When Children Change a Community: Water Resource Sustainability

When Children Change a Community: Water Resource Sustainability

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The "Places On The Edge" theme ideally describes the interface complexities of Laguna Bacalar Sustainability--Community Participation--Tourism Development. My idea is to have school children serve as an information highway to their parents with the goals of 1) teaching children about environmental/tourism sustainability and 2) to stimulating parental engagement in that participatory process at the community level. School children, as members of a community, can play an important role in changing a community by encouraging parental participation in important community dialogue that integrates both environmental sustainability and tourism. Hands-on, investigative science/tourism student activities will be geared for take home student-parent completion of the assignment activities.

For example, one practicum will build a model drinking water well adjacent to a sewage pit that when loaded with colored dye (the sewage) will infiltrate the well water. The follow-up is to place a small model lake next to the sewage pit to determine infiltration into the lake, which is unnoticeable at first but then slowly turns turns the lake brown. In which lake would you want to swim?... and the tourist? This example can be applied directly to trash refuse in the streets.

These are simple but powerful learning interactions for the children and parents because connections are made between sustaining both environment and tourism to the benefit of the parent's income source -- many sell weavings and goods directly to tourists.

Students may enter an independent Science/Tourism project for a monetary award. In the future, these awards will be provided contributions from local businesses and elsewhere.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

To date the main community participants have been those well educated A major problem is the dissemination of information to community citizens at-large, especially to the indigenous Maya and poorer citizens of Bacalar, and getting this sector to participate in the decision making process.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Hands-on investigative learning by children is taken home from after-school programs and shared with parents much more than traditional "paper" assignments. It is known that children transmit their school lessons to parents and often effectively become the teachers in their families, especially in rural communities. The uniqueness of this idea is its ability to bridge gaps between child learning, child-parent interface learning, and parent learning. These together result in parent's ability to make informed decisions and because of their higher knowledge level, their likelihood for taking a participitory role in the community decision making process is increased. It is innovation because child learning is ultimately expressed in decision making. Thus the title of my idea, "When Children Change A Community". Moreover, this learning model can be adapted to environment/tourism divergence problems in poor communities around the world. Children have an innate interest in nature and the focus here is to enhance the understanding of water resources management as tourism develops. The lake community of Bacalar is at a critical juncture for conservation of the lake. Children can play an important role in advancing our understanding of how environmental conservation of Laguna Bacalar interfaces with the advancement of tourism leading to local community development of sustainable resource/tourism usage. School children will participate in varied aspects of hands-on science and tourism projects, to investigate the boundaries that exist between the two and their impact on Laguna Bacalar. The children's message, via student-parent sharing, is carried back to the parental household to heighten parent participation in the integration of these two fields (science and tourism) that have local economic, political, and social consequences to freshwater sustainability within the community.
About You
Laguna Bacalar Institute
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Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



Laguna Bacalar Institute



Section 2: About Your Organization
Organization Name

Laguna Bacalar Institute

Organization Phone


Organization Address


Organization Country


Your idea
Country your work focuses on


Would you like to participate in the MIF Opportunity 2010?

Do you have a patent for this idea?

What impact have you had on your clients and the tourism sector?

My impact has been to mobilize the community of Bacalar to take action to protect Laguna Bacalar for both its natural significance and for tourism utilization. The balance between the two has at times been tenuous. The community is aware that their income source hinges on tourism and that tourism hinges on sustaining the ecological integraty of Laguna Bacalar.
In December 2007, I presented at the Fundacion Emerge Bak’Halal, Bacalar, Mexico an informational program on ecological sustainability along with Jorge Chavez de la Peña of Ecoturismo TAP, AC, one of Mexico’s leading experts on ecotourism development who literally wrote the book on the subject. This gathering was a "wake-up call" to the community that they must become proactive if they wished to exert control of the future of the lake and the economic viability of tourism.

I now have a close relationship and friendship with Dr. Chavez and he remains a willing participant to foster the Laguna Bacalar and tourism impact. Another professional in the tourism industry and close acquaintance is Mercedes Alejandra Ojeda Carrillo from Cancun. She is pivotal in the Fundacion Emerge Bak’Halal, Bacalar, Mexico, a non-profit in Bacalar dedicated to community service in Bacalar.

In 2009 as the Director of the Laguna Bacalar Institute, I organized an International Scientific Symposium in Bacalar that included presenters from the politcal, tourism industry, and scientific fields (http://lagunabacalarinstitute.com/Agenda.html).
Another association is Luis Gonzales-dodd, a professional technical translator from Bacalar who has been highly valuable for the translation at the scientific symposium. As an outcome of this symposium the State of Quintana Roo re-allocated more than $100,000 to look at the interfaces between the community infrastructure, terrestrial ecology, and the impact on Laguna Bacalar.


The Laguna Bacalar Institute has spent four years building community relations and trust within the community of Bacalar and throughout the state from Cancun to Chetumal. This has been accomplished through formal symposia; meetings with business leaders (commercial and consulting firms); politicians from the State of Quintana Roo (Secretary of SEDUMA from the Governor's office)that presented at our Laguna Bacalar symposium); other environmental groups (Sian Ka'an Biosphere; Amigos de Sian Ka'an; Centro Ecológico Akumal); Bacalar Pueblo Mágico, Mexicos Conagua; COBACH, Laboratorio de Usos Multiles, Bacalar; and finally the Laguna Bacalar Institute hosted in January 2010 an International Holistic Symposium in Bacalar (http://lagunabacalarinstitute.com/Healing.html) that as part of its mission reached out to treatment of the poorer residents.


These actions have helped to penetrate the community with a level of acceptance and trust. The people of Bacalar are extremely aware of the value of sustaining Laguna Bacalar from both the conservation view and the tourism impact view. The actions of the Laguna Bacalar Institute's initiatives have been paramount in directly drawing attention to the interaction of Laguna Bacalar, infrastructure needs, and tourism growth. The community is moving to make Bacalar an ecotourism destination rather than a typical standard tourism (Cancun style) destination. The presence of the Laguna Bacalar Institute has facilitated community action along these lines. The Institute initially coined the term "World Class" as applied to Laguna Bacalar in 2007. Now when I hear citizens and those from the Governors office referring to Laguna Bacalar as "Mexico's World Class Lake" then I believe that is a very significant impact of the activities of the Laguna Bacalar Institute. It is now presented that way on the web. As a google example from bacalartravel.com: "Laguna Bacalar: Mexico's World Class Lake. ..." or from vacationrentals.com "It is an absolute gem and a certified world class lake...".

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

In general, the commitment by individual from Bacalar will make this project a success and this commitment currently exists. The critical years will be 2011 and 2012 during which a coherent functionality of the program must be achieved. Acquisition of seed money to begin the project. After the initial project is up and running, the next objective is to make the program self-sustaining through financial support from businesses in the area. The process for doing this will involve establishing a feed-back loop from the student activities directly to local businesses. This will be accomplished by students seeking project informational help and sponsorship (not financial) from businesses that are related to the project.

Also, a program being developed at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will bring students from all fields of study (science, policy, business, education, etc) to Bacalar than will interact with students from Bacalar (this important because Bacalar is home to a small teachers college). These college students will be involved in grant writing to obtain funding from larger sponsors (e.g., Walmart, Office Max in nearby Chetumal).

By 2013, success will depend on consistent tie-back to the community. Student projects will be formally presented to the community at a special celebratory gathering. Bacalar loves its celebrations. If the community finds the program stimulating and valuable then it will succeed.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

Absolutely, the lack of community "espirit de corps" is what will prevent the program from being a success. It is important that principal individuals with unwavering dedication engage the community so that the community adopts the program.

How many people will your project serve annually?

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$100 ‐ 1000

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy or introduce models and tools that benefit the tourism sector in general?


What stage is your project in?

Idea phase

In what country?


Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


If yes, provide organization name.

Laguna Bacalar Institute, 501(c)3

How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

Advisory Board (http://lagunabacalarinstitute.com/): Our board is active and composed largely of professionals from Mexico and the Bacalar area. They are 1) a critical connection for moving through the political/regulatory structure, and 2) the Institute's interface link to community education programs and to the citizens of Bacalar.

Fundacion Emerge Bak’Halal, Bacalar, Mexico (http://fundacionemergebacalar.blogspot.com/): This Bacalar foundation supports community 'uplift' and is a conduit for dissemination of the Laguna Bacalar Institute's activities.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

1) Seed money to establish the "When Children Change a Community" inititive. A seed money award is the most critical need to get this program up and running. The organizational structure of volunteers, professionals, physical site, coordination with the Fundacion Emerge Bak’Halal (community group), and the Bacalar school system (teacher Martin Guadalupe Maas Vargus) are in place.

2) Local community business donations to be used to support the project beyond the seed money. A large part of those funds will be used as 'science/tourism' prize awards to the students. This need is definitely achievable, however, the initial seed money will be critical to show business that the program is a success.

3) Establishment of the program in a second community with sustainability issues and citizen participatory issues. This will be the test to ensure that the model for "When Children Change a Community" developed in Bacalar will apply to and be welcomed by other communities.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

My scientific research in Laguna Bacalar motivated a group of Bacalar school children to sew a patch-work quilt with different scenes of the Laguna. The quilt was used for a backdrop at a 2009 symposium (photo attached). They also organized a trash collection from the shores of the Laguna. It occurred to me that children can be initiators of change within a community.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

Children are generally viewed as somewhat detached from being valuable members of communities, especially members that have the means to make real change within the community. The social innovator is simply to bring children into the community as active members with the potential to make meaningful change.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

College or university

If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

Great Lakes WATER Institute, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee