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.

Image: Kids standing with plastic bottles

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 it is still an amazing world. 

Today on Ever Widening Circles 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.

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 that…

“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 schools 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

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 SoundCloud eTown award clip that started me on this happy path of discovery:
Click here to listen!

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? Contact us!

Want to check out a little more positive news, fun or insights?

Head to our homepage to check out our latest articles, circles, and archives! Or, simply scroll down this page to find a few more incredible articles like this one! Even better, subscribe to receive the latest from EWC right to your inbox!

Support us on Patreon!     or…    Check out our library!


  1. Hug It Forward. “**Hug It Forward Bottle Schools Out of Trash.” Hug It Forward. YouTube, 4 Nov. 2010. Web. 28 Aug. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3gl1wWJdTM>.
  2. “Guatemala: An Assessment of Poverty.” The World Bank. The World Bank, 2012. Web. 28 Aug. 2015. <http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTPOVERTY/EXTPA/0,,contentMDK:20207581~menuPK:443285~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:430367,00.html>.
  3. “Guatemala’s Advantages – Serving the US Market with Outsourced Call Centers and BPO Services. Golden Gate BPO. N.p., 10 June 2013. Web. 26 Aug. 2015. <http://goldengatebpo.com/blog/guatemalas-advantages-serving-the-us-market-with-outsourced-call-centers-and-bpo-services/>.

Dr. Lynda is a dentist, artist, global traveler, and philanthropist who looks for potential and shares it with the world. Hear her latest conversations with thought leaders on the Conspiracy of Goodness Podcast--new episodes every Wednesday!