“It is important that our actions reflect what we are. That is the only way that we can change the course of the world towards a resilient and sustainable one.”
“Leading by example, i’m changing the world”
Iris Odena Manzur Vaquerano is 30 years old, from the small beach town of La Libertad, El Salvador. An animal rights activist, she is also concerned about climate change and the environment since she is aware these are issues that concern us all. In June 2013 Odena attended one of SERES’ Youth Leaders for the Pachamama congresses. As Odena – who now considers herself a part of the SERES family – describes it: “that was where this dance began”.
SERES’ facilitators always fill us with their positive attitude and strength, and their vision that it is through local actions that we will generate global changes. “I recognize and I am aware that I share the world with other living beings: humans, animals and the Pachamama. That’s why Iove giving” says Manzur.
A leader is first and foremost a human being, and as a human being we all have concerns. However it is our sense of nobility that allows us to transform those concerns into catalysts for change. We have an option: we can sit back and embrace the concerns, hoping for change…or we can stand up and walk with a firm step, and face those concerns – seeing them for the opportunities that they represent. As Odena tells it: ”I am concerned that greed and selfishness will destroy the only world we have. I am concerned that the media promotes a apathy about the impact of our current lifestyle. I feel that we are against the clock to save the planet, and soon we will arrive at a point where there is no going back”.
El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America (20,742 km2) and sadly one of the countries with the highest environmental deterioration. Currently 75% of the territory is recorded with some degree of erosion. Currently, only 4 areas have been declared protected areas, while another 121 proposed areas await legal recognition. (FAO)
“In El Salvador I am primarily concerned about the access to and care of water resources, the amount of inorganic waste that we produce on a daily basis and the poor management of this, the quantity of agrochemicals used, high rates of deforestation and lack of education of the people – which is the main cause of all of these challenges” says Odena.
Odena currently works for a customer service company, where she has worked hard to be given permission to form an environmental team within the organization. Through her constant work educating and inspiring other young people in the company, the environmental team has now developed an action plan for the first 6 months of 2014. Their two big focuses: a local farmers market, urban garden and a recycling awareness program.
We know that all leaders have great ideas, but what sets true leaders apart is their ability to lead not only with their head, but to listen and lead with their heart. Each of SERES young leaders comes to understand this and discover their own personal motivation, and in Odena’s case her motivation is a special connection with nature. She explains this connection as feelings that come from deep inside…so strong that they give me the strength to keep fighting in this struggle to preserve our planet. ”We continue to receive majestic landscapes, the planet keeps feeding us, giving us air, and that makes me think: aren’t our basic needs given by our own planet?” says Odena.
Helping young leaders to discover their own passion and motivation, and in time teaching them to hold this space is at the center of SERES’ work. “SERES helped me to become a leader and change maker. It is a pillar of support that I trust in very deeply, and it has helped me personally and professionally. In order to have impact, we must connect with others, learn from them and collaborate. SERES is this and much more for me”.
If change doesn’t begin with ourselves, then change will just remain in words. Odena is a living example of this. Her home is a simple yet strong reminder that we must walk-the-talk. Whether it is recycling grey water, reducing water used for flushing, carrying eco-bags to the market to avoid plastic bags or bringing her own takeaway containers, Odena is a constant reminder to friends and family of something different. While these actions may be common-place in countries such as Australia or the US, they are extremely unusual in a country like El Salvador. Leading by example extends from Odena’s home into her work life, where “I constantly encourage my coworkers to use reusable cups and reduce paper usage, and I now have them making eco-bricks as well!” Odena also runs a Facebook page where she helps to educate people on the importance of local, sustainable food and the impact our consumption choices can have on the environment.
In a country like El Salvador – with such a high rate of environmental degradation and a very low environmental consciousness – leaders like Odena are having a huge impact. While it may seem like just a drop in the ocean, their tireless work to promote change, raise awareness, and get people thinking about the impact that their decisions has on their environment and the planet is creating big ripples. SERES works to keep supporting and investing in these leaders, helping them to be the best they can be and working together to co-create the future that we all want.