A trip can often be most impactful when you avoid traditional tourist areas and have an entirely unique experience, all your own. When people visit Honduras, common destinations include the Roatan or Cayos Cochinos, but the Tomorrow’s World Today crew and I had a trip of a very different sort when we shot at the Gildan Rio Nance Complex. While filming in this large textile manufacturing facility, we experienced a bit of the culture, food, and people that many tourists may not often get to see.
The TWT crew was in Honduras to take a look at sustainable manufacturing processes in the textile industry, and for me the highlight of the trip was visiting the BioTop area. The BioTop is a series of lagoons used for wastewater treatment. The system uses gravity, sunlight, and bacteria to treat the wastewater from the manufacturing facility, eliminating the dyes and chemicals, and then returning the clean water to the natural environment.
The sheer size of the BioTop is impressive! I mean, it’s immense. With more than 10 million square feet of lagoons – the equivalent of 312 Olympic size swimming pools – it’s a tremendous feat of engineering as well as corporate and environmental synergy.
We shot at the BioTop starting in the late afternoon, and after spending all day in an industrial space surrounded by the hum of machines, I relished the opportunity to be in a natural setting. I was struck by how peaceful and quiet it was. As the sun began to set over the surrounding mountains, we heard birds chirping, the buzz and cries of insects and occasionally the splash of a crocodile in the water. Yep, that’s right – by the time the water gets to the last section of lagoons, it’s so clean that an entire ecosystem can exist within it. Oh, also – there were goats eating the grass. Turns out they are natural lawn mowers!
I love to cook and have gotten more adventurous over the last several years, so I was excited to try some of the local cuisine.
First off, let’s talk plantains! I enjoy them as a once-in-awhile treat here in Los Angeles, but in Honduras, they are a staple at every meal. They are now my new favorite breakfast food.
There was also fantastic chicken with different spices than I’m used to…I’m still trying to decipher the mix. And the rice was amazing. I know that sounds a little nutty because it’s just rice, but again…the right spices can go a long way!
I try not to overindulge on the sweets when shooting, but I couldn’t pass up a local dessert called torta de manjar, which was described to me as the Honduran version of baklava. Pastry shell, caramel, powdered sugar and all-around tasty goodness. Yum!
While the goal of our Honduras trip was to explore sustainability systems, I was fortunate while there to have the opportunity to meet a lot of the people who create, run and operate those systems.
Ely Pina, the hydraulic engineer who designed the biotop lagoon, spoke passionately about the ability to use the natural resources of the land in the work she does. Many of you know that I’m an advocate for women in STEM, so I was thrilled to meet such a great role model for girls interested in engineering and the sciences.
We were also able to meet with some people in the Innovation Lab, where they design patterns, evaluate equipment, establish methods and set employee standards. For example, they do ergonomic studies to look at how everybody moves and bends while accomplishing their tasks. This includes taking into account the smallest details, such as when sewing, how far do employees have to reach when picking up the next pieces of fabric? Where do they place their piles of finished t-shirts? Do they have to turn in ways that would result in repetitive motion injuries over time? The standards that results from the studies are good for both productivity and for the workers’ bodies.
My inner data nerd appreciated the deep dive into economy of motion, and the way that they use cold, hard observations and numbers to inform their best practices.
One of the things we’ve tried to do on TWT shoots is find opportunites for me to get hands-on with whatever technology or environment we’re exploring. I’m always up for an adventure, so when the people running the biomass facility offerend to let me drive the cab unit, I couldn’t refuse!
The biomass facility burns byproducts of local agriculture as well as waste products from the factory such as leftover thread. The resulting steam is then used to generate electricity throughout the textile factories. Where does the adventure part come in? Well, the cab is a teeny, tiny little compartment about 4 stories high….not the most comfortable place for this claustrophobic chick! But in the name of exploration and innovation, I sucked it up and made my way up the narrow stairs to take the controls. The resulting bird’s eye view of the whole facility was definitely worth it!
I also got to try a couple of machines, including stamping logos on underwear and t-shirts, and joined in on one of the mini-exercise sessions that all workers are required to participate in throughout the day. I even got to take the dexterity test taken by potential employees. It was more challenging than I thought it would be, but I ended up scoring very well. Apparently my fingers are pretty limber! So if this hosting thing doesn’t work out, it’s good to know I’ve got some additional career options…
One of the main things I took away from this trip was a renewed interest in expanding my foreign language skills. I don’t get to travel outside the United States very often, so this was the first time in quite awhile where I was immersed in a culture where I didn’t know the language. I (sadly) grew up in a monolingual household, and though I took French in high school, I never really had the opportunity to use it on a regular basis…which means I know how to say please, thank you and ask where the bathroom is, but not much else!
Learning Spanish is a constant on my list of New Year’s resolutions; now that I’ve been inspired by my Honduras trip, maybe 2018 will be the year I finally make it happen! Kudos to the Hondurans, though, because I would say 85% of the people we came in contact with spoke at least basic, if not fluent, English.
I left Honduras feeling refreshed by the spirit of its residents. Everyone that I met, from seamstresses to logo designers, HR managers to machine technicians, and of course, technological innovation leaders, were all dedicated to making Gildan a good place to spend their days. It’s inspiring to witness firsthand a corporate community that supports innovation and employee input, and puts ideas about sustainable business practices into action.