Mexican girl unites community to clean up water lily-infested dam

By Monica Rubalcava

Mexico City, Nov 12 (efe-epa).- A Mexican girl nominated for this year’s International Children’s Peace Prize has demonstrated the key role that young people can play in protecting the environment and the importance of citizen involvement in the face of government neglect.

“We’re fighting to solve this. Please do something. If not, we’re going to try to do it ourselves,” Ivanna Ortega told Efe about her partnership with different organizations and the local population to clean up the Madin Dam in the central state of Mexico.

At the age of just 12, Ortega mobilized ordinary citizens, non-governmental organizations and government authorities to rescue the dam from water lily infestation, as well as sewage discharges and nearby construction waste.

A year later, she remains committed to her struggle for a clean environment.

“We depend on the environment to live. Without the environment, we wouldn’t be here,” said Ortega, who is one of three International Children’s Peace Prize 2020 finalists chosen from an initial list of 142 nominees from 42 countries worldwide.

Ortega began her efforts after noticing one day that the Madin Dam, located a few kilometers (miles) from the Mexican capital in Atizapan de Zaragoza, was covered with water lilies, a plant that grows quickly and can become a pest.

Determined to recover the dam’s natural beauty, she launched a petition on Change.org and quickly gathered 19,000 signatures from people calling on authorities to address the problem.

“The dam always has been an important part of the place where I live. When I passed by and saw it full of lilies I felt a sadness, an anger and a desperation to do something about it,” Ortega said.

Her work caught the attention of environmental organizations such as Nacel Arcoiris, Preserva Madin, Ecologia con Amor and SOS Salvemos Presa Madin, which have accompanied her in her efforts and helped put her in touch with city officials.

Ortega delivered the signatures to Atizapan de Zaragoza Mayor Ruth Olvera and the local representative of the National Water Commission (Conagua), which monitors the dam.

A total of 21 million pesos (around $1 million) were allocated to remove the lilies from the dam, according to Ortega. Even so, when the money was not initially put to use to solve the problem she and the different environmental organizations sought out other ways to exert pressure.

They called on the community to help clean the dam by hand using materials such as detergent containers, ropes and nets.

“The people at Nacel Arcoiris came up with the idea to do a manual clean-up to get authorities’ attention, and later they started providing the machinery,” said Ortega, who added that a collaborative effort was carried out.

The Mexican girl already has won second prize in the 8-12 category in the Action for Nature organization’s 2020 International Young Eco-Hero Awards, which recognized the environmental achievements of 17 youth worldwide.

Ortega, who sees herself following in the footsteps of globally recognized activists Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, will find out Friday whether or not she has been awarded the International Children’s Peace Prize, an honor bestowed by the KidsRights organization.

Either way, she said her struggle will continue with a new signature-gathering drive aimed at securing funds to reforest the area surrounding the Madin Dam.

Although Ortega still has not decided on a future career path, she said people already have sought to involve her in other projects aimed at cleaning up other dams in Mexico state. EFE-EPA


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