UI student organizes can drive, raising money for Colombian students’ school supplies

Mia Gales is combining her interest in sustainability and Spanish through the project and hopes to work on similar projects in the future.


Matt Sindt

Drop off bins for cans are seen in Phillips Hall in downtown Iowa City on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.

Archie Wagner, News Reporter

On the second floor of Phillips Hall, students can find a black container with a printed flyer taped to it. The flyer advertises an aluminum can drive for this month to raise money for a Spanish course to buy school supplies for Colombian students.

The drive is hosted by a UI course, Spanish Health Narratives, taught by UI professor Kristine Muñoz and includes an intercultural exchange with students in Medellín, Colombia.

“It does involve a connection with a group of students in Medellín that are at a school that I taught [at],” Muñoz said. “We’ve done intercultural virtual exchanges with students from the same school, so there is a connection that goes back several years now.”

While Muñoz has facilitated the cultural exchange for years and previously worked for Medellín schools, this year is the first time the class did an aluminum can drive on behalf of the Spanish Health Narratives course.

UI third-year student Mia Gales, who is an environmental planning and Spanish major, proposed the idea for the drive to Muñoz to do something nice for their peers in Columbia.

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Gales came up with the idea due to her inspiration and appreciation of the Colombian students she got to know through the intercultural exchange.

“We’ve been talking a lot about the culture of violence and how it differs from here to there and just sharing our different personal narratives,” Gales said. “These students, a lot of them have encountered some things that I would never think that students, like of that age, would encounter and they’re really great young adults.”

Following an online Zoom conversation with the director of the school in Medellín, Gales learned further about the hard work of the students and how much of initiative they take in terms of their education.

“I was talking to my professor, and I was like, ‘is there anything we can do,’ and not in a white savior, like, these poor children,” she said. “Is anyone telling these kids like they rule [and] they deserve just a little something special,” Gales said.

This led to further collaboration between Gales, Muñoz, and the director of the Colombian school which resulted in the can drive.

“We came up with the idea to host a canned drive, not your normal can food drive, but since in Iowa, you can return soda cans and bottles and get five cents back,” Gales said, “We’ve been saving all the bottles and cans and returning them.”

In addition to the can drive, Gales takes time to collect cans herself.

Gales estimates the drive has brought in $30, but their goal is to raise $50 to help buy school supplies to send to the students.

In addition to the project falling neatly into her Spanish major, Gales said she also gets to factor in her environmental planning interest due to the use of aluminum cans.

“You can go return them and then you have enough money to like buy a pizza or just like something, and then so many cans are getting diverted from just going in the landfill and they can actually be repurposed,” she said.

Gales said she hopes in the future to collaborate with Muñoz again, potentially with a larger project.

“We’re just kind of spit balling, so that’s still definitely in the very early stages,” Gales said.