Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Every Day is Earth Day for Peace Corps Volunteers

Note: From time to time SICP will invite our federal government colleagues to guest post on our blog. Following is a great Earth Day story about a Peace Corps volunteer with a community solution to an environmental problem. Happy Earth Day!

No one would ever know that the walls of a two-room elementary school in Granados, Guatemala were created with plastic bottles.  Unless, that is, you helped Laura Kutner, an innovative third-year Peace Corps Volunteer from Portland, Ore., and her community complete the project, which proved to be a sustainable, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective alternative to traditional construction.  Kutner and many of my former Peace Corps/Guatemala colleagues have helped their communities construct, what we like to call, “bottle schools,” which are constructed by enclosing plastic bottles in a chicken-wire frame and covering them with concrete to create walls. They use the bottles — which were cleaned and filled with plastic bags, chip wrappers, aluminum, and Styrofoam discarded in the community — as an alternative to cinder block.

Peace Corps Recycling Photo - Earth Day

Laura Kutner's (Peace Corps/Guatemala) elementary school students help build a school in Granados, Guatemala. April 16, 2010.

In Kutner’s case, students and community partners helped to collect so many bottles and trash, they had to go to surrounding communities to find more discarded materials to build the school. This project sparked the community’s interest in pollution, recycling and waste management.   Other Guatemalans have taken note, and Peace Corps Volunteers across the Central American country are in the process of building schools, walls and recycling centers out of trash.  And, if Volunteers aren’t involved in bottle construction, they are working to educate their local communities about the importance of respecting the environment, or on a variety of other projects.

Peace Corps Volunteers are faced with the challenging task of accessing community needs, brainstorming sustainable projects with local people, garnering their support and finding grassroots funding.  Peace Corps is a unique experience, Volunteers partner with local communities and both live and work where they serve. Among other projects on Earth Day, Peace Corps Volunteers worldwide are engaged in establishing forest conservation plans, helping develop alternatives to wood as a fuel source, and collaborating with various organizations to promote environmental awareness. Click here to see more examples of Volunteers’ work.

Peace Corps Volunteers are encouraged to share their experiences with Americans upon return from service. Many former Peace Corps Volunteers use Earth Day to speak about their service and environmental conservation.  As Peace Corps approaches its 50th anniversary, its service legacy continues to promote peace and friendship around the world with 7,671 volunteers serving in 76 host countries. To learn more about the Peace Corps, please visit our website.

Kelly McCormack recently returned from Peace Corps/Guatemala. She now works in the Peace Corps Communications Office.

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