Build a School from Recycled Materials for Maya

by Long Way Home, Inc.

It has been a great year for Long Way Home here at the Técnico Maya school construction site.

Our organization was named Small Charity of the Year by StayClassy, host of the largest philanthropic awards event in the United States.

We have also made significant strides on the construction site. Most notably, we have built a dry composting latrine out of bamboo and trash bottles, installed a rainwater harvesting system on our patio, and completed our West bodega.

Currently, we are concluding the finish work on the vocational classrooms and assembling a lower retaining wall for the primary school classrooms. The hard work of our Guatemalan construction crew and dedicated volunteers is apparent when you watch the 200 foot long man made ditch on the east side of our property being filled with 15 layers of tightly pounded tires.

As we continue to progress with the building project, the need for sufficient funds persists. By the end of the year, we plan to finish the lower retaining wall, begin construction of the upper retaining wall, and prepare the foundation for the primary school classrooms.

In the ensuing months, we will complete the upper retaining wall and build the primary classrooms.

Thank you for your continued support. Your generosity is helping change the lives of rural Guatemalan children, one bottle of trash at a time.


In February, six GlobalGiving donors traveled to Guatemala for a week of exploration, cultural submersion, and welcomed visits to four GlobalGiving projects.

One of these projects was a school built by Long Way Home. The interesting detail about this visit was that the school was made out of recycled materials. Prior to our visit, it was hard to envision what a “school made from recycled materials” might look like – but our curiosity was quickly addressed once we arrived at the project “Build a school from recycled materials for Maya,” in the small town of San Juan Comalapa. We first toured the “tire garden,” where tires collected from throughout the area were stored. These tires are subsequently stacked, packed with earth, and covered with an adobe-like coating; they are the primary construction materials being used to build a school that will ultimately serve children and vocational students in this largely indigenous community. Plastic bottles stuffed with trash, and feedbags packed with dirt are also used in construction, and glass bottles have been incorporated into the design of the buildings, adding color and light. We met industrious young volunteers from the US and Europe who were doing everything from tending the garden to digging and building a massive retaining wall – built of, what else, tires!

Parque Chimiya, which adjoins the area where the school is being built, includes an organic garden, soccer fields, and other recreational facilities that bustle with social and educational activity – we met many local schoolchildren and their teachers who were enjoying the park during our visit.

This project was certainly one of the most creative and innovative uses of recycled materials our group had ever experienced – addressing not just the need for improved educational facilities, but the omnipresent problem of garbage and trash as well.

To check out more photos and news from Long Way Home visit their project page:

And just if you’re curious about the rest of the trip and where they were headed after Long Way Home:

“Almost every day in Guatemala brought us to projects which are doing important work for the people of Guatemala. This is a country devastated by decades of war, which suffers all of the consequences of crushing poverty, especially in the rural areas. Although I often felt disheartened to learn of the high rates of child malnutrition and low rates of education, projects like WINGS, which promotes family planning through education and improving women's health; the vocational school being built from recycled tires and plastic bottles by Long Way Home; and the community-run lending libraries facilitated by the Riecken Foundation, were terrifically uplifting. We repeatedly met enthusiastic people committed to doing good for the poor of Guatemala in culturally sensitive ways, which was the perfect antidote to the feeling of sadness or hopelessness that comes from hearing bleak statistics and seeing people living with so little.”

To check out the other visited projects go to:

Pueblo a Pueblo – The Frances and Henry Riecken Foundation – WINGS –

Dear Long Way Home donors,

The school site has made much progress since I last visited in November 2008.

Today, February 26, 2010 we made significant progress because we hired a backhoe to move dirt around.

From January 2009 until today ALL work on the Tecnico Maya School has been done by hand, without any machinery.

But today, that all changed when we hired a backhoe to speed up the building process. Please see how much dirt has been excavated. This will save us three months of digging.

The crew is very happy about this because they have grown in their skills beyond digging. When I visited the site today they told me that they are thrilled to be learning new green building techniques. They do not want to go back to digging. Onward with tire packing and more challenging work!!!

And our architect, Ericka Temple is happy also. She wrote in her blog today:

"Excavation, excavation, excavation! The first ever LWH bulldozer was hard at work Thursday moving dirt and cutting into the slope so that our building crew can focus on BUILDING A SCHOOL. It was a happy day. Hand excavation has an appropriate time and place, as does calling in machinery – we were thrilled to be able to choose the right tool for the job at hand. The area for the next vocational workshops is now cleared and ready for foundation, and a small platform at the upper level was cleared out to produce enough dirt to continue with the retaining wall. Eventually the entire upper terrace will be excavated at this same level to create the platform for the primary school classrooms."

Please visit our website at for more updates. Thank you to all, Elizabeth Rose, President, Board of Directors, Long Way Home

Children that benefit from the education opportunities provided!
Children that benefit from the education opportunities provided!

Before heading to Long Way Home’s project in the Mayan highlands of Guatemala this summer, I decided get a feel for the organization by reading their website. I ran into this mission statement:

“Long Way Home’s mission is to break the cycle of poverty among youth in developing communities by creating educational opportunities, cultivating civic interaction, and encouraging healthy lifestyles.”

At first glance, their strategy seemed to be a straightforward and common way of reducing poverty in any developing country. After volunteering with them for a month, however, this pitch has gradually transformed into a very coherent and pointed approach to achieving sustainability in a community unlike any other in the world. Like nudging a line of dominoes waiting to fall, Long Way Home has introduced the idea of a better future into a community so that it can use preexisting relationships to do so when Long Way Home leaves.

A 45 minute drive up into the highlands from the economic vein of the Inter-American Highway, this community, San Juan Comalapa, has felt the winds of globalization but has not yet found the sails needed to enjoy it. Without business connections to foreign companies like Castrol, Fed Ex, or even Gold’s Gym, store owners have painted their logos on their storefront walls instead. The DVD stand in the central market is surrounded by people who would love to purchase movies but do not have the extra dollar to do so. Especially with people in their thirties or older, it was very easy to see an almost giddy excitement that their children and grandchildren will never have to see what they saw during the recent civil war.

That optimism is coupled though with another haunting idea that, although they are climbing out of their past, they could still slip back into it. There are Coca-Cola trucks servicing Comalapa now, but there are also guards carrying loaded shotguns. Villagers can now enjoy the crackling of fireworks at festivals without having to worry about government approval, but sometimes the bangs I heard were actually those of a gun.

Matt entered this community in 2002 as a PeaceCorp volunteer, building relationships with community members before returning home. But unlike many others in PeaceCorp, he realized an opportunity for sustainable development and returned with colleagues and funds in 2004 to see it through. With a network of community leaders that were determined to pull their village out of its past, Matt realized that he could do more than just teach a child, build a road, or save a tree here. By “creating educational opportunities”, he has been providing parents a lasting way to protect their children. By “cultivating civic interaction”, he can pass appropriate technologies along to people looking for just that. And by “encouraging healthy lifestyles”, he is providing a roadmap to a longer, brighter future in an environment that used to seem inevitably tarnished. In each of these 3 approaches offered in Long Way Home’s mission statement, the community is receiving the tools needed to help themselves when he leaves.

During my month volunteering there, I noticed so many little moments when this change of attitude would come out. One day, I was enjoying a snack with a married couple in the back of a pickup truck on the way to the school construction site, and when the husband tried to throw away the wrapper, his wife said to him, “You shouldn’t do that” (The concept of littering is definitely new there!). Another day, I followed a group of students up to the soccer field listening to them complain about their little soccer balls that pop far too easily, and then like receiving Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, I saw the excitement in their faces when Matt held up ten gold medals that ten lucky kids would receive if they hustled. Coming from the U.S. where the idea of working at a soup kitchen sounds absurd on a beautiful NFL Sunday, it was amazing to see entire communities banding together to build latrines and retaining walls for the local elementary school because no one else would.

When I look back on a month there, all the wonderful conversations I had with Guatemalans, Long Way Home staff, and other volunteers pointed to one clear message about sustainable development. Community members are not the targets of development; they are its force driving.

And, this is why I really think it’s their slogan, not their mission statement, that does them the more justice:

“From the ground up”

Marc Maxson is GlobalGiving's Manager of Performance Analysis. This summer he traveled throughout Guatemala and visited a number of GlobalGiving projects. On May 29th he visited "Build a school from recycled materials for 50 Maya." When asked what he would tell his friends about this project, Marc said: "Incredible: You need to see this!"

Robert Dubois and I visited Long Way Home as part of our GlobalGiving staff listening tour in Guatemala. This is what we saw and heard:

Matt Paneitz led us through the community projects his organization had built outside Comalapa. A group of teens played soccer on the green field beside a healthy vegetable garden. We saw many buildings that used some sort of recycled materials and a few experimental structures, like a chicken coop, which appeared to be erected to test new mixtures of local stucco. As we walked, Matt explained his journey towards the point where they are today. This is a synopsis:

First they built a park. At night they would sit around the park and listen to the villagers.

Someone said, "I wish there was a garden."

So they built community gardens.

A girl said the soccer field was okay, but she wanted a basketball court.

So they built a basketball court.

Someone said, "I wish you would plant more trees, so we will have firewood."

So they planted a forest. They now sell the trees to pay a staff person who maintains the football field. The rest of the money goes to community projects.

Eventually it was time to build the school. But there was no money. So instead of starting by asking outsiders for money, Matt (the founder) got the idea of asking people to "pay" to enter the park by bringing them a plastic soda bottle stuffed with trash each time.

So people started bringing soda bottles stuffed with trash. The town started looking much cleaner.

Next they stacked the bottles to make walls and covered them in a mix of lime and dirt, like stucco. Now they have buildings, mostly made from free stuff.

But the bottles weren't coming in fast enough.

Someone said, "Everywhere I drive, there are discarded tires on the side of the road. Why don't we collect them all and use them?"

So they started cleaning up the highways and stacking hundreds of blown-out tires packed with dirt to make walls for the school. Next they will cover the tires with stucco to make walls. The only cost so far has been labor for 4 local workers, who live in the village and are so excited about the work no one even bothers to supervise them. But the work is on schedule nevertheless. GlobalGiving's donors pay their wages. Volunteers collect the tires.

Did you know cement factories produce 6 percent of global carbon emissions?

Long Way Home is building a school with a lot less cement and concrete.

Matt, the founder wants this school to create a new breed of environmental activist. I suggested he call these kids something new, like a recyclonista, or envirovisionary. May says the kids will learn how to think, problem solve, and find solutions for the future within the walls built of old tires, soda bottles, and other trash sources they have yet to tap. And even more, these walls may be quieter than the concrete walls that echo kid noise in a million classrooms around the world. Matt even thinks the tire-walls may be more earthquake-proof. Given the 7.1 earthquake nearby in Honduras last week, this may not only save money and resources, but also lives in the future.



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Organization Information

Long Way Home, Inc.

Location: Woodburn, OR - USA
Website: https:/​/​
Project Leader:
Mateo Paneitz
Executive Director
Georgetown, MA United States
2016 Year End Campaign
Time left to give
$23,492 raised of $30,000 goal
522 donations
$6,508 to go
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