Argentina’s rowers campaign to clean up the Reconquista
We are rowers. Water is our life. We row on it. We often splash it. We sometimes fall in it. We take pride in water, especially our own water.
“Our water” for many of Argentina’s national team rowers is the river Reconquista, located in the province of Buenos Aires. But with a reputation of being the second most contaminated watercourse in the country, there have not been many reasons to take pride in it.
“Our National course is the last part of a river that is more than 80km long. A lot of people live close to it, a lot of industries dump their residues and a lot of sewage from poor villas gets thrown into it, as well as a lot of garbage,” explains London Olympian and national team rower Maria Abalo.
Abalo is one of the main initiators of a group of Argentina’s national team rowers, who set out in late July to regain pride in the water they train on and to clean up the Reconquista.
“Rio 2016 Olympian Brian Rosso was training for Rio on our course in the single and capsized one day because he hit a mattress! We train among old electronic house stuff, plastic bottles, bags, dead animals, etc. We decided that we had to take action and do something, since no politicians where getting involved,” says Abalo. The campaign is called “Limpiemos el Reconquista” (“Let’s clean up the Reconquista”).
Abalo and fellow London Olympian, Ariel Suarez are the faces of this campaign and they have utilized their Olympic team connections to get other athletes to throw their support behind this initiative.
The campaign kicked off with a video with some of their Olympic friends from different sports, including Argentina’s sailing legend and Rio Olympic Champion Santiago Lange, Judo Olympic Champion Paula Pareto and Olympic medallist in Hockey Delfina Merino.
The video aims to be a wake-up call and to make people as well as politicians aware of what has been happening to the river and to create ecological awareness. And it did.
“We understood that awareness is the first step to get to the rehabilitation of the Reconquista. So our first step was to raise awareness, followed by action. The Reconquista needs us. And us athletes, we want to help and free the river to be able to row in clean waters, as it should be,” Abalo says.
The spot was screened on all the major TV channels in Argentina and sparked an ongoing online and social media support and following around the hashtag #limpiemoselreconquista.
“We started to get a lot of interview requests, press enquiries and meetings with politicians and private industries that wanted to help. They all agreed that what we did was great because we gave visibility to a big problem that nobody so far had talked about,” describes Abalo.
Following the video launch, the team continued to spread the message with great success. A photo shoot with many well-known athletes from around the country has followed and will be published shortly.
Besides her training, these days Abalo is busy giving interviews as well as meeting with politicians and people interested in helping the campaign.
“In those meetings and interviews I also talk about the initiative of World Rowing and the Kafue, and about the importance for us rowers to take care of our water. The aim of our campaign is to put the themes of environmental care and clean water on the political and social agenda. And it is great to see that the politicians we are meeting are starting to get behind the concept of clean water,” Abalo says.
More action has followed with first practical and visible success. The campaign team has started working with the main garbage recycling industry in Argentina on learning and spreading knowledge among citizens about what everyone can do to help and how to recycle their garbage.
They have teamed up with major recycling company CEAMSE in Buenos Aires and at the Argentinian National Rowing Championships, the team organised a day to teach people how to separate their garbage.
The campaign also started working with a private company that has specialised boats that clean water by injecting ozone and oxygen. Work has started on the rowing course to show that it can be done on the whole extension of the river.
The athletes have met with different groups over the last couple of weeks, which have committed to help the campaign and to help clean the course, water and floating residues in order to prove and show the politicians that this can be done with all rivers.
The campaign has opened doors and kick-started willingness to work together also on the political level and meetings to exchange views and ideas have started with the commission, which was created by the government nine years ago to clean the river.
There is a lot Argentina’s athletes involved in this campaign can be proud of already and with history having shown many times that small teams of thoughtful committed people have achieved extraordinary things, there is no doubt that history is in the making in Argentina.
Show your support and follow the initiative via www.limpiemoselreconquista.org
Find out more about World Rowing’s Clean Water initiative and the Kafue River & Rowing Centre here.