“Climate change” and “global warming” are pressing environmental issues that affect every citizen on Earth. They are commonly discussed topics when it comes to environmental concerns. Despite the rise in environmental awareness among the general public, it remains a question as to how many people are truly doing their part to protect the planet.
On 31st March 2019, members from the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association (aka Tzu Ching) held an eco-camp to promote vegetarianism and plastic waste reduction among youths at the Jing Si Hall in Pasir Ris. The participants took part in a series of interactive games that allowed them to “experience” the environmental damage caused by human activities and the plight of animals living in a deteriorating environment. Through these activities, they were able to realise the impact of their own actions on the environment.
"The world has been ravaged by numerous natural and man-made disasters. Yet, many people still don't realise the impact of their actions on the environment. This event is a good reminder for everyone to pay attention to their choice of diet and to focus on environmental protection by cutting down on meat consumption and reducing the usage of plastics,” shared one of the camp programme’s leaders, Tricia Ong Li Ying from Temasek Polytechnic.
She added that the camp’s theme, “cut down on meat consumption and plastic usage”, served to enhance young people’s understanding of environmental conservation and subsequently implement it in their daily lives.
Feeling for animals’ plight in the wild
During the first game, the students were asked to take out any recyclable items they had with them and arrange those items into a straight line. The team with the longest line was the winner. Each group of students thought carefully and repeatedly searched for any recyclables that they had in order to lengthen the line on the floor.
Next, the students were asked to pass mung beans using a pair of chopsticks or a spoon. The level of difficulty was adjusted based on the speed that the students were able to complete the task. It started with them passing the mung beans with their non-dominant hands until they reached the level where every two students had to pass the mung beans with “three legs” and their non-dominant hands.
The main purpose of increasing the level of difficulty of the game was to allow the students to experience the hardships faced by animals in foraging for food, with their habitats destroyed by pollution. Many of the animals are unable to move around freely after becoming trapped in plastic waste.
In the second game, there were 40 pieces of square origami paper, with red colour on one side and green on the other. The students who played the role of a “destroyer” (of the environment) flipped the origami paper showing its red side over to the green side. Each “destroyer” was able to flip two pieces at a time while those playing the role of an environmental “guardian” needed to turn the green side to red, and they could only turn one piece at a time. The colour with the most number won the game.
After three rounds, both sides ended up in a tie although the number of “destroyers” gradually decreased and the number of “guardians” increased. This is because the “power of destruction” is often a lot greater than the “power of protection”!
This game depicted the fact that the speed of recycling is far behind the speed of production (of goods). It aimed to inspire everyone to do their part to gather the power of kindness (to protect the planet) and to recruit more people to join their ranks.
In the third game, the team members were divided into four groups representing four animals, namely chicken, pig, dog and cat. Each team member covered their head with a plastic bag and looked for their “companion” by listening to the “animal sound” each person made. The rise and fall of the various sounds made by the “animals” filled the hall and everyone eventually found their “companion”.
When the game was over, the students discovered that the "chicken" group and the "pig" group had each lost two team members, while the "cats" and "dogs" remained unharmed.
The objective of the game was to share the fact that most people practise selective sympathy. Pet animals, such as cats and dogs are treated as “man’s best friends” and are cuddled and loved, whereas chickens and pigs received very different treatment. The latter are merely treated as “food” to be placed on the table to satisfy the palates of human beings and are thus unable to escape the fate of being slaughtered for their meat.
During break time, the students were served delicious sandwiches prepared by the food and beverage volunteers. While the students were enjoying their snacks, a video was screened. It was about people who were trying out some sushi discovering plastic waste contained in the sushi rolls and how the incident led to public outrage.
At this moment, the students noticed that the food they were given contained plastic, too. It made them think of how animals also consumed plastic waste discarded by humans as they mistook it for food. As human beings, we know how to distinguish between edible and inedible foods, but not animals. When they can't find food, they may eat garbage as food.
Chong Jian Wen, a student from Singapore Management University (SMU), said that he had previously learned about the damage to the environment caused by plastic pollution. However, he only realised how plastic waste negatively impacts and affects marine life after watching a short film in the camp. The film depicted how some whales died after swallowing a lot of plastic products (discarded in the ocean).
In addition, the games made him ponder why chickens and cows are eaten by humans while cats and dogs are left unharmed. He thought of why people commonly consume chicken meat and beef while giving dogs and cats “animal rights”. He said that from then on, he would try to consume less meat and bring his own reusable utensils and shopping bags whenever he went out. He also hoped to promote environmental awareness to his relatives and friends.
Kelvin Loo, an aid beneficiary of Tzu Chi’s Seeds of Hope programme, began paying more attention to environmental protection after coming into contact with Tzu Chi. He had also cut down on buying drinks and takeaways, and adopted the habit of bringing his own water bottle whenever he went out. Through participating in this eco camp, he became truly aware of the severity of the impact of environmental pollution on our planet.
"After watching the film, I learned that methane emitted by cattle is very damaging to the earth. I am also surprised to see the amount of plastic products found in the belly of the whale,” said Loo. He hoped that more people in the society would pay attention to environmental protection and take action to protect the earth.
“I will be telling my friends that biodegradable items are not entirely environmental friendly as these items would still cause a certain degree of damage to the environment. I hope that they can reduce the use of such items and bring their own water bottles and shopping bags whenever they go out," he added.