Caring for Creation
In the fall of 2012, seventeen tenth graders and I went on an expedition trip to the beaches of Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic. They were shocked to see the poor state of the reefs (almost non-existant) and the trash and silt from erosion that exist in that coastal town, home to one of the few national parks here. One reason they were so shocked and saddened was because one of our big rivers, the Rio Yaque, flows from our mountain town of Jarabacoa and empties into the ocean there at Monte Cristi.
As we stood on the banks of the Yaque and watched plastic bags and water bottles bob past us in the current, continuing their relentless voyage from the mountains to the sea, one student said quietly, “that trash could have been in front of my house yesterday.” Although I had told them the same thing many times, it was finally sinking in. You see, in my Biology class they were studying the interactions of eco-systems, focusing on our mountain town and how our actions here affect the rest of our country. These students came back forever changed. They were determined to change SOMETHING regarding the trash problem.
It might be hard to believe but when I go to the veggie market here, each item is placed in it’s own small plastic bag. All these little bags are then double bagged in a bigger bag. If I need handles because it is heavy, I am given another bag. Most people here then throw these bags into the streets, arroyos, or rivers. One of our trip experts said that plastic bags alone cause more damage in more ways than any other single source of pollution. So my students decided to focus on the plastic bag problem and stated planning how to bring reusable bags to Jarabacoa.
In the spring of last year they solicited friends, supporters, staff and work teams to bring/send reusable bags. They planned an educational campaign and how they would get the bags into use. They were able to collect almost 300 reusable bags! This fall they began to put their plan into action. Last week we had Outdoor Education Week at Doulos. These students, now 11th graders, asked if they could use the week to begin transforming their town. I was their supporting teacher but they did all the work. They planned and carried out all sorts of events. They realized that education was key and visited every High School in town and gave around 25 presentations about what they were doing and why. They held lunchtime booths for parents at Doulos, set up booths at local grocery stores and held a protest march through town, all the time handing out the bags they collected.
Each of these events took a lot of fore-thought and planning. They had to formally request permission for each, they had to have police support for the march, and they to visit schools and stores ahead of time to confirm plans and check venues. They each had to be educated on the issues and solutions themselves. They may not have had regular classes to attend that week but they worked at least as hard as normal. I have never been prouder.
After all that, we have had a few of the grocery stores asking us how to get more bags and students from the public schools asking to join our students in bringing changes like these to our town. These students are continuing to pursue change in this area by helping the stores find suppliers of reusable bags here in the DR and by asking them to offer incentives to customers who bring their own bags. They have formed a group (Jarabacoa Eco-Youth in English) composed of students from all the schools in town who are planning more events and working to change things in their own schools. These students are revolutionary in my opinion!
Thank you for the ways you support our family, Doulos and our students. You are helping to change lives, make communities better and cleaner, and loving your “neighbors” in a very real way.