The thought of working with garbage might turn some people off. But Erica Pernell, director of the University of Massachusetts Boston-based Upward Bound program, is not “some people.”
In August 2011, Pernell led a group of college-bound youth to Comalapa, Guatemala, where the students teamed up with the nonprofit organization Long Way Home to build a technical vocational school out of old tires, glass, plastic bottles, and dirt. The Upward Bound group calls itself the Get Fresh Crew, a reference to the green movement.
Because there is no trash collection in Guatemala, people throw their garbage in rivers or burn large trash piles, polluting the air and water. And because there is a lot of trash, Pernell says there are a lot of free materials available, like tires. The school’s buildings are round, which Pernell says means they are more earthquake-resistant.
“[The people in Comalapa] opened my eyes to what we take for granted every day,” says Faetitia Desamours, a senior at Boston Latin Academy and a resident of Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. “I learned about a culture most people know nothing about.”
When it opens in January 2014, the Tecnico Maya Vocational School will provide a traditional Mayan education and will also teach green job skills.
"UMass Boston provided the tools to make our trip to Guatemala a reality and a success,” Pernell says. “From the chancellor to the student organizations like Casa Latina to the faculty, we received praise, support, and inspiration. UMass Boston's urban mission created space for us to work with young people from Boston on campus and allowed us to help our students make connections with their global peers in Guatemala.”
Kimberly Stephenson, also a Dorchester resident and a senior at Boston Latin Academy, puts it this way: "Thanks to the Upward Bound program at UMass Boston, I learned that I can identify a problem and use my voice and actions to make an impact in solving it."
Pernell says Stephenson, Desamours, and the other students are already talking about going back to Guatemala in August; as of May 2012, the students were just $500 shy of their fundraising goal.
Established in 1965, UMass Boston’s Upward Bound program is an intensive, year-round academic program for low-income, college-bound youth who will be the first in their families to go to college. The program’s mission is to assist students in grades 9 through 12 in the successful completion of high school and to prepare them socially and academically for college. The Get Fresh Crew is dedicated to learning and educating the public about environmental justice and sustainability.