BLOG. Three days - experience of a lifetime (Let's Do It America Congress)

By Afshin Eighani

Friday (Nov 23th) ended this journey of several months of work, after a week of saying goodbye one by one to all the delegates, the last group remaining, our friends from Estonia were returning to their country. As all the other international delegates, they came to share their experiences and knowledge for a cleaner and healthier world. The past weekend was a highly motivating weekend were El Salvador served as a meeting place for around 60 delegates, mostly young people from 12 countries of America and Europe, included Argentina, Barbados, Canada, Spain, United States, Estonia, Peru, Philippines, Russia, St. Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago and of course El Salvador, the idea was to share experiences and challenges about successful cleanups and awareness campaigns during 2012, and with the aim of launching strategies to promote sustainable development and improve environmental practices of our countries on 2013.

The execution work started on November 11th, the preparations to receive the delegates. Between nerves and excitement we welcomed our first delegates from Estonia: Anne, Kristiina and Kerttu (our coordinator who we finally met in person, after months of skype meetings and industrial quantities of emails). During the rest of the week we coordinate the schedule to receive one by one to all the delegates and attend the busy schedule of the week with planning and conference promotion. One of the host houses became our planning, logistic and meetings center for last minute tuning details. The stress was skin deep but the emotions and excitement were more, we were impatient to start the conference. I pleasantly remember the tables full of laptops, the board with the list of things to do and the wall full of notes about details we shouldn't forget for the conference. The last night before the congress, the organizing team was still working hard so everything went perfect the next day, even that hard night of work the team was completely ready to leave for the three days journey on the next morning.

The day finally came, on November 16th we were ready to start this awaited congress, the appointment was made at 4:30am to board the bus that would take us to the hotel where the congress were going to take place. Despite the sleepless days of the pre-conference preparations and the insane departure time and despite some setbacks, the group was complete just in time for all to eat breakfast together at the hotel.

The first day of the agenda was started by Gilbert Argueta with a motivating speech combined with a dynamic for lift the spirits as a prelude to what was to come; the agenda was prepared to keep the spirits up and the themes for giving us more tools to continue improving the work in our countries. After analyzing the agenda and establishing the main focus, we saw Rainer's video with his best wishes for the conference, Kerttu from Estonia started introducing the campaign for 2013. First workshop, commissioned to Amarilis and Lucia from El Salvador, were developed for know all the participating countries, we really enjoyed to see dances, costumes, information and the way each delegate demonstrate how unique their country and culture was. We started to have an approach of the work and reality and challenges about cleanups of every participant country at the conference. Later Denis from Russia explained to us the challenges of mobilizing a huge country and how good things always grow fast. Kristiina and Kerttu from Estonia showed us successful experiences in other countries and how make Let's Do It more than just a Brand. The day concluded with an Integration rally where all the participants used their best strategy and teamwork to overcome various tests, after dinner and despite the tiredness, all of us were too excited that almost everyone continued until late commenting their experiences and the congress contents, trying to know more about other cultures and new people. At the end of the first day we were not only unknown persons, we were now more than just colleagues, now we knew that we were part of a team with similar ideals and willing to work together as a family for the same cause.

The second time started early as scheduled, Earland from St. Lucia started with: "The C Day: The cleanup day". He explained the importance of a correct motivation for mobilizing a country and how our circumstances can change depending our culture or country but working as a team is the most important part about the cleanups, during the workshops the other participants had the opportunity to explain what they did in their country cleanups. Neil from Canada introduced the third phase of the conference, developing: "Why is it necessary to make it sustainable?" from his experience in Nova Scotia, explaining the importance of a Sustainable development projection for give long-term results to the Let's Do It project and contribute in a positive way to the community. The rethinking progress: The circular economy was developed by Denis from Russia showing us the importance of this concept in our economy and examples of how other countries are already applying this system. Geraldina from El Salvador explained the importance of education and sensitization for a real environmental change. The second part of the day started with Anne from Estonia explaining the concept of zero waste and the importance of rethinking and redesigning what we are used to - in creative ways we can innovate and create products with a lower environmental impact. The next workshop was one of the most interesting ones: "Let's make a sustainable America- The Social Scope of waste" started with Kako and Patricia, both from "Colectivo Gravedades" and "Fablabs". They showed the importance of technological innovation with a social approach, everyone was excited about the projects they presented about creating public spaces with furniture from recycled materials where communities can participate as a team. Later, Mike and Shelby, volunteers of Peace Corps in El Salvador, showed us an interesting project with Hug It Forward about bottle schools, a project where Let's Do It El Salvador will put all their energies to support them on 2013. After that, the workshop got more interesting, it became a contest to see which group could make more "Ecobricks" with recycled plastic Bottles and bags. Everyone learned the technique but at the same time enjoyed and understood the importance of creativity for innovation. After a coffee break where everyone enjoyed sharing their experiences about the workshop, Enriqueta from VIVAZUL - Plant a Fish explained why it is necessary to make a change. How every action has a reaction and now is time to change our consume habits and remember the importance of remember the consequences in all the ecosystems of our planet If we want to see a real environmental change, each one of us has to make a change. Afshin from El Salvador concluded the day with a dynamic where everyone made a list of what are their goals for the next year and what knowledge's will they apply on Let's Do It project soon, showing the importance of unit forces with other NGO's, and give our environmental projects a social approach in our respective countries as El Salvador has planned for better results, developing pilot programs with communities at the side of the cleanups for educating the citizens of our countries.

Sadly, the last day of the conference came, it felt that we've known each other for years, but at the same time two days didn't seem enough to talk about our cultures and environment. Everyone was on time for our last breakfast together; the only rule was that no one must sit with their roommates of the last couple of days. Everyone was talking about the program and how to implement the new knowledge in their country, excited about what was coming next on 2013.

It was time of evaluation and conclusion for the conference. The entire conference hall was arranged in a more intimate way, with all the chairs forming a circle to start an informal discussion lead by Kerttu and Amarilis, with the topic being about lessons learned, national experiences or details we must remember, and plans for next year in our respective country. in a conversational way everyone shared their thoughts about the contents, everyone was grateful for sharing this international experience. To end the discussion, everyone shared a personal goal for next year to help our environment to be a cleaner and healthier planet. In one of the opinions someone said that this kind of conferences are like a woodsman sharpening his ax to continue his work in a more efficient way, sharing experiences and knowledge's with others will give us more tools for getting better results in our work.

These were only three days of agenda and sharing experiences but I'm pretty sure all of the participants took with them an experience of a lifetime. All the months of hard work and dedication has been worth it. We met excellent and brilliant people, we understood that we're not alone in this journey and at the same time everyone will remember that every little step is a step forward, every little effort makes a difference in our planet, great things are coming on 2013, let's share positivism, let's clean the world together, Let's do It!