This is a post was originally posted on Make & Meaning on February 14, 2010 in its entirety, as the site said goodbye recently after opening up the floor of the craft and creative worlds to ask deeper questions about just what is it that we’re doing here? My fellow Make & Meaners were Pip Lincolne, Alice Merlino and Kim Werker with Diane Gilleland and Paul Overton at the helm. RIP, Make and Meaning, I’ll always love you!
As of tonight, I’ve been back a week from Guatemala. It’s funny how I was there only a few days, but have spent the past 7 mulling the disparities in our lives. The knowledge that I know they’re never going to be equal in my lifetime, no matter how hard I try to suss it out, cuts me to the core. And I have an idea. Maybe it will resonate with you, maybe not. I just wanted to air out the thought.
After writing about the altruistic applications that craft can have for years, it was eye-opening to be faced with a situation that we could really help change, if only a little. Right in the middle of everything, just past the field where the children play, smack dab between two houses, next to a pasture with a sad looking cow, with a path running down its right edge leading to more houses, was the village dump.
Literally smoldering in a heap of rotting food and crisp packets and carrier bags and other daily detritus, was exactly what we try so hard to ignore. What we hide from sight, our dirty little secret, a melange of foul odors and disintegration, what is taken from our houses and placed somewhere faraway and out of sight. And this is just trash of a small village, without the luxuries of microwave meals and individually packaged tea bags.
But in the DIY community that’s one thing we’re good at, right? Using our trash in creative ways? What have we learned from those crafty trials and late night genius ideas, are they just fodder for our personal blogs and craft forums? Is it proof positive that we are creative? Do we do it for ourselves, or for the possible recognition?
As I walked through the village, I asked one of our interpreters what the wisps of material I kept seeing tangled up in the power lines were. They were kites made by children. Constructed by crossing thin sticks together to make a hexagon frame with cut-up plastic bags laid taut on top, and tiny strips from bags fluttering as the tail. What else could they make from trash, perhaps something they could play with that couldn’t get loose and fly away only to be trapped out of arm’s reach?
I’m not writing this to be damning or critical of where you choose to show your creations, I’m just enlivened by what could be done. It’s a challenge, really. What toys, household devices, yard items, gardening tools could we, the DIY community, come up with? We’ve managed to decrease the size of our own household trash and recycling bins. Why are we doing it? To create? To reuse? To save the earth? What about saving people with these same ideas? Is that too much of a leap? Does it make things too real, too big?
I think the answer is no. I think we are ready to use our ideas to help others in developing countries. I think it might gives us the jumpstart we all need to truly challenge our creativity. We’ve shown our peers and parents and television audiences how to reuse and remake and how to be crafty, what about seeing what we can do with a slightly different demographic?
The main (and most toxic) thing that needs to be tackled are ways to reuse the plastic put in the dumps, mainly plastic carrier bags, snack packets and soda bottles. Burned in the dump, on the curb, in houses the plastic enters the lungs of children as they run around streets already filled with broken bottles and disease-ridden homeless dogs looking for shade and scraps.
Maybe it’s just me that’s near breathless with the possibilities that could be created for people who have next to nothing. Something solar? Something handy around the house? Something waterproof? I can still see and smell the stomach-wrenching blue fumes steadily drifting down the village street. And while I might want to look away and ignore it, it’s already singed me and got my brain on fire. What about you?
Here are some ideas that have been called attention to by some friends:
*Flip Flop (I Was)
*Pure Vida (Eco Block)
*DIY Solar Solutions for Developing Countries
*15 Innovative Eco-Friendly DIY Projects
*Making a Soccerball from Plastic Bags
*Solar Powered Water Heater Made From Beer Bottles & Hosepipes
The last photo above is from my trip. The other photos are by Tommydavis209 and Islandgyrl, respectively. Many thanks to Kelly Rand for some of these awesome links!
[ETA: I wrote this last night, but I think I’ve been phrasing this all wrong. The reason why I’m so excited to uncover ideas that are made by the DIY community and see how they could be used in developing nations is not because I think we’re doing it wrong. Instead I see the power, the strength, the genius that we hold in our hands but don’t necessarily recognize. I don’t think we truly see how fascinating our creations are and how they could have broader applications. Sometimes our crafts get dismissed as hobbies or weird pastimes, and they are anything but. They are actions and thoughts and ideas that have true, real world power. We have gifts to share not only within, but beyond our own community, and are more powerful than we may realize. We are powerful, smart and important, moreso than we often give ourselves credit for. Don’t just celebrate craft, celebrate your own unique strength, ingenuity and vision- whether by yourself or with the rest of the world.]