Brilliant: Plastic Bottle Schools!

Posted on August 28, 2015 by Dr. Lynda

Want to sling mud, collect smiles, change lives and redefine your dreams? You might want to know more about “Plastic Bottle Schools.” From what I can tell, it’s a project almost anyone can connect to.


Need another example of what’s good in the world? I can see this concept standing beside our other 660+ EWC articles that will remind you

I can see this concept standing beside our other 660+ EWC articles that will remind you it is still an amazing world. (our motto)

Today on we bring you an article by a frequent link contributor and new guest writer for EWC, Neal Smith. (You too can write for us!) Neal’s been a teacher and mentor for countless youths for 25 years and has quite a knack for seeing the best in our world and others. Here’s Neal’s piece for EWC:

While listening to a radio program today, I was impressed by a segment that interviewed and then presented an eTown “eChievement Award” to Zach Balle, who started Hug It Forward.

Image: Kids standing with plastic bottles

The whole idea sounds like the result of a mid-life crisis, except it began to form when Zach was 24, observing that his new-found wealth and resultant lifestyle made him feel “I wasn’t living in a way that really felt right: creating. I had a strong feeling of disappointment in myself.”

Zach’s quest for meaning eventually led him to co-found Hug It Forward, which supports local Guatemalans by helping them build school, using local materials INCLUDING recycled, trash-stuffed plastic bottles! Now, this is creative genius at it’s finest: take something you have in excess (willing hands and garbage), and turn it into something you don’t have enough of: schools.

The 40th school building is just now being finished–all since 2009. Hug It Forward works with local Guatemalans–adults and children–as they learn building skills, clean up their environment, and promote the education of the children.  Take a look at a few more amazing videos we found that will inspire!

Fabulous innovation in “giving and volunteering” here! People are proud to be the creators of their own way forward. The days of randomly solving problems for others, without their immediate input and ownership are fading. And choosing the right places to first incubate new concepts like this, before springing them up everywhere, is key.
So why Guatemala? According to the World Bank:
Poverty in Guatemala is both widespread and severe. Approximately 75 percent of the population is estimated to live below the poverty line, which is defined as an income that is insufficient to purchase a basic basket of goods and services. Almost 58 percent of the population have incomes below the extreme poverty line, which is defined as the amount needed to purchase a basic basket of food. 2
Image: Hands making a heart
Image Source:

And there are the pluses too! According to Golden Gate BPO Solutions, Guatemala has:

  • Ranked 100 out of 183 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index 2010; and 91 out of 178 countries in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index
  • Largest population in Central American Region (over 13.5 million)
  • Workforce of 4.1 million, with 70% of the population below the age of 30.
  • Due to human resource availability, operations can scale significantly.
  • Largest student numbers in Central America with 170,000 students enrolled in ten universities 3

Sounds like the ideal place to refine the Hug It Forward model and vision.

Here’s the sound cloud eTown award clip that started me on this happy path of discovery:  Click here to Listen. And the Hug It Forward website is:

I hope to share something with EWC again soon, and also a plug for eTown–great show, great people!
~ Neal Smith

Thanks so much to EWC guest writer Neal Smith. Do you know of a great concept that would inspire and enlighten the world? You can write for us too. Contact us!

Are you new to If so, welcome! We are a global community from 190 countries and we are beginning to change the dialogue about our world. Despite what the 24-hour news cycle tells us, this is still an amazing place. If you are interested in that world, check us out here from time to time! We publish one smart, hopeful article every day.

Images: A collage of EWC article pictures

For now, stay open, curious and hopeful!

~ Dr. Lynda


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