From Trash to Treasure: Upward Bound Students Raise Money to Build School in Guatemala

Crystal Bozek | January 21, 2011
From Trash to Treasure: Upward Bound Students Raise Money to Build School in Guatemala

A group of Upward Bound students based at UMass Boston are raising money to travel to Guatemala this spring with the goal of proving that one man’s trash can quite literally be another man’s treasure.

Twelve Boston high school students, who have named themselves the Get Fresh Crew, are raising money to travel to Comalapa, Guatemala over their April spring break to help the nonprofit organization, Long Way Home, build a technical vocational school there out of old tires, glass, plastic bottles, and dirt.

The school, Técnico Maya, will teach village youth how to build houses out of waste, produce energy, harvest water, repair bicycles, and a host of other sustainable, marketable skills.

"It's really overwhelming when you think about it," said Upward Bound student Stephanie Lewis, 17, of Dorchester. "We want to give these kids the opportunities that we have: schooling, clean water, skills to make them better people."

The students need $19,000 for the nine-day trip, to cover travel and lodging expenses. So far, they have raised $5,500. And they need to raise all this money by the end of February.

Upward Bound is a program at UMass Boston providing services like tutoring to more than 100 low-income, first-generation college-bound high school students enrolled at Dorchester Educational Complex, Jeremiah E. Burke, Madison Park, South Boston Educational Complex, and West Roxbury Educational Complex. The Get Fresh Crew are a group of Upward Bound students who are passionate about justice and the environment.

The students learned about Long Way Home and its school-building mission while at a Radically Sustainable Building architecture workshop in 2008 and decided they wanted to help.

Schooling ends after the sixth grade in the Guatemalan community. There is no trash collection, so people burn large trash piles or throw their garbage into the rivers, the same place they collect their drinking water. The unemployment rate soars above 75 percent.

Upward Bound Assistant Director Erica Pernell said this trip will be an eye-opening experience for these students, some who have never gotten the chance to travel outside New England, exposing them to a new culture and showing them that they can make an impact on the world.

"This is unlike any other environmental service learning project in Boston right now," Pernell said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for local youth to learn environmental leadership and green building skills. This will not only change people's lives in Guatemala, but it will change these students's lives as well."

The students plan on holding workshops for community, youth, and school groups, explaining the importance of environmental sustainability, what they did while in Guatemala, and how others can become involved.

For more information on how to donate, contact Upward Bound Assistant Director Erica Pernell at 617.287.5846 or email her at

The group has created a Get Fresh Crew Environmental Coloring and Activity Book, which they are selling for $5 a piece to help fund the trip. They are holding a coloring book release party Wednesday, January 26 at 5:30 p.m. in the McCormack Hall's Ryan Lounge.

Tags: environment , global , guatemala , k-12 , public service , the point , upward bound

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