Ecological Rally Part 1
I thought I should write a post about the ecological rally I am setting up in Ciudad Guzmán, as it is the major project I am currently involved with. This will be the first post of what may turn out to be a number of posts about the rally, especially focussing on some of the organizational and cultural issues involved in the setting up of an event like this.
2009 is the third year that the ecological rally has been organized. The idea initially arose when I was teaching a Diploma on ‘Leadership and Sustainable Development’ at the Ciudad Guzmán regional campus of the University of Guadalajara. One of the participants on the programme, who was also a friend, was organizing a ‘rally’ to promote his language school. This seemed to involve groups of young people haring around the city in pick-up trucks, doing entertaining tasks in different locations, and making a lot of noise and creating a lot of rubbish in the process.
I suggested to my friend that he consider organizing an ecological rally, which as well as helping promote his language school, would also serve as a medium for environmental education for both the young people taking part, and the population of Ciudad Guzmán.
The first ecological rally took place in June 2007. As, by then, I was living and working in Cuernavaca, 600 kilometers away, I participated from a distance as a consultant for the rally. Last year, when I returned to live in Ciudad Guzmán, I was very involved in the organization of the rally from January through April, but suddenly had to return to England at short notice for family reasons, so I missed the actual event of the rally on the 8th June – organized to coincide as closely as possible with the International day of the Environment on 5th June.
Before I went away to England, at times, I felt despairing about the organization of the rally. It was an enormous amount of work, involving:
- Coordinating and liaising between the University, the local government, the state government and private businesses; this kind of collaboration between organizations is never easy in Mexico.
- Looking for sponsors to provide funds for the rally in return for being given publicity.
- Arranging to visit every classroom of all the secondary and high schools in Ciudad Guzmán to invite the young people to participate in teams of ten people.
- Making contact with journalists and local TV stations to publicise the rally.
- Organizing the complicated logistics of both the day of the rally on June 8th, and also la eliminatoria, a day two weeks prior to the rally in which the 22 teams who had registered to take part were whittled down to the ten teams who actually took part on the day of the rally. As part of the eliminatoria, each team had to collect used batteries to prevent then going to the municipal rubbish dump, and one of the great successes of the rally was that over 360 kilos of batteries were collected.
- Setting up workshops in a number of schools on recycling which also served to promote the rally.
I was working initially with a group of five students from the university. I requested that three students were assigned to me, to carry out their servicios sociales – around 400 hours of community service that every student at the university has to do as part of their degree course. This is potentially a way that the university could make an enormous contribution to the community in which it is located, but often the hours of servicios sociales get reduced to acting as an administrative assistant (doing photocopying, running errands etc.) to a professor at the university or a functionary in local government. In this way, for both the students and the University, the work becomes devalued.
The two other students, from the two-year course in Alternative Tourism, were doing their prácticas profesionales, which is work experience, and needed to complete this in order to graduate from their course. At least in their case, rather than being assigned to me, I had the opportunity to interview and select them.
I had hoped – rather naively in retrospect – that these students would show initiative, be committed to the rally and enthusiastic and creative in their work. What was initially disappointing, however, was that they were very reluctant to take any initiative or responsibility, and relied on me to give them detailed direction. They often arrived late at meetings, or sometimes not at all, usually without letting me or each other know in advance. For them, any other activity would generally take precedence over their servicios sociales or prácticas profesionales.
I quickly realised that they had no expectation nor much experience of working as a team, especially in the context of one person, myself, being an adult and a Professor at the University – in short, the authority figure – which created relations of dependency that are very typical in Mexican culture. This contrasted strongly with the education of my two sons in state schools in England, where they were given training in the skills of leadership and teamwork – often through creative activities like drama.
This situation was greatly eased when my younger son, Michael, who was about the same age as the students, and doing a project at the university as part of his degree course in England, joined the team. He showed that it was quite possible to argue with and challenge me, and also helped to provide a bridge between me and the students.
The interesting thing was when I very unexpectedly had to return to England two weeks before la eliminatoria. The students were forced to take more responsibility or abandon the project. Clearly, they by now felt a real commitment to the rally, and all stepped up, with the help of my friend from the language school who was one of the main sponsors, to complete the rally, which ended up being a great success.
The day of the rally itself involved ten different activities or ‘stations’ which each team had to complete. These activities included a range of sporting, educational and intellectual challenges, such as climbing and rappel, making placards about environmental themes, and planting trees.
The rally concluded with a run which the local Athletics League helped us organize and a march to the center, where the prize giving took place.
We had always intended that the rally would help to promote the work the local government was doing in initiating a programme of separating waste, which came about partly as a result of a state law compelling all municipios to implement a programme of waste management. So an important purpose of the rally was to educate the young people about this, and we included the different colours of the separated waste in the different activities. In the run, for example, each person was given one of three differently coloured T-shirts with the indication of the type of waste the colour corresponded to.
In practice, it was difficult to work with the local municipio. On the final day of the rally, at the prize giving, the local government officials took control, substituting one of their people for the person from the rally who was going to act as the M.C. and claiming that the rally was an initiative of the local government. Perhaps this was an education in realpolitic for the students, though I suspect they knew all this already.
We learnt a lot from both the successes and failures of last year’s rally. One heartening aspect this year, is that the two students who were completing their prácticas profesionales are setting up a rally in a school in a small town near Ciudad Guzmán where one of them lives. In addition, one of them is helping as a volunteer with the organization of the rally this year.
In subsequent post(s), I will write more about the organization of the rally this year. For more information, in Spanish, about this year’s rally, click here. Do let me know via a comment if there is anything you would particularly like me to write about.