They are teenagers, daughters, sisters, students, dreamers, entrepreneurs, and leaders; three different lives, three stories deserving to be told, and a municipality. What do they have in common? The protagonist of this century: water.
Talking to them is feeling that you speak to the voice of experience and youth, integrated as one; they speak with the propriety of an adult, but they are only 16 years old, in full formation and human development, and are already recognized leaders in their community, in the municipality of Rosas, Cauca.
They are Angely Katerin Díaz Carvajal, Edith Consuelo Hernández, and Julieth Hernández Carvajal, three Cauca girls who champion campaigns in favor of the environment. They are 11th graders of the educational institution El Marquez.
On February 26, 2015, with the help of their teachers and especially of Diana Delgado, the math teacher, they undertook a dream called Planting Future. “Seeing the rural districts (‘veredas’) of our department and witnessing how Colombian diversity was being lost made us rethink and be aware that we had to do something,” Angely Katerin said.
“The saddest thing is that many people do nothing because they believe natural resources will always be there and won’t end,” adds Edith Consuelo.
Being so young, they have already experienced what doubt and people’s gossip mean. “People say that we young people don’t understand anything, and at some moment we let us infect by that fear of not knowing if things are going to work or not, but we decided to fill ourselves with courage, and so we have managed to do things for water,” Julieth Hernández noted.
Through the Manos al Agua-Intelligent Water Management (IWM) Program, they have begun to plant trees and gradually promote a smart water culture. Since the program began, they have felt support to their work, and are very optimistic about what the Program and the Manos al Agua activities can do for their community. They see an institution like the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) and international partners centering their attention on coffee regions in favor of water and communities.
Through plays, forums, and visible signs about water care and daily actions, they have managed to impact their community and caught attention, leading people to become aware of water and environmental care. “The planet is ending and there is a lot to do,” Angely remarked.
Burnings, tree felling, low discharge of the river, and deplorable water conditions are problems mostly caused by people and can be prevented. From mouth to mouth, these young leaders have produced changes; people now see them as a reference for an intelligent water management. “People call us, ask us what to do, how they can help,” they recognize.
“It’s very satisfying to see these girls’ personal growth around water,” said the school math teacher, Diana Delgado.
“Planting Future” is the environmental group of these three girls, aiming at making the community aware about the need to care for natural resources. Planting Future and Manos al Agua are now united for the region.
It means seeing how the youngest school children collect the litter they find by going from their homes to the institution without being told so by anyone.
“Water has helped us learn to appreciate everything we have, our schools, our family, and has given us the courage we need to move on and to know that we can, and that together we can get on,” says Julieth.
Teacher Diana emphasizes the importance of these girls leading the project because it reflects generational change and youth taking over the countryside and assuming the responsibility they have, to be able to give future generations a planet Earth with resources. She also said that “A lot of ecosystem has been lost; before, the mountain had a lot of water and it was not scarce, but then they cut down most of trees and have not replanted them in the same amount.”
These three young women, supported by the Manos al Agua program extensionists, are already promoting a movement for responsible water use. Their biggest dream is building a treatment plant and improving inlet conditions of the aqueduct that provides low-quality water to the school and all the families in these rural districts. “What’s important is to dream and work every day to meet the goal, not to remain without acting, thinking it will become a reality by itself; dreaming big is living big.”
Manos al Agua, together with these girls’ initiative, the community’s work, and the extensionists, will continue being a model for positive changes.