12-year-old Ivanna Ortega Serret lives in Ciudad López Mateos, Mexico about an hour outside Mexico City. The area is called the Emerald Zone because it is known for being a residential area where you could live surrounded by nature and the local wildlife.
The Madín Dam is only a few kilometers from Ivanna’s home and has been a source of water for the three nearby towns. The dam was home to herons, pelicans, ducks, and was a recreational spot for people to kayak and enjoy nature.
When budget cuts left the town without the resources to keep the water clean, water lilies and other invasive plants took over. As a result, the fish began to die, and no birds were seen there anymore.
The dam also has become contaminated as new urban developments do not have proper treatment plants and discharge sewage directly into the dam.
Ivanna decided to take action in 2019. Learn about her incredible work in the interview and video below.
My Story in the Dam
How did your initiative to clean up the Madín Dam begin?
I have always felt very connected by the dam, I live very close to it.
It had been a while since I had passed the dam so when I was taking a friend to her house, I saw it covered in water lilies. I felt sad and angry, because I didn’t understand how they had let it get like this.
I asked my mother what we could do, and she suggested that I make a request on Change.org. When I got home, that’s exactly what I did.
The petition reached nineteen thousand signatures very soon. And now it has seventy thousand.
Then I got in touch with an organization called SOS Salvemos Presa Madín. They invited me to a meeting with the authorities, and a few days later I delivered the signatures to the municipality mayor, Ruth Olvera and she gave them to the deputy director of Conagua.
The firms served as backing to authorize the cleanup budget. But months passed and we didn’t see any action, so with another organization called Nacel Arcoiris, we did hand-cleaning in protest to get media attention. And it worked.
The machinery arrived, but the harvesters seemed not to advance, so Nacel proposed to create some corrals so the harvesters can work by sections and I got the materials through donations to make the sections.
It wasn’t my intention to create an organization. Everything was happening while we tried to solve every problem that arose. There were many meetings and I attended all of them to understand the problem and try to help.
What is Let’s Clean Up Madín Dam and what is its mission?
As I began to understand the complete situation of the dam, I realized there were many problems that had caused the lilies to grow like a plague. So removing the lily was solving only the first problem.
In Mexico, several bodies of water are being polluted by sewage discharges that are discharged without any treatment, and then that water is brought to the population through purification processes.
The rivers also suffer from discharges and contamination by the garbage thrown on the banks and ravines. So I created the Changemakers for Madín´s Dam, a group of kids and teens to be activists for the Dam. Our mission is to try to recover the Dam from all this damage and to create awareness of this problem.
What has the initiative accomplished? What impact has this made?
We managed to clean the water lilies from the dam, but we have not yet managed to get those responsible for the sewage discharges to respond and restore the environmental damage.
What we have succeeded in doing is creating awareness to take action, not just pointing the issues out and reporting. The community has come together as volunteers to clean up trash, reforest and build fire brigades.
This initiative has inspired many young people and children to believe that they can make change in our environment, and now more actions have been initiated for the environment.
What do your responsibilities include? Can you describe how you balance your time?
I spread and raise awareness of the problem of sewage discharges, give interviews, post on social networks and participate in forums, talks, documentaries and spaces like this.
I also coordinate and do field work for cleaning and reforestation in the dam.
And I talk to authorities to seek their cooperation.
I go to school like all teenagers of my age and my school supports me a lot. It gives me permission when I have to be absent and gives me opportunities to make up assignments and exams. I also have tutorials when I need to skip subjects.
You have to dedicate time daily to post or participate in dissemination activities and on weekends go to the dam to work. This ends up being 8 to 10 hours per week.
What have been the biggest challenges of starting and running Clean Up Madín Dam? What is the most rewarding?
The biggest challenge continues to be solving the sewage discharges, there is a complex relationship of responsibility between the authorities and the builders, and a lot of power involved.
We haven’t been able to move forward. Some authorities don’t want to receive and listen to me, like the one who will be the new mayor, Pedro Rodríguez. After the campaign picture, he no longer answers my calls to show him our proposals.
The greatest reward has been seeing the dam without the lilies. Life returned, the herons, the ducks, the birds and the fish. Also, to see how these actions have inspired so many people, with new initiatives and believing that participation can make changes.
What is your best advice to other students who want to launch an initiative like this?
Adults don’t seem to be as concerned about the present and the future as they should be. Therefore, each of us must take charge of something, something that you love and want to protect, a forest, a river, a recycling program, however small it may seem, and dedicate your work to it. If we all do it, we can still have hope.
What do you love to do in your free time?
I like to spend time with my friends, watch movies and series. I also enjoy cooking.
What does the future hold for Clean Up Madín Dam and for you?
I’m working to obtain the funds to build wetlands to mitigate the contamination of the dam, put nets to contain the garbage and a fence to prevent garbage and gravel trucks from throwing things into the ravines that overlook the dam.
I will keep trying to get the authorities to listen and make those responsible to take charge of the environmental damage they have caused.
At times you have to overcome frustration, tiredness, and hopelessness. The expectations of others about what they want from you can be overwhelming–they will tell you that you should smile more and that you should be more outgoing or answer differently.
It is important to say, I am not an actress or an influencer, I want the place I love to be well and I don’t do it alone, I am supported by organizations and volunteers.
This is what it is all about, your community and the place where you live.
Learn more about Clean Up Madín Dam, or sign the stop sewage discharges petition. Read more Rustic Spirit stories.