Salvadoran children gather in a classroom in the rural town of Guaymango, Ahuachapán. But this classroom isn't a normal classroom.
The school children helped build it out of over 5,000 plastic bottles that are now hidden in its walls.
While this classroom is the first of its kind in El Salvador, more than a dozen “Bottle Schools” have been built by communities in neighboring Guatemala, coordinated by the Hug It Forward organization. The process, pioneered by the Pura Vida organization, requires discarded plastic bottles to be collected and filled with compacted plastic wrappers, like the ones commonly used for commercial snacks. These bottles become "eco-bricks" which are stacked in between chicken wire on either side and then covered in cement. The bottles serve as insulation rather than structural support but the benefits are far greater.
At around $5,000, "Bottle Schools" cost half of what a traditional classroom costs to build, they encourage communities to work together to clean up litter while teaching environmental awareness, plus they give children pride in their classroom as they are part of the project.
"It was difficult to do," said 5th grader, Juan Carlos Ochoa, a student who helped build the Guaymango classroom, in a video interview with El Diario de Hoy, "We thought we wouldn’t even be able to finish it because we came close to the inauguration day for the classroom and we were still short 300 bottles, but with the help of God we were able and we finished it."
Interested in building a "Bottle School" or contributing to the creation of these classrooms? The Hug It Forward organization has more information about how to get involved by volunteering or by donations and even provides an in-depth manual for making "eco-bricks" and constructing buildings from them.
Tracy López is a bilingual writer living outside the Washington DC metro area. She is the founder of Latinaish.com.