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Clean Coban in Guatemala!

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

Location: Coban, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala.


UWC Maastricht: Fahima Elmi and Cindy Cortez.

Project Manager: Fahima Elmi, UWC Maastricht student, class of 2020.

Aim: Our project was an investigation about the lack of waste systems in Coban, Alta Verapaz in Guatemala; the international and intercultural understanding about social issues was practiced by working with local people and organisations in order to find the cause. Moreover, it also consisted in the creation of a proposal action plan that would help to mitigate the causes of this problem and eventually the consequences such as floods caused by trash that ends up closing the pipes of the sewerage system in the city

Motivation: Why did I start this project? The reason Cindy and I started this project is because we are both passionate about sustainability and after a discussion we had in which we reflected on the things our cities do well or don’t do too well, in which the lack of a trash system in Cindy’s city was mentioned, we decided to investigate this issue and to give possible solutions.




What I am offering solution to?

We identified the challenge of sustainably collecting and disposing trash in such a way that it causes little to no harm to the environment nor the local people of Coban.

How did I discover and identify this particular challenge or need?

During our project, we discovered that the way trash is collected and disposed in Coban is very inefficient and problematic after having a conversation where we talked about our hometowns. Cindy explained about the ‘culture’ or the common way of how trash is being handled is by just throwing it on the ground when you don’t need it anymore, this is because of a lack of education about the consequences of littering. Cindy also talked about how there is no efficient way of how trash is collected or disposed, only people who can afford for their trash to be collected by a garbage truck can make use of that otherwise people get rid of their trash by dumping it or burning it. Even the garbage truck itself gets rid of the trash by dumping it on a specific place in the mountains, this dump has grown to be the biggest of the city and it takes up the space of almost the whole mountain and this harms not only the people living close to the dumb but also the biodiversity and health of the place itself.

What inside knowledge did I gain to ensure I knew what was necessary to make this project meaningful?

Before starting the project we researched online to see if there was any information about coban and their trash system. We coincidentally found a video reporting on a dump on one of the mountains in the city where they addressed the same problem we wanted to investigate. So we reached out to the organisation that posted the video. We also contacted some of Cindy’s family members to see if they were interested in helping us as insiders.


What steps did I take to turn my identified challenge into ideas for a project?

At the very beginning, we didn’t really know what to do to solve this issue of garbage collection/disposal since it isn’t a small thing but a very big issue. This is why we decided our project to be more of an investigation so that we could come up with solutions to solve this issue after having collected enough information.

How did I collect my ideas? Who took part in this process?

During our brainstorming of ideas we talked to as many different people as possible, such as teachers, peers and organisations that work in the field of sustainability. They helped us in planning what to exactly do and whom to contact to make this project successful.

How did you involve the local community/participants in collecting ideas?

We conducted interviews with several community members, we tried to interview a diverse group as possible so we would be able to collect the different perspectives surrounding this issue. So we talked with people living close to the biggest trash dump of the city, we talked to the garbage collectors, we talked to locals living in the city and we talked to people from the local government.


How did I developed my project?

We started, as mentioned before, with investigating the issue online, as we wanted to see how big the need was for solving this issue. As soon as we found out this is indeed a point of concern we contacted Cindy’s friends and family members to see if they wanted to help us with this project. As soon as we had established those contacts they helped us with already finding and contacting local stakeholders such as the municipality but also people working for the dump.

What was needed to ensure the project would be a success? (Local involvement,

funding, engaging with different stakeholders, partnerships, collaboration, etc.)

Local involvement was one of the major components of success. Furthermore it was very important for us to get different perspectives on the matter at hand. So volunteers were important for this project to be developed.


This is perhaps the most important step in the entire process.

How did I carry out the project? What I actually did:

We started with preparing the project beforehand, we did this through thorough investigation online and by contacting local members already. We set up a plan for what we would do if we would be in Coban. Fahima would spend an amount of 10 days there which meant the project would be taking 10 days.

During these 10 days our goal was to interview as many different stakeholders as possible, furthermore we wanted to go visit the dump and record everything so we could make a reportage out of it. Another goal was to come in contact with the local government and/or the municipality to set up connections and hear from their perspective what actions are taken to solve this issue. This is where we found out that most of the money goes into cleaning up the city instead of into efficiently collecting the trash so that cleaning up wouldn’t be that big of an issue.

After the project had taken place we reflected upon our actions and we wrote a proposal with all the possible solutions to help solve the issue which we send to the municipality. We are now in a stage of the process in which we are setting up plans for the future of this project.

Who was involved? How long it took? What was the cost? How did I secure the funding?

We started the preparation of the project about 3 months beforehand. The actual project took place over a timespan of 10 days, whereafter we reflected on the project for about a month. As mentioned before several members of the local community were involved. Cindy’s family members who had connections to the municipality helped us get in contact with them. The municipality was very cooperative and they helped us by giving us a tour through the city showing us all the spots were trash is dumped etc.

Ferando Choc, municipality worker responsible for the trash system, we interviewed him, he took us on a tour around the city showing us the various spots trash is dumped and he brought us to one of the parks in Coban while explaining the harm of these dumps on the biodiversity of the city.

The biggest dump of the region on top of one of the mountains. You cannot see the ground anymore because of the huge amount of trash.

Interview with one of the members of the local government conducted in the museum regarding the history of Coban


My personal evaluation of the project: What went well? Why? What went wrong or could have gone better? Why?

Overall the project went very well, the people of the municipality and the local government were interested in our ideas and were willing to cooperate with us, we believe this is because the issue of trash that we identified, together with the information we gathered from primary and secondary sources, was very accurate and pressing. It is more difficult to find things that went wrong because when Fahima left to go to Guatemala she was open for everything and didn’t expect anything, this is because both of the team members were worried that the government wouldn’t listen to us since it is less common for young people to be heard there.

My reflection on key lessons learned, what is my advice for you?

Looking back at the project we believe that a lot went well, the outcomes of the project were more specific than we had expected. We think that a huge component in the success of this project has been the fact that we already had contacts with the local community. This is of course the power of doing local projects since you are part of the community which helps in contacting other members for help.

One of our biggest mistakes was that we overestimated what we could do in the (little) amount of time that we had. I think for future projects it is very important to plan everything as precisely as possible but in this planning also give room for unexpected outcomes.

Now is your turn! If you have passion, take green action!

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