Congratulations to Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist at RCAP Solutions, who received the Outstanding Rookie Award at the RCAP National conference.
This award is given to a staff member who has been with the RCAP program for two years or less, but who has made contributions over and above what would be expected for a new staff member. Nominees for this award have adapted to their jobs quickly, have made positive suggestions and contributions for program improvement, and shown outstanding initiative.
Edwin was hired in October 2014 to implement and lead RCAP Solutions Solid Waste Grant activities under National RCAP’s USDA Solid Waste Grant. Prior to joining RCAP, Edwin had over 10 years of community education and training experience. Edwin has B.B.A. in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing from University of Puerto Rico and an MBA from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico. With Edwin’s background in community outreach, education, and organizing, his education in biology, and his passion for social and environmental justice, and to work directly with communities to address these issues, the selection committee felt that given the extreme degree of the solid waste issues in Puerto Rico, we needed an activist, not a technician. This instinct paid off with dividends as Edwin has been working to organize community clean ups of illegal dump sites and to develop municipal and school-based recycling programs as well as community education and outreach activities.
In Edwin’s two short years at RCAP Solutions, he has been solely responsible for conducting two major community clean up events.
The first in January, 2015 took place in Manzanillo, a small, poor, rural barrio located on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, where the Jacaguas River meets the Caribbean Sea. In total, over 400 volunteers took part in the event, resulting in 15 truckloads of trash – approximately 100 cubic yards – hauled away. This event was conducted only 4 months after Edwin’s hire.
The second, in February, 2016 took place at the Guayabal Lake, located between the barrios Guayabal in Juana Diaz and Romero in Villalba. It is one of the most important water reservoirs for agriculture activities from Juana Diaz to Salinas, a large region of four to five towns. It has been used since 1914; providing enough water to develop the sugar cane industry in the region during the most intense period of development in Puerto Rico. Around 300 volunteers and government employees worked hand in hand to recover the lake from the solid waste under the lead of RCAP team. As a result, over 121,704.5 lbs. ≈ 60.85 tons of solid waste was removed from the lake.
These events took many months of planning to coordinate. Edwin’s initiative provided a wake-up call and a real movement in the Manzanilla Community. After the success of the Manzanilla clean-up, many communities and agencies turned their attention to RCAP to find solutions in many areas affected by solid waste. The coordination between federal, state, and municipal agencies and the communities demonstrates the need to establish a more collaborative frame of work to address this situation.
“This is exactly what we need, getting people to work together to protect the environment for future generations,” stated Adrian Alicea, a Park Ranger for the PR Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DRNA), when the Manzanilla report was presented.
Between his start date in October 2014 and January 2015, Edwin planned, organized, conducted trainings, and implemented a volunteer community clean up event in a low income rural coastal community. The event was a HUGE success. Over 400 people showed up including local officials, officials from Puerto Rico’s Agricultural Extension Agency, Department of Natural Resources, the state police, the University of Puerto Rico, numerous local Boy Scout troops, church, and school service-learning groups. NOT TO MENTION the buy-in of the residents of the community itself. It was so successful that it was reported on by local Puerto Rico radio and television outlets, and served as a cover story for Rural Matters and a National RCAP special video project under production.
In March 2015 – just less than 6 months of his hire – Edwin, provided training, and implemented an event that involved engaging the local schools, getting buy in, training teachers, and planned, organized and ran an event where children were tasked with finding creative uses for items from illegal dumps and litter.
This lead the process to the point where school children are growing seedlings in containers that were or would have entered the waste stream to be used to landscape abandoned areas where the illegal dumping was occurring and an “adopt an island” approach was launched to find local businesses to plant and maintain these areas.
Edwin intrinsically knows that solving problems is one thing and that education, training, and capacity development is quite
another. He is all about the local empowerment of low income communities and is not satisfied simply achieving his required work load or stay within the confines of his job description. He is constantly coming up with ideas of how we can better serve the communities he is working with.
Edwin independently developed and delivered training materials that fit the context of the solid waste issues in Puerto Rico and has been assisting on our Puerto Rico Department of Health Sanitary Survey contract.
Edwin has been assisting and in some cases leading resource development efforts to expand our work in Puerto Rico. As a Solid Waste Management Specialist he has developed a collaborative strategic approach with the Government and the communities to deal with the proliferation of illegal dumping sites and the effects of these in the public health. Working as liaison between different agencies including The Natural Resources Department, The PR Solid Waste Authority, the Department of Education, the PR Police, the University of Puerto Rico and other private universities and the municipalities of Juana Díaz and Villaba, he is creating programs and initiatives to create awareness of the problem using cleanups activities to educate and promote long term solutions.
The inclusive approach is considering a multilevel educational effort to address the necessities of students, professionals and government employees. His design is based in the sustainability of the initiatives considering; reduce, reuse and recycling of the materials that need to be diverted from the landfills. He is the Leader of the Educational Committee of the PR Recycling Partnership for the south of PR; an initiative of the Environmental Protection Agency Region II.
He has been invited to important radio programs in PR such as “La Gente Está Hablando” and “Es con usted la ciestión” on WPAB Radio Station and “La Alternativa Holística” on Radio Casa Pueblo 1020 AM; radio programs related to Social, Political and Environmental Issues affecting the society. In total Mr. Vazquez-Asencio have more than 25 years of experience in administration, outreach and community education, with a strong background in cultural and environmental management.
In addition to this, Edwin has been involved in several volunteer and community projects including:
- Assisted Dr. Norma Piazza from UPR, Ponce in the study needs for the Federal Department of Education, Title V on the proposal for the development of Spanish study centers using technology
- Work in the development process of a proposal for Department of Education by the Ponce Art Museum
- Oriented small farmer from Yauco, Puerto Rico about disposal of vegetal material by using the composting process
- Founder and developer of literary movement La Peña Literaria
- Member of Centro Cultural Carmen Solá de Pereira
What folks had to say about Edwin and his contributions:
“Edwin Vazquez-Asencio works with a passion, a virtue that not all Technical Assistance Providers possess. As a small fish in an immense tank of water, Edwin has to dive through the solid waste program with less experience than others with years of experience. He has gone above and beyond, accomplishing more than the tasks assigned under the Solid Waste program and also provides assistance with the drinking water program as well. Edwin has what’s needed to move the Solid Waste program ahead in Puerto Rico; and that is a great heart and the passion to serve people. He has taken giant steps towards positioning RCAP Solutions’ Solid Waste Program in Puerto Rico on the radar, such that local and federal Solid Waste agencies are noticing the work that he has done in such a short time. The Puerto Rico team is very proud to have Edwin on board as someone who assists rural and low income communities and those who live there.” Eng. Josefa Torres, District III Director Puerto Rico & U.S.V.I.
“Edwin is an extraordinary human being that puts the many qualities and skills he owns at the service of the rural communities in need. He has a great capacity for understanding the work along with the communities in helping them to effectively address their problems and improving not only their physical facilities, but also improving their self-esteem. He is an incredibly valuable team member for the RCAP Solutions staff in Puerto Rico.” Eng. Juan Campos, Community Development Specialist, RCAP Solutions Puerto Rico
Comments from volunteers involved in the Manzanillo and Guayabal Lake Clean Up Projects:
“Manzanillo’s experience was an example of solidarity and empowerment, a reflection on what each one can do for the collective, and a successful learning experience for both the local community and the volunteers involved.” Dr. Sandra Moyá of the University of Puerto Rico’s Department of Biology
“This is exactly what we need, getting people to work together to protect the environment for future generations. This is part of our legacy for them and I’m glad we are a part of it. We patrol the area, try to educate people and prevent illegal dumping, but we need help. We really appreciate RCAP’s initiative to organize and coordinate this event. We need to continue this effort in other places.” Adrian Alicea, a Park Ranger for the Department of Natural Resources
“I have a three year old girl and an eight year old son. When they see people like RCAP Solutions working with us, they will grow up knowing that if we work together, we can get the help we need to have a better life in our community. My son helped clean the river with his dad. It will help the next generation think differently about the community and the environment.” Jayline Olivencia, Manzanillo resident
“With this effort, we can say, today we made the change! RCAP Solutions was a helping hand, uniting people and creating an understanding about the importance of protecting and maintaining a clean environment, which will lead to a better quality of life and a better future.” Keila Rivera, an environmental science graduate student from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, who assisted with the workshops and researched information about the garbage burning habits promoted in Manzanillo Community.
“It was an answered prayer, we were looking for the know how to deal with this situation” Eng. Ruben Estremera, Principal Supervisor Engineer, PREPA South Coast-Juana Diaz Irrigation System.