Helena Arroyo has been a passionate environmentalist since her youth. When she saw the opportunity to apply her skills as part of a special task force created by the Office of the Vice President in Guatemala, she was thrilled. The team was tasked with compiling data and analyzing new ways to respond to the country’s ever-growing waste crisis in the beautiful Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala.
In this crisis, Helena, and the team she worked with, saw opportunity for their partners: small and medium enterprises and municipalities.
Helena states, “We worked together to compile data and assess the value chain of waste management companies in Guatemala. As a result, municipalities and cooperatives are selling to national companies that, in turn, will sell to Europe and Asia. I love that the outcomes of the initiative have empowered Guatemala to reduce its global environmental footprint while, at the same time, provide opportunities for women and youth in the waste management sector to create sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families.”
After her six-month assignment with the task force, she stayed on in Guatemala for another six months. Among other projects, she created eco-design workshops that focused on recycling and re-using waste materials. She delivered the workshops to participants at the Ministry of Culture, municipal governments, women’s cooperatives and youth groups. This has led to new product development, taking what were once considered useless materials out of the waste stream, and re-purposing them so artisans and members of cooperatives can earn a living.
“All of Uniterra’s initiatives include creating greater economic opportunities for women and youth and it is very exciting and rewarding to see this in practice. For example, I saw a cooperative of artisanal jewelers incorporating new and creative uses of what had once been considered waste materials.” Helena smiles and observes, “One person’s garbage is another person’s gold.”
Now back home in Montreal, she adds, “One of the wonderful things about volunteering with Uniterra is that I am not out of pocket. When I looked into going overseas with Uniterra, I learned that all of my training, travel, and accommodation expenses are covered and I would receive a stipend while on my placement to cover living costs. It’s been a tremendous experience. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in sharing their skills and is open to having the adventure of a lifetime.”
Helena embodies the spirit of the volunteers who work with Uniterra by sharing her expertise, her generosity and her adventurous spirit.
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