While we and our students would like to be aquatic animals, sadly, we must depart the water after a few hours. Clambering up and down the rocks of Playa La Boca to enter and exit the water, we generally trust that we’re not going to step on a shard of glass or rusty nail. Our trust exists not because this trash doesn’t exist, but because we, as an organization, do our part to clean our beaches on a regular basis. We stress to our students that surfing is made possible by clean beaches and water, and that community driven action is necessary to protect the things we love. The same is true of our students’ neighborhoods, which we clean in conjunction with neighbors, parents, local organizations, and our students. These cleans require a lot of helping hands, so community involvement is absolutely necessary to meet our goals. While all of this may seem heavy, our cleanups are anything but a somber affair; they often involve music, grilled food, art projects, and sand castles.
In early July, on an uncharacteristically warm day, we organized a huge neighborhood clean in Cerro Toro. Our kids, their parents, and helpful neighbors gathered with us to put a huge dent in the litter that had accumulated over many years in the neighborhood. Due to poorly marked or nonexistent trash and recycling areas, general neglect, and a lack of resources, many corners of the neighborhood had become a receptacle for every type of waste imaginable. While it’s easy for us to preach about the benefits of sustainability and proper waste management, it’s much harder and more rewarding to create sustainable solutions to empower people to take ownership of the task themselves. Fortunately, our kids showed up ready to clean and were clearly invested in the task.
With our guidance and supplies, our students were able to gather an unimaginable amount of trash, making a sizable improvement to the appearance of the neighborhood as a whole. The kids took to the task with energy usually reserved for eating cookies, so cleanup never felt like a chore. We sorted the various items into their respective categories and watched the piles grow with surprising speed. In addition to our cleaning efforts, we painted small, colorful messages to leave around the neighborhood, reminding residents and passersby to keep the neighborhood clean.
Even now, when we head up to the neighborhood for English classes, it’s nice to be reminded of that message and remember how everything looked before the clean. More than anything, it was beautiful to see our students working as a team to pave a cleaner path forward for the neighborhood. They will surely continue to be environmental stewards of Cerro Toro, Valparaiso, and Chile as a whole.
In mid July, on another strangely warm day, the team drove over to Laguna Verde to clean a large field adjacent to the beach. The area, sandwiched between an estuary and the beach, had accumulated bottles, old furniture, clothes, and a wide array of trash over years of public, unregulated use. Luckily, the VSP team, a group of local Huasi Scouts, and our students and families from Laguna Verde gathered there, donned our work gloves, and got to work. The warm, clear winter weather kept spirits high as we cleared the area in small teams of adults and children, and the smell of the grill, like a carrot dangling in front of a rabbit, kept us motivated and energized. It was really fun to see some of the smallest kids dragging out giant pieces of sheet metal with smiles on their faces as they competed with each other. We set up two dumpsters at our home base and quickly watched them fill up with trash bags, while various recyclables were sorted to the side. It was rewarding to see that our students and the scouts had such a strong understanding of recycling and were dedicated to sorting it all correctly. They took up the torch of environmental stewardship with enthusiasm and knowledge, giving us an optimistic glimpse of the future of environmentalism.
When the two dumpsters had fully transformed into small mountains of trash, we moved them to an assigned spot, and began to dig into our much deserved meal. Members of our team, parents, and kids worked hard to prepare chorizo, homemade pebre, chicken wings, and salads to cap off a great day of work. As is customary at barbecues all over the world, we listened to music, gathered around the grill, and shared stories from the day. Throughout the day, Francisco Robles, a local artist painted a large mural of an epic sunset, including a written message to keep the area clean for future use and to remember why we cleaned it in the first place. Our students, to cap off the day, put painted hands around the mural as a promise to remain stewards of the space and the environment in general. A lot of the paint seemed to miss the wall and landed on various items of clothing, but they didn’t seem to care at all.
As we continue to move forward as an organization, we will continue to find new places to clean, new ways to empower communities to invest themselves in the process, and new partners to help us complete the task. Waste, particularly in the ocean, has become a very visible issue in recent years and is making headlines worldwide, but often feels like an insurmountable issue. Trash from one part of the world can affect people thousands of miles away, so the problem often feels abstract and unmanageable. Fortunately, by working within the community, we can make a small, but significant dent in this massive global issue. Infrastructure and educational resources are key pieces of the puzzle that we can help provide to our neighborhoods, local beaches, and other public spaces. We will keep you updated about future clean ups and other environmental activities that comprise an important piece of our programming.