Building Schools with Bottles, Rallying Communities with Education
- Articles from the vault--Check them out: Feeling Antigua, Guatemala's Local Vibe at Earth Lodge, How to (And Not to) Volunteer Short-Term, and Dual Voluntourism in Guatemala: Help More for Less
It was in our first week living at Earth Lodge, over three years ago now, that Emma and I first learned of Hug It Forward. They came down in a massive group, and as their t-shirts suggested, the entire group was delivering big hugs to everyone they passed. I couldn’t help but think: Who the hell are these people and who do they think they are?
Then, a man I would later learn to be Vice President Heenal Rajani—a big smile on his face and an ease about him, where steps almost seemed to bounce beneath him—came right up and laid a warm one on me. Hug that is. Then, he continued on his merry way, making the rounds before coming back for a chat. The entrance created such a nice vibe, and I’ve never forgotten it.
What’s all this hugging about, then? Hug It Forward is an NGO, a grassroots type thing, that helps communities build special eco-brick schools from trash, both empowering the community with education and cleaning up the world by using garbage constructively (quite literally). The hugging side of things was once used for fundraising but I think has always been more or less for producing smiles. It works.
Great Ideas from Hug It Forward
Since that first meeting at Earth Lodge, in which Heenal actually took off his shirt and gave it to me because I so wanted one, I’ve been continually impressed with organization. They really have a great approach to their mission:
Hug It Forward also strives to raise awareness in developed countries about trash, consumption and the power of community. This mission is equally important to us as facilitating the construction of bottle schools in developing countries.
They do so many pointed and important things on this mission, things that make them more than a crutch but rather an inspiration to the communities that they work with. First and foremost, unlike many NGOs, Hug It Forward doesn’t come in a build a school for a village, but rather helps the community build the school themselves, creating a sense of ownership and achievement and independence. It means those who get the benefits are willing to earn them.
Two of the biggest problems in Guatemala (or the entire impoverished world) are an excess of trash, especially in litter form, and substandard education. Hug It Forward found a way to combat both of these issues in one great package. They’ve taken trash, built something useful from it, and in turn, taught thousands of people about the environment and their own power of community, including the ability to provide their children with a quality learning environment.
By now, those of you new to Hug It Forward are probably wondering how exactly one builds a school out of trash. Basically, the technique uses “eco-bricks”, created by stuffing plastic bottles with inorganic material, as opposed to typical cinderblocks. In other words, using the trash both cleans the place up a bit and saves the environment by not contributing to the use of more cinderblocks. That’s it in a nutshell, but true to form, the Hug It Forward folks, wanting the projects to stretch beyond just their NGO, created a free Bottle School Manual.
A History of Hugging
Since late 2009, Hug It Forward has helped communities build 27 schools, and as of May 2012, the organization completed its first project outside of Guatemala (in El Salvador). There are three new schools in progress. Hug It Forward has average a new school every two months. In other words, a lot has been happening since those early days at Earth Lodge, and a lot of people have reaped the benefits of hugging.
Additionally, great new programs and ways to become involved have evolved. Now, in collaboration with Serve the World Today, Hug It Forward offers one-week voluntourism trips, allowing conscientious holidaymakers to work hand-in-hand with a community to build a new school. It allows anyone to become part of this great project, to really get a feel for Guatemalan history and culture, and truly help to improve the lives of people working for that change.
Otherwise, it’s possible to support the organization through outright donation (it’s a registered NGO, which means tax deductable), shopping at the Hug It Forward store, or doing any one (or more) of the “Easy Five-Minute Things to Do”. So, make the most of reaching the end of this article, scroll back up, and start following some of these links. These folks can get you fired up on helping the world and will likely give you a few nice squeezes in return.