Earth Education Project

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Earth Education Project

La Chureca, NicaraguaLondon, United Kingdom
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

EEP recycles paper and recycles futures by doing so. When you buy a greetings card from us you change the life of a family in Nicaragua

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Families living in the La Churcea community in Nicaragua, Central America's largest rubbish dump, scavenge for rubbish on the dump which they sell to third parties. They work with their children earning an average of $5 for a 14hour day for one family. This is not a sustainable way to provide for a family and means that children are not getting an education which will perpetuate the cycle of poverty. We (The Earth Education Project) provide the women of the community with practical skills that allows them to earn a fair wage and in turn support their family and send their children to school.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The solution is to create employment opportunities based on existing skills within a community. The skill within the community of La Chureca is to collect rubbish that is sold to third parties who recycle it. The Earth Education Project (EEP) created an employment opportunity by setting up a paper recycling workshop, teaching the community the skills to turn scrap paper into something of value. EEP sells the products they make to sustain the running of the project and provide a fair wage. We aim for our Project to become sustainable through the sales of these handmade products. As our project becomes financially stable we can expand socially; this is part of the solution, that the economic and social aspects are reliant on each other.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

EEP adapts to the needs of the community we work in. Every community face different barriers and we as a Project are flexible and durable regardless of the barrier we may face. SriPree is an NGO with similar framework based in India, instead of seeing them as a competitor we would see this as an opportunity for collaboration to raise awareness of the problems faced by the communities we work with. Within the UK there is a strong competition for raising revenue through trade, less than 8% of charitable income is raised this way so EEP really does need to stick out from the crowd.
About You
The Earth Education Project
Background Information
First Name


Last Name


The competition is only open to people between 18-34 years-old and resident in UK, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark or the Netherlands. Does this apply to you


Country of residence of entrepreneur

Tell us about your personal background. Why are you passionate about this issue? Making an idea a reality takes innovation, dedication and strong leadership. Do you have the necessary entrepreneurial skills to realize your vision?

Getting to know the community of La Chureca, the people that live on Central America’s largest rubbish dump, changed my life. I am not sure of the precise moment that I felt I had to do something for the people I had met but the idea of what to do came to me on a dusty bus ride back from the dump about 3 years ago, in the capital city of Nicaragua, Managua.

I was introduced to Latin America when I was 19, aged 20 I moved to Venezuela to work, aged 23 I was living and working in Costa Rica and in Nicaragua, aged 25 I set up the Earth Education Project working with women, who live on a rubbish dump, to empower them to make a better future for their families and their children. What drives me is the very people I met there, and my belief that everyone deserves the chance to break out of the cycle of poverty. I believe that it is my purpose to do the best I can for them and I am not afraid to take the risks to try new things to make this possible.

I recognized that the ideology of wanting to start a charity is easier than practice – innovative ideas were needed. I knew that to help this community, the women and their families and future generations in different communities, I had to create something different that the community itself wanted to participate in. I worked with the locals to find out what they knew and what we could use from their skill set to create change for them and their families.

I saw the use of social media to connected people back home to the situation so I plastered my Facebook in pictures and short stories and wrote a blog. Currently I tweet, post and blog daily and always look for fresh ideas. I am trailing Pinterest with our trustees at the moment.

The past two decades saw the ‘eco-life’ come alive. I was one of many who saw this as a new way to live, fair trade, ethical products, handmade goods, recycling, it all flooded into our education and the stores. This vision of sustainability; the idea that you could help others by purchasing a product. Not only could people help others when they felt compelled to give a donation as the result of a harrowing story or image, you could get something you needed and wanted and it would benefit others. This was the market and growing demographic I wanted to involve in the project. In all the enthusiasm for the eco living the market had however become saturated quickly so I didn’t want to be just another cooperative. I came up with a unique product that the community could produce. Recycled paper isn’t new but what became EEP is. It’s 100% handmade, 100% of the sales go back to the community. I wanted a product that when you bought it you knew it literally effected change to its creator. I made it personal; offered a product that people would like, and it is like nothing anyone has seen before, and they do like it, and if they want they can get the product personalised for them, their own collection exclusive to them, worldwide– that was the idea. This is what I did; re-invigorated the importance of recycled goods in a unique way. I went for it, fundraised through friends and family to finance the initial pilot project, and then when I was sure it was all in place, with local staff and a partner NGO in Nicaragua, I moved back to make it happen in the UK.

We’ve had people run marathons, swim the channel and cycle to Paris for us. In two years we registered as a charity and created a buzz, chat about who we were and what we did. I needed a team to work with in the UK and created our trustee team which is small and dedicated. We have a solid volunteer network and I have built relationships with individuals in the USA, Switzerland and an organisation in Sweden to make this possible.

It’s not easy. Being a leader is a challenge but the fire that drove me keeps me and the team inspired. The more results we got the more I persevered. It’s taken a lot to start this and to keep it going, I learn something new every day. Working with two different languages, cultures and different work ethics within an organisation is not easy. I had to develop the staff in Nicaragua, earn respect from the community, ensure that they could trust in what I was saying and doing. But this will change generations, not just one group of people, I know this. We are at the stage where we have a stable fund base, a group of donors that follow, support and promote us. We have a story that we tell, that we make people feel part of. The women we work with have not yet realised their full potential, they can still develop, as can I, we are ready for the next step to make the best out of this opportunity.

About Your Organization
Organization Name

The Earth Education Project

Organization Country

, KEC, London

Country where this project is creating social impact

, MN, La Chureca

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The Model: Walk us through a specific example of how your solution makes a difference; include your primary activities

Ninoska, came to live in La Chureca aged 13 she had nowhere else to go she was running from her mother’s boyfriend who was abusing her. She heard there was work on the dump (La Chureca) so she decided to go. She was scared and alone, she built a small tent with old sacks on top of the dump. Here she met Melvin, who became her friend. There was no romance this was convenience they needed each other and managed to trust each other and became a family. They would get up as the sun came up and go to bed when it set, there was often no food, and they lived off what scarps they found on the dump to eat. When she was pregnant she worked until the day she gave birth to her first daughter. Her daughter was born with pneumonia and nearly died at birth. They moved off the dump to live in a shack they’d constructed out of metal to ensure the girl was further away from the fumes. But then the house flooded with the rains and the girl got sick again to this day her daughter Maricela is not well. But they persevered as there was nothing else to do, nowhere else to go.

2 years ago Ninoska heard of a paper workshop where you could work for just half a day and that taught you to make things and you got paid for it. She couldn’t read or write but it didn’t matter as you could earn whilst you learnt. You had to commit to the workshop and participate in the lessons and the social development activities. You had to do this for 3 months without a salary but instead you got food, enough to feed your family whilst you learnt and showed you had skills. Then you could earn a wage equivalent to three times what you’d earn from working on the dump. Ninoska joined and she loved it, she went from being a shy person to having a voice, she formed friendships with other women in her community and they worked as a team. She also got support for her daughter’s medical costs.

Then Ninoska was gang raped in the community – everyone knew by whom but no one, not even her family would turn them in. The women at the workshop provided her with shelter, she came and didn’t work; for 3 months she sat in silence but she had the space to do so, to escape. She didn’t get her salary anymore but she got food to feed her family and she had the dignity of showing she could carry on. She spoke with the workshop teacher who advised her and helped her through. Ninoska got better she is now a lead pupil in the workshop, helping others to paint better and learn to write, just as she did.

She achieved this by this process:

Scrap paper getting recycled by hand in a food processor, dried in the sun and then turned into cards with each card painted by hand, with love and care.

Every day dozens of trucks enter the dump and add to the pile of rubbish. Previously the women we work with would scavenge through this rubbish, like Ninoska, to find something to sell for 14hours a day. Now they turn up to the work shop based in the education centre at 12 noon. The paper they recycle has been collected by businesses in Managua that know about the project, store their paper, and send the paper to the workshop directly, for example the French embassy donates their old books , so not one of the participants scavenges for rubbish and we have a clear and sustainable chain of recycling to support the workshop.
First the women take part in a compulsory school class coordinated with the education centre, they focus on 3 areas; reading, writing and social science. If they turn up late they get some of their monthly wage deducted for missing this part of the workshop. Between 12.30pm and 3.30pm they recycle paper by hand: scrap paper gets torn-up by hand and mixed in a food blender with water, dumped in a huge receptor, mixed with more water, natural glue and flower dye. Then it’s sieved out by hand with screens, similar to one you would use for fabric printing. The women tip the screen and it’s contents against a metal board and press it down with a piece of fabric. It goes to a manually operated press that squeezes out all the water. Peel the fabric back and voila you have paper that dries on a drying rack in the sun. This then gets made into cards, gift bags and notebooks. In the summer months production doubles to make sure we have enough paper in the wet winter months to carry on producing the products.

Alongside the compulsory school classes every week participants receive an art lesson teaching them a new skill, they also receive a bi-weekly social development workshop and once a month they focus on building up a personal portfolio that shows their skills and abilities. 50 % of the women were illiterate when they began at the workshop, teaching them to paint we taught them to write; the principle of holding a paint brush was the same to holding a pencil, you learn one you can learn the other. All of them are literate now, not one works on the dump anymore and all their children go to school. They earn a wage in the form of a learning stipend they know they have to attend the classes as well as make a set amount of cards a week to receive their stipend. And best of all they are happy, they have a job, they put food on the table and send their children to school.

Select the stage that best applies to your business

Operating for 1-5 years

Social Impact
What is the social impact you have had to date and how you measure it?

The la Chureca community's sole income is from scavenging through rubbish to sell. Men, women and children work long days barefoot, and barely clothed. Some were lucky and got international sponsors to sponsor their education, they could get food from charities that delivered food daily but this was life, surviving day to day. EEP was created in 2009 to give the community the skill to change waste products into something of value, something that could be sold from the community itself, providing a sustainable income and future. 3 years on EEP's paper workshop is teaching a group of 15 women business skills, literacy and artistic skills, and they receive a monthly stipend and family support. We measure this in the behaviour of women and the increased health & education of their families.

What barriers might hinder the success of your business? How do you plan to overcome them?

Being an NGO abroad means cultural difficulties in terms of job etiquette and professionalism - I have overcome this with inclusive work methods with the field coordinator.
It's been tough keeping the methods exclusive but I ensure air tight agreements with all participants and partners which has already had to be enforced.
In 2011 we focused on fundraising that has allowed us to plan 2012's strategy around the promotion of the product.

How does your model address financial, social, and environmental sustainability?

There are no job opportunities in La Chureca, we addressed this by creating some. In order to sustain the project we fundraised and created a client base. We recycle, and create a unique product all by hand. We tick all three boxes: financial, social and environmental and they all interlink. When the business becomes sustainable it can expand socially as our social and business aspects are reliant on one another. We maintain our mission and values with a 3 year plan that gives us scope for financial planning whilst developing other aspects of the charity.

Awareness & learning
How do you see social entrepreneurship contributing to the improvement of developing countries?

Libya is a prime example of social entrepreneurship contributing to the improvement of developing countries. The online social mobility provided by Facebook enabled Libyans to alert the world to what was happening in their country. The gained access to information and so did we.
Today more and more people are setting up their own companies and we have a culture that awards entrepreneurship. If businesses can improve lives around the world and engage their clients in their product’s cause you can create a global society that is connected, informed and above all feels they are and can be responsible for what happens in the developing world.

What aspects of your stay in Uganda as part of the competition do you think you will find most challenging and rewarding?

Travelling and working in a new country is challenging as one can have culture clashes caused by communication barriers and different levels of expectation. But this is what I love to do. I think it will be fascinating learning from the youth as to how they are tackling climate change and to see what ideas they have in their community that can be applied to communities facing similar issues in different countries. It would be a great opportunity to hear their thoughts on the project in Nicaragua, and if they think it could work in their country as well. It will be inspiring to meet the first community that started the Ben and Jerry' s fair trade flavours. I enjoy working in a team and meeting diverse groups of people and this would be an amazing opportunity to meet other individuals working to create change in other parts of the world and to learn from each other.