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… was one of the most sacred sites for the Inca civilisation as it was believed to be the origin of the sun, moon, stars and humankind. It is the highest navigable lake in the world at an altitude of 3,800 metres above sea level . It is also the largest fresh water lake in South America. On it’s shores is the city of Copacabana, Bolivia.
Copacabana on Lake Titicaca
… is still sleeping as I walk out of my hostel in search of WiFi and some decent coffee. As I stroll along the edge of Lake Titicaca, I notice signs hanging on the trees that line the pathway. “Una colilla no es semilla” (a cigarette butt is not a seed), “el chicle se tarda 5 años en deshacer” (a piece of gum takes 5 years to dissolve), “bolsa plástica 1 minuto en tus manos, 100 años en la tierra” (a plastic bag, 1 minute in your hands, 100 years on earth), “…” and under each and every one is the signature of Kasa Kultural Sol y Luna
As soon as the trees stop, so do the signs. But the garbage on the floor continues to be in sight and is part of the view all the way into town. I also see bins marked for recycling, in multiple colours for organic, plastic and paper waste. These also have a sign: “Copacabana, pueblo Moderno: Gobierno Autónomo Municipal Copacabana. Embajada Alemania”.
The sad truth is that Copacabana is in urgent need of a clean-up and a shift in recycling and waste culture. The signs and labelled bins are a start but it’s clear that the city needs much more than that. Locals, I think, have a large role to play here but so do tourists.
10 years ago, Libertad (founder of Kasa Kultural Sol y Luna) moved to Copacabana from La Paz. She quickly realised that the lake and its natural surroundings were becoming polluted and that the beauty that characterises this sacred place and attracts tourists every year would soon disappear unless something was done about it.
Not only does sewerage drain into the lake from the hundreds of hotels built on its shore. The garbage accumulates on its shore without being separated for recycling and any other waste disposal is dubious too.
Libertad sees the lack of urban planning and management from local authorities as a key concern, as well as the little importance given to waste management and environmental protection within local policies and the local educational curriculum. There is little awareness on the protection of the environment despite the fact that locals notice the changes in the flora, fauna and climate of the area.
The lack of services, particularly access to sanitation facilities from those living on the margins and outside of the city is also a major concern.
Finally, there are signs of social prejudice against those that have an alternative lifestyle like that of Libertad, who is focused on coexisting with nature rather than solely extracting from it.
‘Hope in the dark’
“At first, I used to visit the local schools and give workshops at my house, but no one came” – Libertad, interviewed November 2018
Today, Libertad has a leading role in the local agrarian association with whom she develops collective knowledge and understanding about traditional techniques and ancient agricultural practices that have been passed down since Tiahuanacota times. She runs the project Kasa Kultural Sol y Luna, which provides a serene hideaway from the challenges faced in the city.
“Kasa Kultural is an experimental laboratory” says Libertad (Nov 2018). Her life project has become about observing, reading, understanding, learning and trying to activate a different form of living. She sees herself as an activist, not one that marches but one that lives in harmony with nature and in doing so demonstrates the possibility of an alternative form of living.
In an attempt to overcome some of the challenges mentioned above; Kasa Kultural Sol y Luna invites students from La Paz for annual clean-ups of the lakeshore and campaigns to promote greater environmental awareness.
It also offers knowledge on how to live without waste, how to reduce, re-use and recycle. The first thing people do when they come and visit is learn how to separate their garbage. Using everything that is produced from what she calls, ‘unnecessary consumption’.
Kasa Kultural also offers training on associative agriculture and the production of natural fertilisers and biocides. To do this, Libertad builds on knowledge from her own studies in agricultural engineering and draws on traditional Incan practices of respecting the environment and using only what is necessary from nature. This with an attempt to promote agricultural sovereignty and better nutritional practices. Malnutrition is common in the area despite the fact that “…the ten most important ingredients in the world are Bolivian but we don’t consume them” – Libertad, interviewed November 2018. She promotes the use of ingredients such as the potato, quinoa, cacao etc.
Kasa Kultural also offers trainings on using biodynamic agricultural practices using the Cruz Andina Chakana which is designed according to the the direction of the sunlight as it moves throughout the day.
There are also trainings on construction, use and management of adobe structures. With others living in communities around Copacabana, Libertad has worked on transmitting knowledge about adobe ovens, dry toilets and using and producing alternative forms of energy. For example, the use of sunlight energy for heating water for showers. “People are able to see that its very easy. You have to invest a little bit at first, but you will always have it” – Libertad, interviewed November 2018.
It also offers training on traditional medicine and plant growing. These are often used in Kasa Kultural’s sauna. Medicinal herbs are used underneath the heat and are therefore carried in the vapours produced. This is an ancient practice.
Nonetheless, despite the urgency, something is missing preventing people from protecting the shores and waters of this sacred lake. My question here is what is missing? In the process of experiencing environmental deterioration, of Libertad’s efforts to shift local cultures by offering trainings, workshops and raising awareness, why are people not interested?
How can knowledge contribute to raising awareness that turns into conscious actions of environmental protection in the everyday?
Moving away from providing information, toward building collective knowledge and engaging locals in a collaborative movement to protect this sacred place.
In search for advice
… and from my own experiences researching what some might call ‘behaviour change’ or rather, ways of informing and trying to change people’s practices as well as capacity building, BBC Media Action jumps to mind. Not because they believe in behaviour change, a difficult concept to digest but because they are experts in understanding how to promote significant awareness raising and shifts in people’s everyday practices.
In relation to risk communication, in other words communication to raise awareness about risk and how to mitigate it, some key messages from BBC Media Action are :
- It’s a process, not a product. Process defined as: ‘an ongoing conversation with people at risk, anchored in a strategic plan for change’
- It has to be incorporated at all scales
- We have to liste to the people with whom we are trying to influence
Although Copacabana does not represent the same kind of risk as an earthquake or a landslide do. Environmental degradation, pollution and harmful tourism are risks. They are also conducive to major economic risks as people are largely dependant on tourism. Could it be considered a risk for the type of actions that BBC Media Action support? Raising environmental knowledge and awareness for day to day eco-conscious actions in the city of Copacabana?
Major media campaigns and efforts from large sources of funding can clearly cause shifts in cultures and behaviours as shown by BBC Media Action [3,4] – but what can the experts say about individual initiatives popping up in remote places like Copacabana by individuals such as Libertad?
An opportunity in Copacabana
Going forward, Libertad and the Kasa Kultural have a significant task ahead. Maintaining and protecting a lake alongside people that are doing exactly the opposite.
When I ask, what is the relationship with these people, the answer is: ‘there is none’. Locally, Libertad sees the struggle to build a relationship with her neighbours, which is crucial as she sees that it is the only way to shift local mentalities and cultures. “Once one person in the city shifts their attitude and demonstrates environmental awareness, others will follow” – Libertad, interviewed November 2018.
Perhaps what is needed is a ‘bigger splash’ as BBC Media would call it . Meaning building partnerships to make the knowledge held in Kasa Kultural, its actions and the knowledge of Incan traditions of coexistence with nature go beyond the shores of the lake, the schools of La Paz and Facebook allies. BBC Media‘s work on building a ‘bigger splash’ has demonstrated that a much deeper impact for health practices can be achieved:
“By working with governmental and non-governmental partners, BBC Media Action’s content was able to go beyond mass media to reach those without access, spark discussion and deepen the impact of work to improve reproductive, maternal and newborn health.” 
Might this type of approach help the work of Kasa Kultural? Already Libertad has partnered with certain individuals in Bolivia and Mexico. Where else can we look for partnerships of collective eco-conscience building for transformative actions? What other initiatives can bring in cross-learning and provide an example for the people of Copacabana?
One place to start could be that aside from its usual attractions like the Isla del Sol and the Isla de la Luna, there be one more reason for visiting Copacabana. To visit Kasa Kultural Sol y Luna (map).
This does not only mean staying at an Eco-Lodge or camping there and eating organic food.
It means becoming part of a movement that is urgently needed in this small but sacred place.
It is an opportunity to contribute to the conservation of the lake and the promotion of more environmentally conscious tourism that can lead by example and really push for change.
Because, as Libertad reminds us…
“Pachamama can live without us but we cannot like without Pachamama”
- Lake Titicaca, Mark Cartwright, Ancient History Encyclopedia [Accesssed: 24.11.2018]
- Lake Titicaca, UNESCO [Accesssed: 24.11.2018]
- Transforming lives through media, BBC Media Action, [Accessed: 11.12.2018]
- Missing: A Cutting Edge Hub for Risk Communication, BBC Media Action [Accessed: 11.12.2018]
- A bigger splash: Partnering for Impact, BBC Media Action [Accessed: 11.12.2018]