We’ve been quiet on these pages (though not on the ground) for many months. Cooperativa Nueva Mente continues to manufacture and sell products with the hotpress and now conducts weekly training sessions for a youth group led by a local ceramics teacher. We keep in touch, but are no longer needed to support their projects. Hence no blog posts, which is exactly the way it should be. We’ve been busy with a feasibility study for a new project in South Asia and continue working with university students on design and technology projects that support our work. Details about what’s been going on in Lesotho are for another post. This writing hiatus has given us time to reflect upon Waste for Life’s impact during the past 6 years and plan our future activities and focus. The cycle of action
→ action should be familiar to anyone who has studied Friere and other participatory methodologies, and we certainly acknowledge those influences, especially ones that attempt to synthesize education and activism.
Impact assessment is always an elusive, multidimensional affair, and we won’t dress up this post with spurious numbers. For instance, we don’t know the tonnage of plastic we’ve been able to divert from incinerators, landfills or the oceans; neither do we know the number of engineering and design students who, after working alongside us, choose to practice their professions with a dedication to social and environmental norms over and above conventional profit or professional norms. How much extra income have people been able to generate by making composite materials from waste plastic and fibers? 10% more? 30%? 80%? We don’t know exactly. We do know that we’ve been able to introduce and nurture new capabilities, but whether they’ve been exercised enough to endure, and what the familial, social, and political ramifications of these ‘capacity strengthenings’ have been are still open questions. When scavengers stop being simply scavengers or urban recoverers (the preferred term in Argentina) and begin manufacturing to serve local needs, how does this affect the fabric of a neighborhood, the dynamics of its networks? And, perhaps, most importantly, how does one’s sense of oneself evolve when new abilities enable participation in public, positively sanctioned activities – activities that need not be hidden and are no longer eschewed?
These are important questions, and we have anecdotal responses to most of them, though no hard answers. But we do know for certain that the simple idea of reducing the damaging environmental impact of non-recycled plastic waste whilst promoting the self-sufficiency and economic security of people who depend upon waste to survive has worldwide traction. And central to our mission is another concept that we learned about from Adam Guevara at Renacer Lanzone: ‘Socializing Knowledge’. It’s what we practiced, but he gave us a name for it. We’ll teach you something, and when you’ve mastered it, you go on to teach it to others. It’s a simple idea that has nothing to do with competition, but with sharing and moving forward together. This is how solidarity networks are built and maintained and, perhaps, this is why Waste for Life’s footprint appears in unexpected places. Some recent examples…