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In Her Words: Lopez Showing Sustainability Leadership in Honduras

June 21, 2022

Yaxeny Lopez, a rising junior at The College of Idaho who is majoring in Environmental Studies and Business Administration, earned the distinctive 2022 Environmental Leadership Initiative award at The College of Idaho. Here, in her own words, Lopez describes her project and its importance in her home country of Honduras.

Back in May, I knew I would go home during the summer, but I had no idea that I would be going home with the distinguished Environmental Leadership Initiative (ELI) Award – a competitive program that provides funding for students of any major that will contribute to their development as environmental leaders.

I still remember the process of thinking about whether I should apply for this opportunity or not and whether my idea would be good enough. In that moment of doubt, I remembered that you should never give up on something you believe in. My passion for environmental sustainability made me start thinking about my project. Since the beginning of spring, I knew I wanted to contribute to my home country by educating communities. I still remember the excitement of reading "congratulations" as the heading of an email while walking outside McCain. I knew then that all my work had not been in vain.

As an environmental leader myself and as a citizen who did not recognize the value of protecting the environment until I left my country, my primary goal is to raise awareness on sustainability through education. The issue my project is responding to was designed in response to the destruction left by Hurricane Iota in late 2020 in Honduras. Due to inadequate solid waste management that intensified floods, Hurricane Iota's repercussions destroyed homes and businesses, national monuments, flora, and fauna. The absence of proper governmental action and social awareness has worsened Honduras' environmental situation. In fact, schools in Honduras do not provide enough access to environmental education, which is unfortunate because it is in these schools where greater social awareness can have the greatest impact.

I wanted to inform people of the importance of issues relating to the environment upon which we all depend, as well as actions we can take to improve and sustain it. However, I had no idea where to begin. Since environmental conservation is not part of my country’s political agenda and the people with whom it is possible to work are very few, I decided to look for a nonprofit whose goals align with mine. That is when I found the nonprofit “Dona un Libro, Cambia una Mente” (Donate a Book, Change a Mind), a nonprofit organization based in Honduras that strengthens education by closing achievement gaps within the Honduran public education systems. This nonprofit is well known for its remarkable work producing original children's books and educating communities in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Working alongside this nonprofit was meant to be. They have provided me with a strong framework already in place and the necessary tools to make a significant impact in Honduras. This is the first project that the nonprofit has undertaken in relation to environmental conservation. It has been wonderful to work alongside the team, and to a certain extent, I would say we complement each other.

And my project started. The main idea of the "How to Live Sustainably" campaign is a three-month intensive collaborative project, aiming to design and donate an original children's book that gently raises visibility over environmental sustainability and how communities can become advocates for the environment. We have printed approximately 1,600 copies of the book which will be donated to public schools in urban and rural areas in Honduras. The book is titled, "Guaqui, La Guardiana del Medio Ambiente" (Guaqui, The Guardian of the Environment). The story is about a Macaw named Guaqui that teaches children about the benefits of recycling, loving and caring for our environment. I am using this book to facilitate educational trainings for teachers and children on environmental conservation. These are fun workshops that include surveys, reading games, creative writing exercises, and interactive storytelling. Although this might sound boring at first, I cannot describe with words the excitement of working with the communities. You know that you’re doing a good job when you can see the joy of learning on their faces. Our educational workshops help students and teachers to find their voices and show them that they possess the power to write their own stories and thus their own futures.

My project is still a work in progress and there are two months of work ahead of me before I return to The College of Idaho in the fall. Overall, this opportunity has greatly helped my growth; I have learned so much about myself as a leader and a community member, as well as about my own country and its people, and I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity. I am grateful that this initiative will ensure a long-term impact, as the books will become part of the school’s legacy, and generations to come will have access to the wonders of environmental conservation. I am grateful that I’m helping people love and care for their own land with an open heart. I hope to apply what I have learned, in order to cultivate a sense of community and responsibility toward environmental conservation at The College of Idaho. And last but not least, I must acknowledge that I would not be where I am now without the unconditional support of the many mentors I have at The College of Idaho. I thank Prof. Megan Dixon and Prof. Rochelle Johnson for believing in me and my initiative. And, to quote one of my favorite authors, Robin Kimmerer, "as we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us".