with our habits and our mindsets and our actions.

Turning Green is an organization that focuses on inspiring, educating, and mobilizing young people around the world to help us stop thinking that someone else is going to make the change we need —and to actually be the change. Knowing how impactful PGC is, we have come to understand that everyone should have the opportunity to participate because it helps us to be optimistic about our future as humans.

The world itself needs more people to change their habits to favor the environment, help the world, and return all of the blessings we have. Signing up for PGC is about taking that first step in doing what is needed and will truly help. We care about the environment and want to be part of the change, and this is why we went beyond even PGC to become interns at Turning Green, something you can do too!