UVM Graduate Empowers Young Environmental Changemakers in Mexico
This World Environment Day, we’re proud to celebrate UVM graduate Alejandra Contreras Casso who is empowering children and young students in Mexico’s state of Veracruz to become environmental changemakers. Alejandra founded her non-profit organization Somos Más Decididos to provide practical education and volunteering initiatives to guide young people towards caring for the planet, helping in the fight against climate change and living sustainably.
Ten years ago, Alejandra discovered young people’s lack of connection to the environment was largely due to the lack of direct interaction they have with it, so she founded Somos Más Decididos. “We began to realize that it was not that people did not want to take care of the environment, or because of disinterest or lack of information; it was because they did not have the mechanisms to do it,” Alejandra said.
Through her organization’s work, children are able to have visceral, first-hand experiences with biodiversity conservation with field trips that spark their imaginations, increase their biophilia, develop their knowledge and allow them to interact and be inspired by conservation work.
During volunteering sessions and educational trips, participants discover the environmental services of reefs and wetlands, they clean beaches and reforest mangroves, learn about the production processes of plants, as well as the production of home-made cheese and chocolate in order to understand responsible consumption. Somos Más Decididos links these experiences to school curriculums and subjects, such as Biology, Chemistry, Ecology and Natural Sciences.
“What we have tried to do is to socialize these small actions from school, work or home in order to start generating environmental change, that together can generate even greater transformation,” Alejandra said.
“The fundamental component of our initiatives is participation. People do not necessarily know how to treat waste, so we have found a way to address this. For example, if you collect plastic caps, you are helping children with cancer, if you collect your used cooking oil, we can transform it into biodegradable soap oil that can be exchanged.”
Alejandra’s passion for the environment and youth was born from what she describes as a restlessness and energy of wanting to generate change. She says volunteering is a great tool to raise awareness and education about social problems and vividly remembers her first volunteering activity, visiting elderly residents in nursing homes when she was in elementary school. “It was this experience that made me realize that I could not stand idly by and do nothing. I wanted to help people.”
Alejandra’s work has not gone unnoticed. From winning a UVM award for Social Development and being recognized by Laureate Mexico as a “Here for Good” winner in 2015, to last year being selected as a finalist in the United Nations’ Young Champions of the Earth award and named one of Latin America’s Leaders of the Future (under 30).
Looking ahead, Alejandra intends for the organization to be the state’s leader in the promotion of environmental education and the promotion of sustainable development, through what she describes as “volunteering actions that awaken inspiration and passion in the fight against climate change.”
In addition, Alejandra plans to build an environmental education center in Veracruz, to be able to teach, train and demonstrate practical examples of environmental care. She is well on her way to achieving this. The site for the center has been chosen and the next step will see building works commence.
For others who want to make a change in their community, Alejandra’s advice is clear: “Always have a dream and strive for it with passion and conviction. Always have that open mind to share with more people and be able to receive feedback. May the action you are taking allow others to follow your example.”
While she may be just 27 years of age, Alejandra’s transformational environment work is significant. We look forward to following her success in developing environmental changemakers in Veracruz and beyond.