Community//

Maria Angelica Matos Polo: “As we know most of our environment is constantly being harmed”

As we know most of our environment is constantly being harmed. As a child I would always ask people to not throw garbage on the floor and instead store the garbage in their pocket and when they found a garbage can, throw away in there. Reading has also taught me a lot. I like reading […]

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As we know most of our environment is constantly being harmed. As a child I would always ask people to not throw garbage on the floor and instead store the garbage in their pocket and when they found a garbage can, throw away in there. Reading has also taught me a lot. I like reading and as I learned things, I put them into practice and that led to where I am today.


As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maria Angelica Matos Polo.

María is a recipient of Unbound Cartagena program in Colombia. She leads a project created in Cartagena called EcoUnbound where she works to educate people, especially children, about caring for the environment.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I was born in Arjona, Bolívar, Colombia, in fact, I was born at home, I was not born in a hospital. I remember from when I was 3 years old that I had a happy childhood with my two parents and my two brothers. Later, my father looked for another family and from there on my mother and my two brothers had to fight to get ahead, we had difficult situations, but thank God I came across Unbound.

Since then, my life has changed. I have decided to fight and get ahead, overcome every obstacle that life brings me. I have always liked to study and take care of nature. My mother has taught me to take care of the environment, she has taught me to sow plants and to reuse what we sometimes call garbage.

You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

EcoUnbound’s purpose is to teach children to care for, to love, to reuse, to be aware of the damage we are doing to the planet and then, from there we work on recycling, and bring forth knowledge about the care of the environment.

This idea of EcoUnbound came about from an initiative that Unbound in Cartagena proposed and they were looking for leaders to see who would want to take on this responsibility. It caught my attention because it goes a lot with what I like, with what I do and that is why I decided to lead this initiative.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

Ever since I was a little girl, I liked nature. I have always admired the beauty of nature from a landscape to a flower. It is something that comes naturally to me and I carry inside. It is part of my essence as a human being.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

As we know most of our environment is constantly being harmed. As a child I would always ask people to not throw garbage on the floor and instead store the garbage in their pocket and when they found a garbage can, throw away in there. Reading has also taught me a lot. I like reading and as I learned things, I put them into practice and that led to where I am today.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

A social worker for Unbound named Vanesa Salazar came to me and a friend of mine with this initiative in 2019 because no one really stepped up to develop it. Since she was not going to come up with the strategy and plan of action herself, she encouraged us to take it on. Since we can support all the subprojects (community program offices) of Cartagena, we started looking for new ways to work with the children, so from there everything has evolved to what is today.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

The funniest mistake? I do not really remember, but at first when we launched EcoUnbound, from the Arjona subproject, we did not motivate children much because not very many attended. So, together with the coordinator of the subproject, we developed other strategies to motivate the children better. At first, we did talks about two or three times, but we noticed that they were bored. We decided to ask them to they themselves look for recyclable materials that they could build something they wanted to help decorate their favorite spaces. We taught them and motivated them to also plant things in their homes. We wanted to help them realize that they were protagonists of their own creations. The truth is that sometimes children just need help falling in love with certain things. People often think that children find taking care of the environment a boring topic and the truth is that there are so many children who have been quite motivated.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

My mother has been a major motivator to me especially since it was because of her care of the environment that I began to love doing the same. She always inspired me as a little girl and until this day continues to encourage me to encourage others to take better care of our planet. My sponsor has cheered me on as well. Through my letters to her I have shared my passion for EcoUnbound and in her letters to me she has cheered me on.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Overall, the entire EcoUnbound group has generated impact whether in small groups or as the whole group together. I remember once we went to Turbaco, about 15 minutes from Arjona, and cleaned a canyon that was quite affected by all the garbage that had been deposited there. We cleaned and generated a very positive change to that canyon.

In my personal case, four months ago a friend’s mom shared with me an idea of backpacks that are made with the soda can pull tabs, then since my mom had not been approved of the business idea she had, I said: Mommy we can develop this idea. So far, we have made two backpacks and the truth is that there are a lot of people interested in them. This is something that is making a positive change because obviously those little pull tabs are no longer going to touch the ground and contaminate it but we’re re reusing what they call garbage and now we’re generating income with reusable material.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Yes, in fact, last year we were looking for strategies and decided that we could also involve the municipal mayoral council and perhaps take the children to visit places where recycling and the environment are worked. There is something here in Arjona called “The Tank” which is where the whole process of water that goes to the people begins. We wanted the children to know about those processes so that they, through those experiences, could help them and their parents see all the importance of having clean water and be able to share all this information with others. We needed the authorization of the municipal mayor’s office and to be supported not only with that experience but also with materials for planting trees and many other things that the children through the Unbound program would make known to other children of their community and so that the other children could also have knowledge of what EcoUnbound is and does.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

And finally, I would also have liked to know all the benefits that recycling brings, this act not only allows us to help care for the environment, but also allows you to generate monetary income for all our development in our basic needs, for example Since my mother’s venture, we are creating backpacks with recyclable materials and here we have a product made with recyclable materials, so it is a great task, very beautiful that not only helps or contributes to the care of the soils of our planet earth It also helps to generate income. Thank you very much, that you are well. Bye.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

The main thing I would tell them is that we can start with our surrounding environment. It starts with oneself. We can start by not throwing out bags or everything that we have used, because if we start throwing garbage on the ground, we might think that one does not hurt but then if we start throwing a second bag, a third, a fourth and so on, that is forming a dump that will not only affect the ground but also the air we breathe. It all starts with our environment, and when we start with our environment by not throwing garbage in it and not polluting, it is a great initiative because it all starts with us.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Yes, I dream of meeting my Unbound sponsor. That has been my great dream of mine since I was a child, because thanks to her, my life story has been possible. Without her I do not know how everything would have turned out. We write to each other, but my dream is to meet her someday. She knows of my efforts with EcoUnbound and she has expressed how proud she is of me.

How can our readers follow you online?

EcoUnbound does not have social media accounts but you can learn more about Unbound, it’s program and other stories like mine on unbound.org.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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