|As the children of School 39 in Almirante Brown start drawing, they choose various hues of blues and greens to illustrate the small plot of land and creek adjacent to the school. This space, newly renovated with help from government-organized cooperatives, is part of a new initiative in the Matanza-Riacheulo basin in Argentina that prioritizes the rights of local inhabitants to access and utilize clean useful spaces as their own and that aims to promote local ownership of the area. The Matanza-Riachuelo River Basin Observatory Project is carried out through the direction of a technical team from ACUMAR, the Matanza-Riacheula Basin Authority, which monitors the cleanup process of the Western Hemisphere’s dirtiest river.This project is designed to re-establish or initiate a dialogue between two estranged parties, which in this case are the local community and government. Ultimately, the goal is to continue advancing environmental awareness and consciousness within the villas surrounding the river basin by means of youth education, a successfully proven integrative method which has the ability to influence more green behaviors in the household since children can be so proactive and interested in the environment.
Across the basin, on land which includes fourteen distinct municipalities, including Buenos Aires, environmental recuperation is mainly achieved through educating neighbors and community members about the initiative in hopes of motivating them to participate. City planners, officials, community members and teachers are all active contributors to the initiative, utilizing environmental awareness in their respective fields and roles. In fact, many of the newly recuperated sites enable participatory actions by allowing children to engage in activities that better the aesthetic value of community spaces, and make the children feel as if they have ownership. Specifically at School 39, children have been able to help plant trees and express in words, pictures, and actions what they would like to achieve in the community space as well as what they would do to keep it clean (as they imagine it should be).
Another example of such participatory work took place in the territory of Lanus, in Villa Jardin along the banks of the Riachuelo, where children gathered in local neighborhoods to paint scenes they had imagined from the new space. Their paintings of an ethereal beautiful space of children playing and people relaxing is integral not only to changing expectations about what the local environment should be, but to helping transmit the knowledge and ideas of younger children to older generations which might not have the same perspective. The idea here is to spread idealistic notions of environment and livable reality from young children to the rest of the community in order to achieve tangible action.
This kind of transmission of knowledge through children is incredibly important as it directly affects the acceptance and incorporation of equitable rights for many people who had previously internalized difference and inequality as norms. Children are the key to overcoming this difference as their internalized appropriation of rights allows them an equal footing in society. Through initiatives such as this river basin project, which fully incorporates participatory action of children, we aim to motivate local communities to want to achieve greater environmental and social change.