by Laura Durán
Seventy percent of the land in Baja California is under environmental protection. Among the largest areas are Parque Constitución (Laguna Hanson), Sierra de San Pedro Mártir, the Biosphere Preserve of the Vizcaíno Desert, Valle de los Cirios, the islands in the Sea of Cortez, and the Colorado River Delta.
Many xerophytic plants serve to retain soil and prevent erosion. Knowing about these plants and being able to use them are very important for those whose houses are built on slopes and hillsides. In this way, erosion and mudslides can be prevented ecologically.
Tijuana’s elementary-school teachers get to receive training in such environmentalist subjects by members of Eco-Sol, a local nonprofit organization. According to José Luis Morales, the NPO’s president, the teachers’ involvement is essential in order to develop their students’ awareness at an early age and to ensure that future generations act more kindly toward the environment. “Our educational system has taken a bold step by arranging to have environmentalist groups prepare its teachers in this curriculum.”
Morales has worked in ecology for the past twenty-five years. He talked about some of his first students. “Years ago I had my first opportunity to give ecological workshops to preschool children and the results were incredible. We began with field trips that involved both the children and their parents. We visited the cave-paintings at Cataviñá, went whale-watching – both the parents and the children were fascinated. These groups were small enough that we could pull off the road to investigate individual elements of the ecosystem and to look for some of the animals in it.”
Those first children are now grown up. What they learned in their workshops has stayed with them. Some have become recognized in the field and all are conscious of their social responsibilities to the environment. “The first workshop was almost nineteen years ago and I’m hoping we can get together on its anniversary. I’ve heard that one of those students was sent to the Amazon River for winning an ecological competition. When I run across parents from that group, they tell me they still remember the songs they learned on those trips.”
Eco-Sol was formed in 1991 with the goal of providing hands-on environmental training to individuals, groups, and neighborhoods. It began in Tijuana and now serves Rosarito as well. “Eco-Sol works directly in the community, showing people options for the planet’s survival. We have no sponsors, so the groups we work with have to cover their transportation and other incidental expenses,” said Morales.
In this way Eco-Sol has spent the last nineteen years helping colonias such as Valle Verde, Grupo México, Felipa Velázquez, Los Laureles, and, most recently, San Bernardo and Colinas del Sol. Its accomplishments have included the construction of a greenhouse where autistic children receive occupational therapy, summer school classes in marginalized neighborhoods, and the formal remediation of erosion and pollution in Los Laureles.
Eco-Sol’s greatest achievement has been its curriculum, which now includes practical workshops for drying one’s own food, making organic perfumes and insecticides, designing a garden, and maintaining a compost-heap. “In our Household Ecology workshop, single women learn which plants grow well in gardens and in flower pots, how to use herbs like epazote, rue, and oregano in the kitchen, and how to make desserts from table scraps. Here we offer nutritional information along with recommendations that both protect the environment and help a homemaker care for her family,” says Morales, who previously taught for the National Program for Environmental Education in Hidalgo.
Because of its holistic vision, Eco-Sol enhances its conferences, workshops, and guided trips thoughout Baja California with modules that include painting and sculpture, theater, dance, storytelling, and local folklore. “Arts such as painting, mask-making, and playacting are educational tools that both entertain and sensitize the student. The arts make you aware of what is around you. They help you learn not only about your environment but about yourself as well.”
Members of Eco-Sol also hire themselves out to a local tour operator, serving as guides and docents on ecologically oriented excursions. They’ve taken three whale-watching groups to Guerrero Negro so far. “By serving as ecotourism docents, those of us in Eco-Sol broaden our educational mission and we also bring money in to continue our own operations. We won’t take large groups. Fifteen people is our maximum in order to do a better job, give personal attention, and be available to answer everyone’s questions.”
According to Morales, “Baja California doesn’t really market itself very much. It’s not like we have anything archeological, like pyramids, but we do have many natural resources that deserve to be better known. Ecotourism is possible within the city of Tijuana, in places like Cueros de Venado, just as it is in more rural areas like San Pedro Mártir, Parque Constitución, the Guadalupe Valley, and Tecate.
“Unfortunately, the state tourism department promotes only the so-called extreme sports and ignores those who would truly appreciate knowing the untamed beauty of our region. A number of projects in ecotourism have been put forward but, sadly, they have all been quashed either by economic or political pressures. Added to this is the lack of support from the state tourism department, which believes tourism consists of hotels and restaurants and has nothing to do with fishermen, craftspeople, or community groups.
“Those efforts to date have been aimed at foreigners. But Eco-Sol is trying to include tourists from our own country in our programs – let them come and stay a night in Tijuana before we show them around. With that we can begin to change the erroneous image of the city. Then people can begin to see the amazing scenery.”
Eco-Sol is presently trying to raise five thousand dollars in order to open the Centro de Educación Ambiental del Noroeste, which will include a library and a multipurpose area for workshops and classes where both children and adults can learn about ecology and art. “We’ve been offered the use of some three thousand square feet of land in Rosarito. We already have more than three hundred books in storage. And the space would work great for our summer-school classes – we could be teaching art or compost-making or gardening for seniors or even starting a xeriscape greenhouse.
Due to the lack of governmental support, Eco-Sol has been collecting its contributions bit by bit from the grass roots. “Nonprofit organizations often have to work this way, collecting their operating funds here and there from unpredictable sources. We’ll be happy to accept your leftover cinderblock, rebar, wood, and other building materials.”
Originally published by El Informador de Baja California.
Republished in translation by kind permission.