Maritza Morales Casanova has spent much of the last 18 years inspiring children to respect and care for Mexico’s natural environment. What makes her story truly remarkable is that Maritza is just 28 years old. With the support of her Rolex Award for Enterprise, she is constructing an educational center where young people will learn from their peers how to create a sustainable future.
Dismayed at the lack of respect shown to animals and the environment around her in Yucatán, Mexico, Maritza recognized – at the age of 10 – that people needed to reconnect with one another and with nature. In 1995 she launched her own conservation organization, HUNAB (Humanity United to Nature in Harmony for Beauty, Welfare and Goodness).
HUNAB strives to provide children with an understanding and respect for their environment so they can understand how to use natural resources in a sustainable way, particularly in their everyday lives. The teachers in this project are young people who have participated in HUNAB workshops for more than two years, so children learn from each other without the direct involvement of adults. In this way, the full potential of young, open minds can be realized.
In HUNAB workshops, children learn how nature works, how it is damaged and what can be done to sustain it. This experience provides them with skills they can use to become future environmental leaders. In March 2013, HUNAB also organized the 4th Annual Funeral to Save Grandmother Earth, which recognizes 41 species that, according to national authorities, are extinct in Mexico, including the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus), Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) and Caribbean Monk Seal (Monachus tropicalis). About 150 children took part in the event, which helped raise awareness of endangered species.
In an effort to engage even more children in this project, in May 2012 Maritza founded Ceiba Pentandra, a 7,600 square meter environmental education park located in the capital of Yucatán. At Ceiba Pentandra, Maritza is using the funds from her Rolex Award to build five classrooms that will welcome school students in large numbers. She also plans to build an environmental library, a laboratory, an auditorium, a museum, an open-air theatre, an aquaculture training centre and dormitories so students from other regions can stay overnight.
Participating in this environmental education project that is both experimental and entertaining will provide children with the knowledge and values they need to make sustainable, responsible choices in the future. Although Maritza’s focus is on the Yucatán, home to species such as the Jaguar (Panthera onca) and the American Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), the international attention brought to this project by her Rolex Award could inspire young people in other countries to start similar projects.
If you are between 18 and 30 years old and you share Maritza’s passion for making a positive change to the lives of others, find out how you can apply to become a Rolex Young Laureate here.