In Celebration of Earth Day
As you hopefully know, Monday marked the 49th anniversary of Earth Day, a holiday near and dear to all of us at VSP. While we believe that every day should be considered Earth Day, it’s nice to have the holiday to reinvigorate our efforts and our focus a little bit. Within the busyness of our lives and organization, we don’t always have time to reflect on the ways in which environmental stewardship informs everything we do.
Environmental stewardship is one of our organization’s three core pillars, but it is often the hardest one to convey. Beach cleans are the most obvious way to display our commitment to environmental protection, but are only a small facet of our stewardship. Big gestures and events are positive ways to spread awareness and physically improve the environment, but are usually related to treating the symptom of a problem and not the cause. To address the cause, we have established healthy habits within our student communities, stressing the importance of recycling, using reusable bags, avoiding single use plastics, carpooling, etc. We do so through formal reflection on the ways we can reduce our impact, but primarily by drawing attention to the things we are already doing and will continue to do.
In this sense, we're instilling the culture in them without having to preach. We're not here to tell our students or their families how to behave; we're here to share our own experiences, help where we can, and acknowledge the fact that environmental degradation transcends borders. Surfing has been a great vehicle of this concept, as it has provided an inherent incentive to protect the ocean and has created a sense of solidarity among us. Our students see the trash in the ocean and can understand that while this trash is effecting the beach in that specific moment, it may have originated somewhere else. This idea could make the problem seem unmanageable or hopeless, but also provides a beautiful opportunity to reach across cultures and embrace a common goal.
As we reflect upon our environmental programming, we know there’s still a lot more to do. Schools in Chile do not offer much in the way of outdoor or environmental education, so there’s definitely a niche to be filled. We intend to expand the reach of our environmental stewardship by creating a more thorough curriculum that will empower students to take action in their own communities and schools. Last week, we participated in a beach clean with university students and in two weeks, we’ll help revitalize a recreational space in Cerro Montedonico. Parents and students alike expressed a desire to coordinate that cleanup, so we are putting aside a day of surf to organize a big clean, barbecue, and soccer game for the entire neighborhood with the hopes of establishing a community garden and more welcoming recreational space. It's incredibly important that these ideas stem from the communities themselves, as our resources exist solely for their sake and should be used according to their evolving needs.
If you’re familiar with the student testimonials we post on social media, you may have noticed that many of our students bring up the importance of keeping their neighborhoods and the environment clean. They are keenly aware of the harm that is done to their neighborhoods and coastlines by daily practices and are able to think critically about the simple decisions that often lead to much larger problems. It’s not uncommon to see students making a pile of ocean trash during a surf session or to hear students asking perceptive questions about why the trash is there in the first place. Next thing we know, they’ll each have a pair of Tevas, keep bags of granola handy, and bring their slacklines to sessions.
While I could ramble on forever about the pressing need for environmental stewardship, the kids convey this in more succinct and powerful terms, so I’ll leave you with some powerful quotes from them. (Note: all have been translated from Spanish)
“If I were the mayor, I’d add more security, I’d clean out the abandoned lots that have been trashed, I would at least help the ecosystem a little, and also help the people who need it.”
“If I were mayor, the first thing I’d do is give the necessary supplies to people who work in trash collection. I feel like they risk their lives, because of the toxins and all that, to clean the streets, when we’re the ones making them dirty.”
When asked if it’s important to protect the environment, he answered, “Yes because it’s a living thing. It’s always growing, the same as a human. It’s just that, it’s a plant. It’s the same thing.”
When asked what he would change about Valparaiso, he answered, “I would have people stop littering in Valparaiso and stop throwing trash in the ocean because that pollutes the environment. And also I would keep people from destroying environmental areas like the trees, the palm trees, the dunes. And I don’t want any of that destroyed and what for? To build an apartment building?
“I think that the world is beautiful. Well some things aren’t so good, for example, pollution, which there is in almost every part of the world.”
“If I were mayor or the president, I would say that the people who go to the beach and bring plastic things or trash aren’t allowed to litter.”
“If I were the mayor or president, I would clean the cities, like Valparaiso and Santiago, as much as possible. And instead of just trash cans, I would put recycling bins, as well as trash cans where barely anything can go.”