The President of the NGO Avanfuer, Yanira Cáceres, and the Spanish Team Leader, Alberto Sarabia Hierro, gave us the inside story:
Can you tell us more about what Avanfuer does?
Avanfuer is an NGO working on environmental protection issues in Fuerteventura, one of the larger Canary Islands. Fuerteventura has a biosphere reserve recognised by UNESCO, an area which covers both the island and extends for several kilometres into the sea. As we have been fighting plastic pollution for almost 15 years, we felt it was time to get younger people more involved by organising an exchange!
How did you plan the project?
We initially selected three partner organisations from different countries. The group from Réunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean, had a quite similar profile to ours, while the Croatian group came from a much more urban background. Our Romanian partner organisation aimed to promote
active citizenship for young people.They each agreed to send a team of five young people, plus one youth leader. We wanted a totally varied group! So we made a careful selection, taking into account their age, gender and interests in environmental issues. Though our partners were already very experienced in running all kinds of projects, this one was truly transformational for them.
How did you design the timetable for the week?
At the beginning of the week, we formed mixed teams named after oceans: Arctic, Indian, Atlantic and Pacific. Each team was composed of different nationalities to shake them up and get them talking to each other. To start with, youngsters presented the environmental situation in their own country, focusing on plastic problems. We discovered that, for instance, the Réunion Island has similar challenges to ours and works hard to save sea turtles like us. A representative of the biosphere reserve also came to run a workshop about some of the conservation projects on our island. That was the most theoretical part! But then we began exploring the reserve, and actually seeing for ourselves what was happening.
What were the main outdoor activities?
We visited the sea turtle recovery centre that works on increasing their population and taking care of sea turtles that have been hurt by plastic, either on their flippers or in their mouths. The island is very dry – basically a desert – but we have some interesting natural freshwater spots that are important nesting and feeding areas for birds that show how fragile the ecosystem is. To understand the effects that humans have on the environment here, we did plogging around these places: collecting trash while jogging, a trend that started in Sweden but has become very popular worldwide. This clean-up involved all of our young people, and some were even competing over who could pick up more trash! On another day, we visited some beaches that looked clean at first, but on closer inspection were polluted with microplastics. Our teams collected some of these tiny plastic fragments and also recorded some data about the current state of the coast.
How did youngsters react to such discoveries?
They were very surprised to see how microplastics travel with the currents and can wash up almost anywhere. It helped them to realise that everything is connected, and their actions can have an effect elsewhere on the planet.
How did you manage activities that took place outside?
At our events we took a lot of care over the menu, since we believe that eating good quality food
leads to a better attitude and energy within the group. We avoid single-use plastic packaging, and buy local, fresh products. When we couldn’t arrange catering outside, we prepared our own lunch. The day we had a barbecue was memorable and constructive for the whole team, as they felt like a family sharing tasks and responsibilities. Somebody took charge of the fire, while others cut vegetables…