Tell us about your personal background. Why are you passionate about this issue? Making an idea a reality takes innovation, dedication and strong leadership. Do you have the necessary entrepreneurial skills to realize your vision?
Getting to know the community of La Chureca, the people that live on Central America’s largest rubbish dump, changed my life. I am not sure of the precise moment that I felt I had to do something for the people I had met but the idea of what to do came to me on a dusty bus ride back from the dump about 3 years ago, in the capital city of Nicaragua, Managua.
I was introduced to Latin America when I was 19, aged 20 I moved to Venezuela to work, aged 23 I was living and working in Costa Rica and in Nicaragua, aged 25 I set up the Earth Education Project working with women, who live on a rubbish dump, to empower them to make a better future for their families and their children. What drives me is the very people I met there, and my belief that everyone deserves the chance to break out of the cycle of poverty. I believe that it is my purpose to do the best I can for them and I am not afraid to take the risks to try new things to make this possible.
I recognized that the ideology of wanting to start a charity is easier than practice – innovative ideas were needed. I knew that to help this community, the women and their families and future generations in different communities, I had to create something different that the community itself wanted to participate in. I worked with the locals to find out what they knew and what we could use from their skill set to create change for them and their families.
I saw the use of social media to connected people back home to the situation so I plastered my Facebook in pictures and short stories and wrote a blog. Currently I tweet, post and blog daily and always look for fresh ideas. I am trailing Pinterest with our trustees at the moment.
The past two decades saw the ‘eco-life’ come alive. I was one of many who saw this as a new way to live, fair trade, ethical products, handmade goods, recycling, it all flooded into our education and the stores. This vision of sustainability; the idea that you could help others by purchasing a product. Not only could people help others when they felt compelled to give a donation as the result of a harrowing story or image, you could get something you needed and wanted and it would benefit others. This was the market and growing demographic I wanted to involve in the project. In all the enthusiasm for the eco living the market had however become saturated quickly so I didn’t want to be just another cooperative. I came up with a unique product that the community could produce. Recycled paper isn’t new but what became EEP is. It’s 100% handmade, 100% of the sales go back to the community. I wanted a product that when you bought it you knew it literally effected change to its creator. I made it personal; offered a product that people would like, and it is like nothing anyone has seen before, and they do like it, and if they want they can get the product personalised for them, their own collection exclusive to them, worldwide– that was the idea. This is what I did; re-invigorated the importance of recycled goods in a unique way. I went for it, fundraised through friends and family to finance the initial pilot project, and then when I was sure it was all in place, with local staff and a partner NGO in Nicaragua, I moved back to make it happen in the UK.
We’ve had people run marathons, swim the channel and cycle to Paris for us. In two years we registered as a charity and created a buzz, chat about who we were and what we did. I needed a team to work with in the UK and created our trustee team which is small and dedicated. We have a solid volunteer network and I have built relationships with individuals in the USA, Switzerland and an organisation in Sweden to make this possible.
It’s not easy. Being a leader is a challenge but the fire that drove me keeps me and the team inspired. The more results we got the more I persevered. It’s taken a lot to start this and to keep it going, I learn something new every day. Working with two different languages, cultures and different work ethics within an organisation is not easy. I had to develop the staff in Nicaragua, earn respect from the community, ensure that they could trust in what I was saying and doing. But this will change generations, not just one group of people, I know this. We are at the stage where we have a stable fund base, a group of donors that follow, support and promote us. We have a story that we tell, that we make people feel part of. The women we work with have not yet realised their full potential, they can still develop, as can I, we are ready for the next step to make the best out of this opportunity.