1. Identify an environmental culprit in her community.
2. Figure out how to stop it at the source.
3. Mobilise others to join the fight.
Zuleyma, 18, lives in the coastal area of La Libertad in El Salvador with her father, stepmother and siblings. In a country where land elevation is typically less than 10 metres above sea level, Zuleyma’s community is especially susceptible to flooding, as it sits next to an estuary.
Watching the mouth of the river overflow with water, especially during the rainy season, used to fill Zuleyma with dread.
The biggest emergency we had was during quarantine. The water came out of the mouth of the estuary and flooded here. Then we had to go to the school, but we couldn’t leave unless someone came to evacuate us, because it was too full of water.
Beyond geography, Zuleyma points out, there’s a second culprit in the flooding that has nothing to do with Mother Nature: “When the mouth of the estuary fills up completely with water, the water overflows into the community,” she explains. “It does this because so much trash and leaves clog things up, [giving the water] no other way out.”
Preventing trouble at the source.
Together with several of her classmates, Zuleyma is leading a recycling initiative. Working with other community members, her tireless team has collected over three tonnes of plastic and cans from the river and sold them to recycling companies. In addition to helping prevent flooding, they also prevent trash from ending up in the sea.
Calling herself “a leader and a collaborator,” Zuleyma takes her role seriously. When she’s not collecting waste, Zuleyma is mobilizing her friends and neighbours to join her in protecting their community and environment. Her boundless energy and dedication have earned the attention and respect of her elders. As one community volunteer puts it: “Even though [Zuleyma] is very young ... if she is called to something, she is very willing to say, ‘I support; I’m going.’”
BY THE NUMBERS
- Approximately 10% of El Salvador's territory (about 2,000 square kilometres) is susceptible to flooding.
- 80% of that territory is located in the coastal zone of the country, where land elevations are less than 10 metres above sea level.
- in 2020, tropical storms Amanda and Cristóbal caused losses and damages worth over USD $28 million and affected more than 53,300 families nationwide.
- Between 2018 and 2024, the Increasing Resilience to Floods in Central America program impacted more than 7,090 people across La Libertad, Chalatenago and Cuscatlán.