The Last Drop of Hope

by Bernis Cunningham, Nicaragua, ELP 2015
Written on July 27, 2015.

When I was accepted to attend UC Berkeley, I knew it was a great opportunity. The College of Natural Resources at Berkeley is ranked number one in the world. I knew I was going to one of the best institutions of higher education on earth. I packed my bag and I flew from Managua, Nicaragua to San Francisco. I then took the BART to Downtown Berkeley. Some hippies helped me on my way to Foothill where I would be living, because my phone was off and I had no directions. I went to UC Berkeley to learn how to stop environmental destruction.

We all know that the world has a big problem. Between climate change, global warming, and environmental destruction there is a lot to be done. This process is going forward; humanity is not going to stop until we have irreversible devastation and destruction.

In this reality I decided to become an environmental lawyer, to protect and defend the interest of the natural resources. My clients are water, trees, air, soil, birds, living things and biodiversity. I work as CEO of CAC Consultora Legal. We are trying to use the rules of the capitalist system and the law of the market to benefit the protection and conservation of the environment and human sustainable development. We are developing business projects such as (recycling, sustainable tourism, sustainable construction, agroecology, etc.)

In Nicaragua we have many problems with solid waste management1. The system of waste management and garbage trucks only work in 75 of the 153 municipalities in the country. In these 75 municipalities, 94% of the solid waste is discarded in open waste dumps or they are burned to reduce their volume. They do not have any special waste treatment programs in place. We are challenged to develop a business model that is profitable, successful and can be duplicated. We are going to start the project in two schools in the city of Granada. We have approximately 2,000 students that will be participating in the program. We will teach the students how to recycle and reduce the solid waste. We are going to emphasize the importance of recycling in the entire country. The company has plans to produce energy with compost that is collected weekly. We are also looking to produce new products with aluminum and plastic bottles as well as recycled paper. We have the land, a business plan and a 3-year strategy to start cleaning the lakes, educating children and making money at the same time.

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In the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program I was given the opportunity to learn about other programs that are being developed all over the world. I learned collaboration skills, how to negotiate with different stakeholders, how to communicate efficiently and how to develop a marketing strategy.

The best thing I got from the experience at UC Berkeley, besides the knowledge and skills, was the relationships that began to develop while I was there. I met Professor David Zilberman who is an example of academic excellence as well as a caring human being. The ELP Team (Anita, Renata, Mio, Mariko, Megan, and Donna) made the experience perfect by making me feel at home. I also met Dean Keith Gilless, great man, full of history, knowledge and humility. Also, Professor Thomas Azwell has given me the best advice and changed my mindset in relation to waste management and the recycling process in schools. Of course I can’t forget my classmates, my new friends.

I learned that there are no African people, no European people, no Latin American people, no Asian people, they are just people. People that cry, people with love, people with dreams, people that scream, people that live. These environmental leaders taught me so much; they taught me that in the world there is still one last drop of hope.