This programme originates from, and is sustained by, the energy and participation of young people. In fact, it was a group of middle school students in Argentina who organised themselves into the first Ecoclub. The members of these Ecoclubs are children over the age of 10, teenagers, and youth up to the age of 25. The latter are "Seniors"; they become part of the organisation, defining the actions for younger members to implement and evaluating outcomes in weekly coordination meetings. Each Ecoclub meets to choose, in a democratic and participatory way, their local, regional, and national authorities (President, Vice-president, and Secretaries) and to define the organisation's focus, programmes, strategies, and working zones.
Having defined its aims and structure, an Ecoclub may choose to work in areas such as integrated management of urban trash sites, urban woodland development, adequate management of potable water, health concerns such as addiction, global warming, proper use of farmland chemicals, and eco-tourism. To foster change in these areas, the groups develop different activities, as follows:
- Capacitating: Defining the subjects of interest and asking a specialist or local technician to volunteer to offer classes, chats, seminars, or workshops
- Community sensitisation work: Organising actions to get the community involved, such as recycling projects, door-to-door organising, participation in expositions and events, and performance of theatrical plays and puppet shows
- Diffusion: Creating and using the mass media to communicate Ecoclub proposals. For example, members write articles about environmental issues for local newspapers and magazines and appear on television and radio. They also create posters.
- Integration: Organising camps, living together, and participating in recreational activities.
In 1999, an International Ecoclubs Net was created to help National Organisations set up programmes including the following:
- Exchange program: Young members visit Ecoclub peers in other countries to exchange experiences
- International School: 4 such 7-day-long programmes have been held to enable Ecoclub members from different countries to gather to describe their activities with the community and evaluate their impact
- Communications: A bi-monthly electronic newsletter is sent to all National Organisations. It includes information about Ecoclub activities in various countries, as well as articles of general interest
- Capacitating: Specific sessions are organised for different actors involved in Ecoclubs (promoters, helpers, new members, etc.)
- Ecoclub promotion in new countries
One of the Ecoclubs' key strategies is solving environmental problems by mustering collective will to bring about change - outside of the government and without major expense. For this reason, community organisation, partnership, and participation are central. The clubs work closely with city and local governments to identify priority concerns and join forces with businesses, universities, church groups, volunteer fire departments, and other NGOs to carry out projects. They seek to coordinate with other organisations' campaigns and try to involve their neighbours in the implementation of these campaigns. Ecoclub members focus on evaluation, too; they try to determine how many of their neighbours have participated in past projects, as well as to evaluate how many continue to implement changes in their own lives after the projects are finished.
To cite a few examples of specific club work, Ecoclubs in Santa Fe, Argentina, mobilised their communities in support of a solid waste management project. Club members raised awareness about the need to separate organic from inorganic waste and then arranged for municipal waste plants to process organic refuse into fertilizer. Most of the fertilizer was used in community vegetable gardens, while a portion was sold and the proceeds used to support other club activities. In Toledo, Brazil, Ecolclubs set up a "Useful Refuse" project to pomote recycling in homes and offices. In Paraguay, club members joined public health efforts to fight dengue, distributing pamphlets and talking with community residents about the need to clean up potential mosquito habitats in their homes, yards, and neighbourhoods. Other Ecoclubs in the region are working in environmental education, organic gardening, wildlife protection, and alternative energy use.
Children, Youth, Environment.
Financial support provided by the World Health Organization/Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, Ashoka, Avina Foundation, and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
PAHO's Perspectives in Health, Volume 8, No. 1, 2003; and Ecoclubs site (English language version).