And why? "Being green" is just not a part of the culture yet. The general psyche, the general mindset is that there is no point. We don't really understand it. But it's just the way it is. Sometimes it makes us mad. Sometimes we're analytical, thinking of ways to solve the problem. Sometimes we laugh out loud when a guy gets a hamburguesa and just throws his wrapper on the ground, then his napkin, then his empty bottle of coke with the straw pushed down inside; all thrown right into the street with the others. We have to make ourselves laugh cause we feel like it's pointless to care.
But it's not that they hate the environment. Paraguay is a beautiful country and most people know it. It's not that they don't care; a lot of people will tell you they hate the litter. It's just not a part of the culture yet. It's just not part of the general psyche. And I think when an individual thinks of what it would take to change the status quo, they eventually come to the conclusion: "If you can't beat em; join em."
We have to remind ourselves that even the US was like this. Things were different in the 1970's. American citizens littered all the time without care until a crying indigenous north american invaded the TV and made everyone feel bad. Now there is a gigantic industry of private and federal organizations working together to make campaigns to stop littering and spark environmental awareness. Paraguay simply hasn't gotten there yet, although they are trying! Here are some Paraguayan organizations that are devoted to environmental conservation.
The Yacyreta and Itaipu dams are gigantic. They completely destroyed the eco-systems surrounding them, and in some cases flooded out communities living near the coast. There are tons of research papers about it. It's still happening. And they know it. That's why they have a sector of their corporation devoted solely to environmental protection and awareness. They have donated tons of trash cans to communities throughout southern Paraguay. They partially fund a high school here in town that is known as the "environmental high school". They have even sponsored a Peace Corps camp, complete with visits to the dam. So on one hand, it looks as if they are just trying to bolster their reputation, trying to make up for the environmental damage they've caused (which is immeasurable; the itaipu dam was placed on waterfalls that were bigger than Iguazu Falls), but on the other hand, they're actually doing more than most city governments are.
There are several Paraguayan non-profit companies that work together to help the environment. One company is called A Todo Pulmon: Paraguay Respira (http://www.atodopulmon.org/). In Spanish, this means "A whole lung: Paraguay breaths." This is an organization dedicated to reforestation and conservation. They give away free 1-3 month old native trees by the thousands, and if they can't get them to you, they will buy trees from the tree nursery nearest you.
A similar organization named Pro Cosara (http://procosara.org/es/) owns a lot of land near a giant reserve where loggers are still stealing the trees and selling them. They try their best to protect the land, but it's hard when people just have no respect for protected areas. They plant more trees and try to maintain all the diverse species that live in the forest. We haven't visited there yet, but we really want to!
Guyra Paraguay (which means bird in Guarani; http://www.guyra.org.py/) is an organization that is dedicated to saving the diverse animals in Paraguay. They do a ton of research and they try to increase awareness about and protect endangered species. WWF offers Paraguay help in environmental policy, forest restoration, improving habitat for biodiversity, and watershed management. (http://www.wwf.org.py/)
And there are even more organizations than this trying their best to get Paraguay up to speed with regard to environmental conservation. There is even a city that calls itself the cleanest city in Paraguay (actually, if you say that, they will correct you and say the world haha), but we went there. And it looked like all the rest (except for a super nice park area that actually was clean. But the people still had large piles of garbage beside their homes. Most side streets were still full of garbage. Most of Paraguay is. Culture is really hard to change and it will be some time before Paraguay gets there. Plus they need to take care of these serious problems like deforestation before they can even tackle the trash problem.
So this is how we have been experiencing Paraguay as far as our work goes. We walk around town seeing another pile, another bag in the street. We brainstorm and come up with ideas on how we could change our community's attitude about trash. Then we go out and do it!
We'll tell you about all of our projects in the next post!