Maria Castillo

One Young World Profile profiles

Maria Castillo

University of Wisconsin - Madison

I am passionate about

I am most passionate about tackling air quality issues in developing countries, and my favorite way to do this is through the promotion of biking. Biking not only helps improve the air we breathe, it also helps mitigate climate change, fight inequality, and improve human health. Biking is unique because although it is widely used for recreation, leisure, and for sports, it is a powerful tool for transportation. One of my favorite aspects is that anybody, regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, can do it. Unfortunately, however, sometimes biking is not affordable for some, and that is where I want to help. I want to help demonstrate how powerful biking is for creating a more just society, how biking helps break down physical barriers, segregation, and inequity in a city, and how a more connected city is also one that is more equitable. Improving biking conditions around populations that have little access to a biking system will help more people have access to jobs, education, and essential services such as health care. There are some communities that used to be great at biking, but motorized vehicles have been taking over not only the streets, but the city itself. We need to show that biking is not only the most modest means of transportation, but also the most equitable. In addition to reducing air and noise pollution, biking brings positive health impacts. Physical activity through biking decreases the risk of suffering from chronic diseases, including heart attack, cancer, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and stroke. Similarly, biking helps improve mental health and social well-being. Biking reduces the risk of dementia and increases interactions with the community, which helps build ties and increase social networks. In short, biking is the solution to many of the problems both developed and developing countries are facing, and I am committed to help fight for the place biking deserves in a city, in governmental plans, and in the lives of community members.


Since 2015, I have been working on a sustainable development and recycling project in Pérez Zeledón, Costa Rica. As a local nonprofit, UpTica has been focusing on community engagement. At the end of 2016, we got 100 pounds of left-over fabric donated from a local business that said could continue donating fabric to us instead of throwing it away. Thus, we decided to purchase an industrial sewing machine and work with four local women on developing sewing and leadership skills. As the four women work together, they use their creativity and ideas to make products such as tote bags, pencil cases, and string bags, that they believe community members, like them, would be interested in buying. We have started selling reusable bags at the farmer’s market. Our aim is to negotiate deals with the 200 sellers that go to the farmer’s market every week to decrease the dependency on plastic bags consumption.

I collaborated with the Monona Sustainability Committee, in Monona, Wisconsin (U.S.A.), on an Active Transportation Outreach Project. We did a survey to gather community input and engage individuals with the project, and we shared Monona’s efforts to improve its environment for biking, walking, and using transit at community-held events, through social media and the local radio station. We gave away 30 bike accessories and 100 Bicycle Benefits stickers donated by local stakeholders, hosted four meetings to increase biking advocacy and engagement, and collected 239 responses to the survey. At the end of the project, I made a comprehensive summary report that will aid the City in planning projects to create a healthier living community. After this, I helped Monona engage with a state-wide bicycling campaign called Love to Ride, helped three local businesses sign up for the Bicycle Benefits program, and as part of a class, co-authored a Health Impact Assessment on Active Transportation in Monona to help inform the community about the public health benefits that biking brings.