Whether it’s selective belt-tightening, self-medicating or plenty of good old-fashioned complaining, we’re all riding out the cruddy economic climate in our own special ways. But for 32-year-old Justin Hargesheimer, the Great Recession provided the Georgia State University graduate student with an opportunity to get out of Dodge — way out of Dodge, to southwest Guatemala to be exact — and become what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls “a combination garbageman-architect-builder-educator.”
Following in the footsteps of humanitarian-focused garbage builders like Michael Reynolds, Hargesheimer enrolled in the Peace Corps international masters program for a two-year-plus stint that’s found him building school houses out of trash. Or, to be more specific, he's building schools out of recycled plastic bottles filled with non-biodegradable refuse to form durable, earthquake-resistant “eco-bricks.” These insulating bricks are then stacked in chicken wire frames and covered with cement as an affordable alternative to traditional cinder blocks. With the support of an American nonprofit called Hug It Forward, Hargesheimer recently completed his first 52-student “bottle school" in the village of El Tumbador. In total, Hug It Forward has helped to build 14 such schools across Guatemala.
Hargesheimer tells AJC.com:
The kids learn, but at the same time we deal with the community’s trash problem. Down here a lot of garbage is just stuff that’s dropped. Like plastic bottles. A primary goal is environmental cleanup. The project kept at least 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of trash out of rivers and public spaces.
When Hargesheimer relinquishes his trash-collecting, school-building duties, he plans to return to Atlanta, finish his master's degree in public administration, and, ideally, get a job with a nonprofit organization or with the U.S. Foreign Service in a humanitarian-centric position.
Cool beans. Or bottles, rather. Read more about Hargesheimer's sustainable sabbatical over at AJC.com and be sure to read up on the great work of Hug It Forward here (also lots of cool pictures of finished and in-progress bottle schools at the HIF Flickr stream.) Meanwhile, check out the video of his work below: