From where I stand: "Of course, we had no money, but the problem was big enough for us to tackle even without financial resources."
Roslyn Williams-George is a climate change activist in Trinidad and Tobago and president of the Cashew Gardens Community Council. Roslyn speaks out on the climate crisis in Trinidad and Tobago and how women are taking the reins of waste management in her community.
"My interest in climate action started a couple of years ago when the community's youth participated in a water quality testing activity in the Capero River, which is a vital watershed in the central area. The Adopt-A-River programme in Trinidad and Tobago recruited young men and women to adopt a river in their community, conduct cleanup activities and test the water. While drawing the water samples in the Capero River, the amount of pollution, particularly plastic bottles that were present, became evident in the water we use daily. Also, the river constantly flooded every rainy season. It was very disheartening to us [members of the community], so we decided that we needed a community education campaign to ensure citizens were informed about proper waste management to eliminate indiscriminate dumping in the waterways. That is how the Cashew Gardens Community Recycling programme and my interest in climate action began.
We partnered with private sector companies who assisted us in getting the programmes started because we had no money. Still, the problem was big enough to tackle even without financial resources. We began with meetings to educate community members, placed garbage bins in strategic locations in the community, and then asked women in the households to teach their families to separate the trash into specific bins: one for plastics, glass, and cans and another for the regular garbage. When we started the environmental and educational campaign, community members immediately got on board. Children were particularly excited by the initiative because they were learning about recycling in school, but there were no measures being implemented in their community.
There are three [environmentally focused] initiatives in the community: recycling, the community compost bin and garden. The community embraced the recycling programme, separating plastic and glass bottles, cans, and Tetra boxes from their trash. Then, we thought about another significant problem evident in the landfills in Trinidad: methane gas emissions which mostly come from the food waste disposed of in the bins. So, we embarked on our Community Composting Project by distributing buckets to collect the food waste. We started a pilot with sixteen (16) people and asked them to place their food waste, such as vegetable peelings, in the dedicated buckets collected and dumped in the compost bin. This has been such a success that even the sanitation workers are happier because now the garbage bins are lighter. The recyclable containers went into one bin placed in the community, which was emptied by the iCare programme [one of the Community's partners], and the food waste went to the compost bin, leaving only paper [based waste].
The third project was started in 2012, the Community Garden. We would plant crops in boxes, but we had to dump the crops every time we were affected by flooding in the rainy season. And in the dry season, we were affected by pests. We found that we had to use many more pesticides than we wanted to control the pest to keep the crops. So, we decided to build a greenhouse: our climate-smart garden. It is powered by wind and solar energy, and we plant PVC pipes in a drip system to reduce the impact of climate change and pests.
Women have huge roles as champions of climate action. Women serve as the change agents in our community. All the directors and committee members on the Council are women who continue to serve significantly.
The Cashew Gardens Community Council was formed over 20 years ago, but our focus was much different when we started. Over the years, our focus shifted to the different kinds of environmental damage happening and realized that we could control [the impact]. We now see that it [climate action] all comes back to the households and community. If we teach each household how to manage their waste, then technically, we are teaching them how to minimize their carbon footprint and control climate change in their own little way.
We have learned that much can be done by youth in our community. The children are the ones who remind parents to separate waste because they understand that the situation [climate change] will impact them in the future.
When we initially started the project, it was voluntary and fun, but after a while, it became a bit overwhelming for us in the Council. We could no longer do it on a voluntary basis. Our recycling output increased, and we had to find ways to get financial support to continue the programme. Most of the Council members were employed, so we could only do the initiatives on a part-time basis. How could we get financial support for these projects to implement them full time because we had become so passionate about the work and wanted to travel across the country to educate other communities? We have spent time building a model in our community that we hope can be duplicated in other communities. We approached the Green Fund, a funding agency in Trinidad for climate projects, and secured financing. We received funding for the recycling project for a period of two years [currently, the Council is within this project period] and received funding from UNDP's Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme for the composting initiative. GEF and Habitat for Humanity also granted the Council funding to convert the original community garden to the climate-smart garden.
We are exploring opportunities for monetization, such as selling the compost to small-scale farmers, but we are concerned about the sustainability of the recycling project. The problem is more extensive than we can reach, and many times, I feel as though we are only making a small dent in a much larger issue, which is national waste management. It can be disheartening to see single-use bottles littering the streets or establishments that don't have separate bins for recycling. There needs to be a long-term change campaign to get us all on board because of the magnitude of the climate change problem.
"To women across the Caribbean region, I encourage you to develop a passion for climate action; even though it may seem like we are not progressing. I think with small changes and steps, eventually we will get there one project and one community at a time.”
Take action for Equality! Join Roslyn, UN Women Multi-Country Office of the Caribbean on the #RoadToEquality.
Roslyn Williams-George is a climate change activist in Trinidad and Tobago and the Cashew Gardens Community Council president. Cashew Gardens is located in Central Trinidad, close to the Caparo Watershed. Under her leadership, the community association has established the Cashew Gardens Community Recycling, Garden, and Composting Program to assist with the economic situation faced by some of the women in the community. Her work is directly related to many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 13 on climate action, mainly its target on improving education, awareness-raising, and capacity on climate change mitigation. Roslyn is recognized under this year's International Women's Day Theme: "Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow," and call for climate action for women by women.