Mauricio Canedo has developed a uniquely personalized form of environmental education for young people which is spreading through urban areas in Boliva and is based upon the children's experience of growing their own gardens.

This profile below was prepared when Mauricio Canedo was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1996.


Mauricio Canedo has developed a uniquely personalized form of environmental education for young people which is spreading through urban areas in Boliva and is based upon the children's experience of growing their own gardens.


Mauricio Canedo has implemented an environmental education and awareness program in the elementary and high schools of Cochabamba that is designed to make children and young people aware of the need to look after the eco-system of which they are a part. Mauricio believes that environmental awareness should be part of everyday life and that preserving the environment should become a natural reflex. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Mauricio's education alternative is that he has created a process to produce the elusive chemistry of getting people to care, and he has integrated it from the classroom to the halls of city government.

In the environmental education curriculum that Mauricio has developed, each student grows a plant. The process is easy to manage, takes up very little space, can be carried out anywhere there is sunlight and costs $1.50 per child. The children learn about their role within the ecosystem and gain a valuable feeling of responsibility as they take charge during the lifecycle of their garden. Through their prolonged contact with one seed, one plant, they come to care about it and to see how the large environment is an extension of it. Then Mauricio takes the next step with his students, of reaching out to identify problems and take action in their urban communities, working with local officials, media and businesses. In this aspect, Mauricio's work is especially attentive to its Bolivian context, where concern about the environment is rising but the mechanisms for its improvement have not yet been created.


Cochabamba used to be known as a garden spot in Bolivia, a city lying in a valley surrounded by hills covered in beautiful green forests. However, during the past twenty years the hills have been clearcut by an international charcoal corporation. Changing weather patterns have caused drought and wind, and the city's air quality has deteriorated markedly because of several interrelated factors. The area around Cochabamba is Bolivia's principal coca growing area, which has increased in size as deforestation has opened up more clear land, and there is smoke in the air continuously because the coca farmers burn their fields. Exhaust from the buses, which are the major source of transportation in the city, further exacerbates the smog. The loss of surrounding forest accelerates soil erosion and dust, but reforestation efforts have been unsuccessful. One reason is that people are accustomed to regarding the hills as collective land and do not have a sense of individual responsibility or purpose to improve the landscape, however bleak. There have been no mechanisms to protect newly planted trees from people's personal use or from being grazed by the cows that roam the hills.

The local newspaper stated in 1995 that Cochabamba is the fourth most polluted city in Latin America. The people have been informed through the media about the severity of the damage to their environment and some of its causes, but no one knows what to do. Any solution must be inexpensive, because Bolivia is a very poor country. The municipal government has initiated efforts to introduce a recycling program-Bolivia's first-but there is no educational framework to teach the community about recycling methods. Meanwhile children play in eroded dirt in treeless neighborhood parks.


Mauricio has created an environmental education model that flows with the energy of children, whom he sees as the most effective agents of change. With inexpensive, individualized techniques he teaches the children to care and he then shows them how to translate feeling into action in the community. At every step he involves the children's families in a model that is replicable anywhere.

In Mauricio's program, children learn about nature through growing their own gardens. Each student is assigned a transparent plastic container, 50 cm in diameter by 70 cm high; because Mauricio believes it contributes to the child's commitment to his or her garden, the students buy the containers. Into the container goes a special mixture of dirt, compost and sand; its walls permit the sun to pass through, creating a greenhouse atmosphere idea for growing plants. In it the student plants a seed for a food-producing plant and is responsible to care for it during the ensuing three- to four-month growth cycle. In the event that a rebellious student might let a plant languish or even die, Mauricio is prepared with plants that can "catch up" even if the student has fallen a week or two behind the class. Inevitably, reluctant students join in the system; it's fun.

Teachers, trained by Mauricio, provide help and advice about the care of the plant. They explore with students the life cycle of plants, the problems and benefits of producing nutritious foods, natural and biological methods to combat pests, the use of bio-degradable products, how to compost. Students take great satisfaction in harvesting their own fruit and vegetables, which they decide together how to use. They either have a large fiesta at the school to which they invite their families to share a meal they create with their produce, or they give the harvest to charity.

Meanwhile Mauricio has introduced several waste collecting systems: organic, for compost production; and plastics, glass, aluminum and wastepaper for resale. Moneys earned from selling the recycled items is directed back into the school. An intensive campaign with posters and demonstrations is carried out in the community to publicize the school project. Children become promoters of environmental education to their families and show them how to take responsibility and pleasure in their environment.

Within the first year of Mauricio's program, whole families of his students began to plant trees again in blasted city parks as part of Domingo Verde, or in English "Green Sunday." Pictures of one Sunday event show hand-lettered banners which read "It Doesn't Matter What the Age: We Can All Have Consciousness and Work for the Protection of Our Eco-System" and "To Take Care of the Trees is the Work of a Team." Everybody wants to be part of Green Sunday, and the media has followed it enthusiastically.

Mauricio takes the further step with his students to identify projects in which they move beyond their personal gardens to the larger community environment. Examples include reforestation, repair of a landslide or a vandalized park and river cleanup. He involves the mayor and Publics Works Department of Cochabamba, as well as private businesses and the media, which often feature his students. Because Mauricio's program aspires to gain ideas and direction from the children and community members themselves, efforts continue to involve parents, families and the local community in the creation of bottom-up campaigns.

Mauricio plans to replicate this program throughout the main towns of Bolivia; he has developed the framework for a non-profit organization which will be in charge of executing the project and be its institutional base. He is now working on a pilot program in five private schools and one state school, with an average of 400 students per center, in the city of Cochabamba. In 1996 the city of La Paz asked him to begin a program for public schools there. He has attracted the support of Jaime Escalante, the Los Angeles, California teacher celebrated in the film "Stand and Deliver" who returned to Bolivia to set up a school and has chosen to work with Mauricio.


When Mauricio was very young, his father was exiled from Bolivia because of his political beliefs, and the entire family moved to Mexico. Mauricio attended university in Mexico and graduated with a degree in agriculture engineering. His older brother loved his native country, Bolivia, and talked often of his dream to return there and work with the people to improve their conditions.

Mauricio married in Mexico and, together with his wife, started the project "Huertas Escolares," based on the belief that the only agents of real change are children. For Mauricio, the issue of environmental protection is a spiritual as well as a survival issue.

Mauricio brings many years of experience to his environmental education and awareness program. From 1984 through 1986, he and his wife operated "Huertas Escolares" in Monterrey, Mexico; it involved 20 high schools and 15,000 students. The program was developed as a series of school gardens which students learn to operate as small private enterprises. The produce was bought from the schools and sold by private businesses for a profit. Later, he returned to Bolivia where he further developed the model for UNICEF and CORDEPAZ from 1988 to 1989 as a non-profit venture designed to provide environmental awareness and education about agriculture to school children in El Alto, La Paz. Those ventures formed the prototype for Mauricio's current work, with an important exception. He discovered that showing young people how to produce better agriculture and develop micro-enterprises was not enough to change their personal attitudes toward nature, so he integrated his present personalized focus.

After his brother's death, Mauricio vowed to return to his beloved Bolivia. He was saddened to see the environmental devastation that had taken place during the family's absence and determined to share his experience of environmental education and "Huertas Escolares" in his native Cochabamba region. He has started a successful business of nutritional snacks, which are distributed all over the country. He uses the money from the business to finance his environmental education activities.