INHABITAT: What are your goals for this project? How do you see the process affecting the lives of your students?
Alex: The most exciting part of this project is seeing that electrified look in a student’s face as they realize what it must be like to live in the other person’s shoes. Students are engaged and excited about learning in a way that I’m not sure they previously were, and that’s owed almost entirely to the fact that this curriculum is real, it is hands on, and it is affecting the lives of other people that they have developed a relationship with, no matter where they are located geographically.
In terms of goals, I’d like to see this spread to other schools. We aim to have Iwastology be a completely self-sufficient curriculum model, using local university students to teach the high school students, and using locally sourced volunteer labor for the student-led projects. We’d like to see a high degree of community involvement. The schools and educational programs we operate through in the Philippines are led entirely through a team of dedicated volunteers, and we’d like to have the projects and tangible outputs that emerge from this program directly benefit those that have made this possible. As cliché as it is, it takes a community to raise a child and we’d like to have these children give something back to the community (and natural environment) that has done so much for them.
INHABITAT: What are the main differences students have observed between concepts of (and actual) waste in Canada and the Philippines?
Alex: The biggest difference by far has been the idea that waste disappears once it reaches the trash can. A lot of the students we’re working with in the Philippines come from families that have worked as trash scavengers at a local dump site and for them garbage is not only a part of everyday life, it can be a means to a paycheck. For the students in Montreal, who come from a well-off part of town in a cosmopolitan city, garbage amounts to whatever disposable items they come in contact with during their daily lives. It really only becomes “garbage” if it doesn’t reach the trashcan, otherwise it is simply out of sight out of mind.
At the same time that students at St. George’s were, for the most part, unaware of the realities of garbage on a mass scale, the students at Silid Aralan were completely unaccustomed to ideas of composting or waste segregation that seemed commonplace to their Montreal counterparts. It has been a learning experience on both sides, and as I expected the dialogue has been an equally mutual exchange. For every preconceived Filipino notion of waste in North America, there are an equal number of Montreal students unaware of just how deadly waste can be in other parts of the world.