“When I was five years old, my grandmother was very sad. She told me: ‘Everything is changing, and I hope that when you are older there will still be food.’ I didn't think too much about this. The forest was still virgin. In 2000, I returned to the same place, and my whole body was filled with sadness because the forest was gone, destroyed, full of buildings and plantations.”
Oscar Rea Campos now works in El Alto, Bolivia, a sprawling city of over 1 million people. Oscar is the founder of Fundación Comunidad y Axión (FCA), an MCC partner that works to improve access to nutritious food and to find creative solutions to climate change. And recently, he has been dedicated to showing young people what his grandmother taught him long ago.
At high altitudes like in El Alto and its sister city of La Paz, the effects of climate change are more obvious than in more temperate climates. Growing any food in this climate is difficult. During the dry season, the strong sun can quickly burn vegetables, while the cold air freezes young seedlings overnight. During the rainy season, the heavy rainfall can drown vegetables until there is nothing left.
FCA has created a space for young leaders to critically reflect on these shifts both at a local and a global level. They teach that change starts from a place of care and tenderness towards the earth and its inhabitants. “Climate change is proof that our hearts are disconnected from our minds,” Oscar says. “We forget our hearts. Our first adaptation to climate change is within ourselves. It’s an opportunity to live in another way, from a more ethical position.”
As part of the program, the youth each choose a small project that’s part of a local solution to climate change and promotes coexistence with Mother Earth. These youth learn a new way forward, beginning from their hearts, while making tangible steps towards a better world with their hands.
Climate change is proof that our hearts are disconnected from our minds. We forget our hearts. Our first adaptation to climate change is within ourselves. It’s an opportunity to live in another way, from a more ethical position.
Daniela Belan Jimenez Siles
Daniela Belan Jimenez Siles, 20, is a medical student who lives in La Paz with her family.
FCA’s program is teaching Belan about developing tenderness towards living things, which can be difficult to do living in La Paz. Through the program she had the opportunity to visit places outside the city where she can feel the change in oxygen. She can breathe deeply here. “Especially after the pandemic and being shut in homes, to go out to such an open place with animals, plants ... it's like wow! I realized I need them. Human beings need to have this contact with nature to feel much more alive,” she says.
After this experience, Belan has been noticing the impact of dumping garbage and the pollution it’s causing in her community.
When thinking about what she could do about this issue, what came to mind was an empty plastic bottle.
Belan has been collecting empty 2L bottles and has begun making “eco-bricks.” With any plastic garbage she or her family uses, it all gets squished and put into the bottle. She explains that to fill even one bottle can take up to a year. Instead of the plastic being left on the street, she is hoping to use these bottles as bricks to build things around her home, like a small animal house or the perimeter for a garden. This way, the plastic gets a second or third life.
But this isn’t just about filling 2L bottles. As Belan thinks more critically about waste, her thoughts and actions have been spreading outwards into the minds and hearts of older generations.
“This has been a change not only in me, but also for my parents too. My dad and mom now look at how much garbage we are using and they want to help reduce our impact,” she says. Her aunt also now has a vegetable garden which Belan helps make compost for.
Belan knows that education about climate change is not only reserved for her generation. She has witnessed the ripple effect and a community’s growing interest in these issues, from her close friends to grandparents.
“Everyone, absolutely everyone can generate change. You can find a friend, a relative, someone to help you, someone to support you, to do it together, because the human being does not manage alone,” she says.
Mishel Melany Mamani Ramos and Jhisel Nadia Mamani Ramos
Mishel Melany Mamani Ramos and her sister Jhisel Nadia Mamani Ramos live in El Alto. They participated in FCA’s program last year and are now working together building and creating their own compost.
Mishel proudly opens her composter’s wooden lid and smiles wide as she shows off the simple structure they’ve built. She’s become sensitive now to the subtle process of producing compost; from the vegetables she adds in at the start to the changes in smell, temperature and color until it is ready to use six to eight weeks later.
Jishel shows another simple composting mechanism; a blue pale with an aluminum foil covering, used to create heat and moisture in the soil from the strong sun. Jishel pokes her shovel through the rich compost inside, filled with worms. She explains how the worms are helping to break down the organic waste, which is a quick and easy way to make compost in a small space. Jhisel keeps the worms apart from the larger compost bin because any green organics like spinach or broccoli can harm the worms.
Jhisel shows us that change and care for the planet can begin at any age. “I’m very interested in helping the naturalization of the environment. I want to help so that we don’t continue to pollute Mother Earth.”
Yhadira Modesty Chura Loza
Yhadira Modesty Chura Loza, 17, just began the youth program in May but is already reflecting on the impacts of climate change in her community. She remembers a long period of time in Bolivia when it didn’t rain at all. No one had available water. But she also recalls a time when there was flooding. In a nearby city, she heard of thousands of hens being wiped out by the flood. It all seemed out of her control.
So when she heard about FCA and their work, it felt like a natural next step to learn more and to take action. “The workshop we had with the foundation (FCA) affected me a lot. That day I became more concerned about not using a lot of water and saving energy. I try to tell my classmates what I have learned in the workshops because then they can also learn about how to care for and save water,” she says. Yhadira has been thinking more about water conservation and the ways we waste water. She now recycles dishwater and water from her shower to give it another use.
“Sometimes I feel helpless because I can’t do anything big, but Oscar always says you can do something small, like conserving water.”
Yhadira is encouraged by what she’s observing in her local and global community. “All over the world there are people becoming aware. They may be small groups, but it’s helping the planet. I hope that in the future there will be many more people and I believe that we will all unite and help planet earth. That is my hope.”
I hope that in the future there will be many more people and I believe that we will all unite and help planet earth. That is my hope.
An eco-brick, a compost bin and a bucket of reused water will not solve the climate crisis alone. But FCA is setting a foundation for the next generation in Bolivia. They’re allowing a space for critical thinking, reflection and above all a space to play and innovate. Oscar adds, “We cannot tie young people only to ancestral practices, we need to reactivate their creativity. The past is an important resource, but we also need innovation.”
While we place hope in the younger generation’s creative innovations, we must allow ourselves to be changed by them too. Like Belan’s parents now recycling alongside her, we too can open our hearts to being taught by a younger generation of change-makers.
Top photo caption: Daniela Belan Jimenez Silas, 20, stands in the street of El Alto, Bolivia.
Interviews conducted by Erin Moyer, SEED Participant of Fundación Comunidad y Axión
Excerpts from Oscar Rea Campos adapted from the Climate Change panel at the Meeting of Reps, CCM LACA 2022