In our Colombia package our members get to vote between two very important causes, one of these is to help fund marine and environmental education for the kids of a slum neighbourhood.
These kids are the students of two tiny schools that were set up by Oscar Cortes, the founder of the charity Mariposas Amarillas or “Yellow Butterflies”.
We visited here 4 years ago to film their work and were incredibly inspired with the passion and commitment that Oscar and his team has for these kids. We asked Oscar some questions about why it is important to educate these kids about the impacts of pollution and why this could have a positive impact on the community…
Q: Why is there so much pollution in Santa Marta?
Oscar: It is due to a combination of things, firstly, poor infrastructure. Santa Marta is a very old city and has not benefited from the necessary restorations and repairs that is necessary with old infrastructure.
As a result the sewage and waste systems are causing major problems. The waste pollutes the ocean, water ways like rivers and streams and local ground water.
Also there is little to no regulation. On all levels, there are very few government regulations for waste management and the proper disposal of hazardous materials. Many hazardous materials end up in Santa’s Marta’s bay.
When there is regulation, there is known to be a high level of corruption. Coal mining is a large industry in the department of Magdalena. Strip mining occurs with high levels of pollution and waste as a result.
Culturally, littering is common with a basic lack of awareness or environmental education. This is a complicated issue, but I believe lack of information plays an important factor.
The city provides “garbage workers” who go about the city cleaning up trash and refuse. Some residents feel if they litter it will be picked up – but the workers simply can’t keep up. While this is a major problem in Santa Marta, this is not the case for all of Colombia. For example Medellin is known for being “green”.
Personally we have noticed the level of contamination has increased significantly in Santa Marta in recent years. Many residents struggle to fund the basic needs of their families. There are high levels of corruption in the local government. It’s possible that many residents don’t feel a sense of pride or belonging in the city, and they would if the situation were different.
Q: What impacts does it have?
Oscar: The pollution has major repercussions for the community and environment. There is no safe drinking water in Santa Marta. There has also been severe drought the last few years, so there is often no running water in certain areas. This is a public health hazard and very expensive for residents.
Our bay is so polluted that many people will not swim there any more. In addition, the contamination is damaging the marine wildlife at an alarming rate.
Another impact is that the trash and litter is now expanding into the surrounding natural areas.
Q: What do you think is the solution?
Oscar: Environmental education, especially of the younger generations. But more than just education, creating a sense of connection and respect for the environment so that there is not only understanding, but also empathy.
Also change at a government level, this is essential.
Q: How does Marine World help the issues?
Oscar: Marine World gives the kids a direct connection with the marine animals and wildlife in a positive environment. Plus, Santa Marta is known for its marine life and this helps create a sense of pride.
The staff provide great education on marine life and the importance of caring for it. They also teach the kids about the impacts that our actions, such as littering and pollution really have.
Q: What is your hope for this initiative?
Oscar: We have taken our students to Marine World before and it was a great experience. Firstly they get to experience “out of the classroom” learning which is a very special occasion for these kids, many of who have never left the neighborhood for financial reasons.
They were very engaged there and hugely energized afterwards. They talked about the experience for weeks.
The goal is to give them a better understanding of environmental issues and how they impact marine life (and their own lives as well). We aim to teach them that they can have a positive impact where they live.
Ultimately we hope that they obtain a better understanding of and a connection with these issues. If their access to these types of educational activities are consistent, they may come away quite empowered. We hope this knowledge will help them form an important part of their value system for their future lives.
A note from Serena and John
4 years ago we visited Oscar and his Yellow Butterflies schools and filmed our very first short documentary there. We were incredibly moved by the dedication we saw and the difference it was making to the lives of these kids.
Our goal is to see Oscar get more funding for this project, if you can spare a few dollars, please make a donation! Every dollar counts in this part of the world and we want to encourage their work in every way possible.