Creating tomorrow’s good
environmental practices today
Written by: Fabiana Cabral
Photos by: Roberto Rosa
Children at the Cruze de Blanco community school in the vicinity of the Pinalito hydroelectric plant project: spreading knowledge and monitoring the environment
In August 2000, the Dominican Government created the State Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, and introduced law no. 64-00 of the same name. Articles 56, 57 and 58 of Chapter VII emphasize the need for a partnership with the Department of Education in order to promote environmental education programs that concentrate on joint programs in partnership with other institutions and organizations.
The 52 rivers that flow through the Dominican Republic rise in the Madre de Las Águas (Mother of the Waters) area, 135 km south of the federal capital, Santo Domingo. It is also the site of the Pinalito Hydroelectric Project, located in La Vega province. This new power plant will increase the country’s total installed capacity by 10%.
The Odebrecht management team responsible for building the Pinalito plant signed a partnership agreement with the Department of the Environment and the Department of Education, and in April 2008, they launched the Environmental Education Program for the Protection of Water, Health and Life in the communities in the vicinity of the hydroelectric project. Teachers take courses given by Odebrecht professionals and are trained to help their students form the Defenders of the Environment Ecological Club.
“We identified problems like soil and river contamination, as well as burning,” says Carlos Baptista Cuello, a teacher who is also a leader of the Cruze de Blanco community, where the school already includes environmental education in its syllabus. “The Club will act as a knowledge distributor and an environmental watchdog.”
Also in the South of the Dominican Republic, in the Bohechio area of San Juan province, the environmental education of the communities in the environs of the Palomino Hydroelectric Project has already taken place at a fast pace. The 39-month construction project began in December 2007, and is currently mobilizing over 1,200 members.
With the support of the Sur Futuro Foundation, a course was created specializing in Environmental Education for teachers who will multiply their knowledge later on. The program takes 160 class hours, combining theory and practice and offering nationally recognized certification. The first class, with 45 students, met every Saturday in the auditorium at the Odebrecht jobsite, and graduated in early November.
A teacher in the Arroyo Cano community for 27 years, Felix Manuel Abreu Kelly explains that all the content obtained in the program will be passed on to students and their parents. “Environmental preservation needs to be a priority for this region of rich soil and natural resources. Everyone must know the best way to take advantage of what nature offers, without damaging it,” he observes.
Ana Rita Luciano Recio, a teacher in the town of Bohechio, believes that the most common problems in the region are caused by the use of fire for land clearing by the local community due to the poor management of soil for agriculture. “Our role will be to make the population aware of the correct use of the soil to bring about the reforestation of the areas already affected,” she says.
Reforesting 220 hectares before the Pinalito project is completed in 2011 is one of the action programs for Vicente Ferreira, the Manager Responsible for Safety, Health and the Environment at Palomino. According to Vicente, 50 hectares have already been planted with pine and Caribbean mahogany or caoba trees from the Sur Futuro Foundation’s plant nurseries in the town of Padre de Las Casas. “We need guarantees so that these projects become routine for local residents. For this to happen, we have organized training projects involving members and residents, in addition to developing the specialization course for teachers. The aim is to become partners in the preservation of the environment,” he explains.
Of the 50 hectares already reforested, 11 are in the community of Guayuyal, the poorest and furthest from Bohechio. Sixteen thousand seedlings have been planted and each family will be responsible for a specific area. This community, formed 70 years ago and made up of 128 people, will be the precursor to the Family Farming and Ranching Program that Odebrecht and the Sur Futuro Foundation are getting started and will eventually include six communities throughout the region: Guayuyal, La Guama, Palmar, Buena Vista, Arroyo Cano, Bohechio and Los Severinos. “We have a common objective: helping change the lives of the people that belong to these communities. We will manage the entire project and Sur Futuro will contribute their local experience,” says Pedro Schettino, the Project Director for Palomino.
“Of the 50 hectares already reforested, 11 are in the low-income
community of Guayuyal. Sixteen thousand seedlings have been planted
and each family is responsible for a specific area”
To achieve the goals of ensuring the sustainable development of family farming and improving the quality of life of these families, the program is based on four pillars: productive capital, which includes farming and raising small animals (goats and sheep); social capital, encouraging the community to mobilize and work together (including the organization of a cooperative); human capital, which includes literacy and the supplementary education of youth and adults in IT and personal health care; and environmental capital, seeking to reduce the negative impacts caused by man. These are the same pillars on which the Odebrecht Foundation’s work is based in the Southern Bahia Lowlands.
Literacy programs and farm production are already a reality in Guayuyal. In addition to learning the basics of grammar and math, youth and adults in the community also take environmental education classes. “Everything the students have learned will be put into practice in the Family Farming and Ranching Program, which will facilitate production,” says Altagracia Ramírez de La Rosa, a schoolteacher who took the specialization course in Palomino, and has spent her weekdays teaching classes in Guayuyal for the past three years.
In early October, the Farming Program began to leave the drawing board. With the help of an agronomist hired by Odebrecht, Guayuyal residents started preparing 110 plots of land for planting. Seventy of them are already growing vegetables like broccoli, radishes and lettuce. The plots are irrigated with water channeled in from two reservoirs that the community built themselves. “We had our first harvest in early December, which gave the project a huge boost,” says Cláudio Castro.
“When Odebrecht came to the South of the Dominican Republic and began organizing Social/Environmental programs associated with its construction projects, we decided to join forces with them to expand these activities,” says Melba Grullón, President of the Sur Futuro Foundation.
Created seven years ago, the foundation focuses its attention on the southern region, which is the poorest part of the country. According to Melba, eight of the ten neediest provinces in the Dominican Republic are in the South. “Our focus is on reducing the level of poverty and marginalization of the inhabitants through development activities in the areas of education, health, community management and the environment,” she explains.
“We know that the Family Farming and Ranching Program in Palomino will continue after the end of the hydroelectric project in 2011, with the support of Sur Futuro,” says Cláudio Castro. For Melba Grullón, preserving the environment and contributing to the development of the local communities is just as important as building a hydroelectric plant. “This partnership with Odebrecht is a significant exchange of experiences. Expectations are high, because we share the same commitment to improving people’s lives.”