What is IREX?
Based out of Washington D.C., the International Research & Exchanges Board, also known as IREX, is a nonprofit organization that has focused on empowering people for over 50 years.
In order to do this, IREX has created the Community Solutions Program to connect young leaders from around the world with U.S. nonprofit organizations or local government agencies. The Community Solutions Fellows spend four months expanding their views, advancing their skills, and learning how to apply their new knowledge when they return home.
IREX and IDEAS For Us
After joining the UN and traveling to the Rio+20 Earth Summit in 2012, IDEAS For Us cofounders partnered with IREX to further share their knowledge and experience internationally. As of this year, IDEAS For Us has been part of the IREX Community Solutions Program for nine years and counting. To learn more about the history and our fellow, listen to The Official IDEAS For Us Podcast.
Meet Our IREX Fellow
For 2022, we are excited to welcome our Bolivian fellow Joaquin Chila! While this is his first time out of Bolivia and to the U.S., Joaquin has lived in many of the major cities in Bolivia and currently works in bustling La Paz.
From a young age, Joaquin spent a lot of time in the countryside of Tarija, Bolivia and was taught to appreciate plants and avoid littering. He then focused his attention on several social/environmental enterprises: first helping stray dogs on the streets, a major issue in the country, and then at only 15 years old, becoming a volunteer forest firefighter. It was at this time that he noticed the natural passion of people of different ages for helping the environment. Growing up, forest fires were not uncommon in Bolivia, so it seemed only natural to volunteer to stop them. Joaquin continues to address these issues in his current environmental work.
Joaquin’s Background as an Environmentalist
In addition to forest firefighting, Joaquin went on to study environmental engineering and has spent much of his time in environmental education and reforestation activities. He also built a chemical-free water purification system for schools as a project in university. This project led him to work in building water treatment purification systems using reverse osmosis technology.
After graduating university, as Joaquin was looking for postgraduate programs, like masters or doctorates in the U.S. and Europe, he began following the U.S. Embassy on social media. He had been studying English and learning how to apply to scholarships during the pandemic, and this is when he came across IREX’s Community Solutions Program. Excited to discover this fellowship, Joaquin was grateful for an opportunity to learn how other countries are confronting their own environmental issues, a subject which has always weighed heavily on his mind.
What is Joaquin Currently Doing?
While he started out simply as a volunteer with a passion, Joaquin is now a leader of one of the largest youth environmental organizations in Bolivia: Bolivian Platform Action Against Climate Change, aka La Plataforma Boliviana Frente al Cambio Climático. This organization is focused on addressing the impact of climate change through eco-action, research and advocacy.
Currently, Joaquin has been working on a composting project for schools and families. He wants to encourage the community to compost their food scraps and then implement them into their own gardens. This project involves two areas he is passionate about: waste management and environmental education.
Before coming to the U.S. and working with IDEAS For Us, Joaquin hoped to learn how to gain resources and improve community engagement in environmental action. He wanted to be able to return home after his fellowship with new knowledge on carrying out environmental sustainability effectively. He hoped all the while to improve his leadership and organizational skills.
Experience with IDEAS For Us
Since being with IDEAS For Us for around one month, Joaquin has joined garden installations, a HIVE event (the IDEAS For Us community think/do tank in Orlando), and worked alongside IDEAS team members. The HIVE night in particular is something that he would love to incorporate more in Bolivia so that community members can express their ideas and be integral to environmental solutions.
The Community Solutions Program is all about exchange, and IDEAS For Us is certainly benefitting from the knowledge and experience Joaquin brings to the table. Joaquin has been generous in sharing ideas he has gleaned from his experiences in Bolivia. Some of these ideas include introducing composting and sharing environmental guides in schools, and implementing vermicomposting at the IDEAS headquarters and branch locations. Joaquin also proposed the idea of creating a permanent group of volunteers, called the Fleet Force, to help with Fleet Farming maintenance, promotion during events, etc.
Advice for Young Environmentalists
To all the young people across the world who want to get involved in environmental action, Joaquin shared some meaningful advice. There are many resources to dig into, including fellowships like with IREX, scholarships, local or national organizations, and government programs. Environmental action is urgent and dire, but Joaquin says there’s a silver lining for youth who really care. Because climate change needs all hands on deck, it presents an opportunity for youth to have more experiences, expand their skill sets and leadership skills, network and build strong communities all around the world, and above all, leave a positive impact on the environment.