Coming to Santa Marta and El Salvador we realised how different it was when it came to humanitarian issues, but when it comes to basics, such as clean water and rubbish collection, we saw how incredibly different it was to the West. Despite being a well-organised and mobilised community, Santa Marta has a very big litter problem. There are no public bins and litter is strewn everywhere; throughout the street, in the schools, on the football pitches and even in the main square.  There are also no organised waste disposal services or cleaners and rubbish is allowed to accumulate before the annual clean-up in the streets.The habit of throwing rubbish into the street is so ingrained in Salvadoran life, that their culture has been dubbed “La cultura del diablo” (“The culture of the devil”).

The problem of throwing litter is not just problematic for the community, but for animals too. Below is a photo of a hen with its feet caught in litter. This is a very visible effect that throwing rubbish has. However there is also the problem of litter that accumulates in rivers and streams which contaminates the water and endangers the species of fish that lives there.

Progressio ICS volunteer led "Clean-up".

Part of our project aims to tackle the problem of litter in the community and we are working in tandem with a local tourist group. So far, we have erected four new public bins in the community, with another twelve to follow and we have also carried out a “clean-up” around Santa Marta, picking up litter in the public areas.  

Instead of just reducing the amount of rubbish in the street, we are also aiming to change people’s attitudes to litter and raise awareness of the need to keep the community litter-free. Right in the midst of our litter clean-up campaign, a woman from the community emptied all of her household waste just a few metres from us and proceeded to burn it (as can be seen in the photo below). This shows the attitude that most have to litter and the fact that there are no better ways to dispose of it. As there are no public services for litter in Santa Marta, rubbish collected in the home is usually burnt and this photo was taken right in the centre of Santa Marta’s main plaza, in front of the town hall. 

In addition to this, we are visiting the local school and publicising our campaign against throwing litter, carrying out various workshops with different people the community. The tourist group are also devising a system of waste disposal, so that public bins are emptied regularly. We are holding meetings with various businesses in the community aiming to ensure that all shops and places of business have their own bins and way of disposing waste. 

We are also running a mini-project alongside our work to raise awareness of throwing litter to children in local schools, trying to get them to break out of the litter habit. We will be holding a competition in which children must make a poster arguing against throwing litter. The winners of the competition will have their posters displayed in shops, above bins and in other areas around the community.

Progressio ICS volunteer Settit Beyene blogs about litter problems in Santa Marta, and what the volunteers are doing to change practices. 

Photos by Progressio ICS volunteers Settit Beyene and Rozalyn Wilson