Field Note: Communities
Mérida, Paraiso de Venezuela… but there’s garbage everywhere!
This is a perfect topic to talk about here in Mérida. Mérida is known, as one of my Salsa Dance teacher’s Gato says “the place that they take all the foreigners, to make Venezuela look like it’s a perfect, safe place”. But if you were to even just look down at your feet, there would be garbage. As my teacher, Cesar (that you all know of now) he says it never used to be like this. He was born in Mérida and he said this has only become a problem in the last 5 years. Never has trash in the streets ever been a problem until now.
Are there ways or places to recycle in the local community, and if so is it easy to access.
So there is this one Plaza, Plaza de Heroinas, where all the tourists go and buy their tickets to travel and to explore Mérida. There, they have one recycling can. One. And when my friends and I from the States, who right from the start, were looking for places to recycle, we all freaked out in excitement! But as for the rest of the city, there is absolutely no way to recycle. It was so ironic that the only place they have the recycling can is where all the Americans go. The problem is, is the population skyrocketed and then the old system of trash removal didn’t work anymore with how many people there were. Then they stopped doing the regular schedule of taking care of the trash and they never adjusted it and made a new one.
But some way that is different about it here is that for the soda bottles. They are usually glass and you pay 2 Bolivares extra when you buy it. Then, if you return your glass bottle you get the 2 Bols back. So that is one interesting way in which they recycle!
2.What is the public sentiment about the state of the environment, and do young people think they play a role in protecting the environment? If so, how?
This is such an awesome question! I recently talked to my 22 year old brother, Andres and he was talking to me about the garbage situation and how much he hates it because he loves Mérida so much! But he told me it all starts by teaching the young people to be responsible. The problem is that kids see their parents throwing the trash on the ground, and then do the same! But he says you need to start by teaching the young people to be aware that they can make a difference and change their city! He also told me that when he goes up into the mountains with his friends. What they do is bring trash bags and spend the day hiking around picking up trash! How cool is that?
- What innovative solutions do you observe, or hear people talking about?
This is really tough, because with this type of government, where the government is in charge of trash removal there is no talk of innovation. They’ve added new trash cans, but the problem is, is that they never have bags so the trash falls right to the ground. (You’ll see the pictures, that the trash cans aren’t actually “cans” but almost like baskets but with big spaces. So without a bag you can’t actually collect any of the garbage. It’s really frustrating because even if you do take the time to put the trash in the garbage “basket” it doesn’t matter, because it falls right through!
Have there been changes to environmental laws lately, or have new systems of solid waste management been introduced in the past five years?
Due to the political unrest, the way in which solid waste is being taken care of has actually worsened. The government is in charge of all the solid waste management. The problem with a lot of governments who have problems with solid waste is that they just don’t have enough money to pay workers to take care of solid waste. Such as cleaning up the parks and streets, changing the garbage bags in public places and taking care of solid waste from houses (like garbage men!). But there is no excuse here. Venezuela makes billions of dollars in selling petroleum and do have enough money to pay. But they don’t. So that’s really what stinks, is that Venezuela could be the perfect example of how to run a country and be clean and efficient but the government chooses to keep the money for the most powerful workers.
Are there any youth groups, community organizations, NGO or INGOs actively working to address solid waste management issues in your community? Who are they and what are they doing. What can we learn from them? If possible, take a field trip and check out their work.
In Mérida the largest and most “prestigious” university in Venezuela (and who I play kickingball for!) is La Universidad de los Andes. ULA is an amazing force of change in Mérida and are usually the first people to start protesting or speaking up about something in Mérida. Many of the students, specifically in the forestral and geografica majors (forestry and geography) have petitioned the government to have more strict laws and to have bags in the garbage “baskets”. They also are known for going out with garbage bags and cleaning up the trash in the streets!
Something that’s also cool is because graffiti is normal here, they graffiti amazing pictures about the environment and how it’s our job to take care of it. One, that I don’t have a picture of, says “el futuro de nuestro ambiente, está en nuestros manos”. This means the future of our environment is in our hands. What we can learn from them is that you can make an impact just by joining together and petitioning your government. Also, by going out and cleaning up! This then shows all the people around you that you care about your environment and then they are more likely to keep their area clean!
Work to get information and opinions from local people. Identify the different variables that affect the way people are addressing the issue of trash. Try and find a local person who has an action plan or idea for how to address the problem. Be as specific, detail-oriented and factual in your observations and interviews with people.
The two people who I believe who have been the best to talk to about this have been my brother Andres and my teacher Cesar. Cesar told me all about how this has only recently became a problem in the last five years. He told me this is because he has lived in Mérida his whole life and continues to vote for the government that says that they will fix the problem, but still doesn’t.
The biggest problem is the growth in population, the government not making a change, and then kids growing up seeing trash and thinking it’s okay to throw it on the ground. But Andres is the one helping solve the problems. He loves Mérida and never wants to live anywhere else. He says the best way to change it, because it’s so tough to change the government (in his opinion) is to do your part and teach kids to respect the environment. He goes with his friends and picks up trash and while he does that, talks to kids about picking up trash. It’s pretty awesome that even though his government hasn’t changed to help keep the city clean, he’s doing his part and he knows it’ll add up in the end!