To mark the completion of the year-long Tzu Chi Teenagers’ Class, a teenager camp is conducted annually during the year-end school holidays.
In contrast with past teenager camps which mainly involved lessons conducted in air-conditioned areas, a half-day coastal cleanup was scheduled as one of the camp activities. During the first day of the camp on 15 November 2014, 66 members of the Tzu Chi Teenagers’ Class aged 13 to 17, gathered at Pasir Ris Park under the scorching sun for the clean-up. Through the experience, they witnessed the negative consequences of littering and learnt that everyone has a role to play in protecting the environment.
What Doesn’t Belong to Nature?
Before the group departed for Pasir Ris Park, group leader Zhang You Ping allocated tasks and explained the entire activity process to fellow group members with the help of a map. At the same time, he placed great emphasis on safety precautions; everyone was warned against playing in the waters, picking up sharp objects with their bare hands, and leaving the group without permission. Everyone trooped up the bus and after a ten-minute ride, reached the beach at the Pasir Ris Park.
Zhang posed an important question to everyone:“During the cleanup, what ought to be removed from the beach, and what should be left behind?”
As there were mixed responses arising from the group, Zhang had a simple tip for everyone: distinguish between what arises from nature and what does not. “Natural items such as shells, branches and coconut husks are part of the ecosystem of the beach environment and should be left uuntouched. On the other hand, objects made of synthetic materials like glass and plastic should be recycled or disposed of.
Wang Li Ying a first time participant of the coastal clean-up, had picked up plastic, glass, batteries and tiles etc. and was appalled by the amount of litter found on the beach.
Wang admitted that she never considered the negative impact of littering on the environment until she joined the Tzu Chi Teenagers’ Class, where she learnt about environmental conservation from the Tzu Chi Great Love Mothers. She regretted her past actions of littering and vowed not to litter even if the rubbish bin were to be miles away, as littering has serious repercussions on both the environment and mankind.
Avoid Harming Marine Life
Pasir Ris Park lies on the north eastern shores of Singapore. In addition to boardwalks built into a carefully preserved 6-hectare mangrove forest, the park offers many recreational facilities such as amusement zones for children, water sports, bicycling trails, camping and barbequeing areas, thereby attracting many people on weekends or public holidays. This in turn leads to an increased amount of litter at the beach.
“Does the litter you’ve all picked belong just to Singapore?” Dou Jun Hui from the Tzu Chi Teachers’ Association posed the question as a reminder to participants that the seas are interconnected and all of us share the same earth, thus the need for each and every one to act responsibly. He hopes that everyone can realize that environmental conservation is a shared responsibility and requires collective effort, hence it is imperative that we not influence others with bad habits and cause a ripple effect in society.
Participant Zhang Yan Ci was seen laboriously removing a fishing line from the sand and requesting tongs from her group leader whenever she had to pick up glass shards.
“I hope this activity will reduce the amount of non-biodegradable marine litter. This might be ingested by marine creatures which could make them sick or kill them. As I try to produce less waste, I will also encourage my friends and family to stop littering”, Zhang said shyly.
As participant Huang Hong Ming has been attending environmental conservation talks with his parents from a young age, he fully understands the importance of protecting the environment. “I feel that maintaining cleanliness is a collective effort, so I will dispose of any litter I find on the streets,” he said. If he does not see any rubbish or recycling bins, he will keep the litter with him till it is convenient to dispose of it.
In addition, group leader Zhang also pointed out that one should practise the “5Rs” in one’s daily life – namely, to “refuse, reduce, reuse, repair and recycle.”
Insist On Doing the Right Thing
The youth group participants collected and cleaned discarded items which could be reused, even if they were completely covered in mud. After which, they segregated the items and sent them back to the Jing Si Hall to be made useful again in various ways.
Sisters Chen Yi Xuan and Chen Yi Bei have been volunteering at the Pasir Ris community recycling point for over a year. “We collect recoverable waste like newspapers, paper confectionary boxes and plastic bottles etc., as we believe such recycling practices will not only protect the environment, but can also help raise awareness among the public as well,” they expressed. Since last year, they have been participating in the monthly recycling activities held at block 605 in Pasir Ris and are extremely familiar with the process. They even make efforts to take a bus and drop off items collected from their home which they believe can be recycled.
Participant Li Gu De lamented that man’s selfish acts had polluted and damaged the coastal environment. The sight of a dead bird on the beach illustrated the impermanence of life, and made him thankful for all that he had received in life. To curb his greed for material possessions, he would focus on fulfilling his needs rather than his wants.
Li, who insists on not using who plastic bottles in daily life, has successfully convinced his school principal to replace disposable paper cups with recyclable plastic cups.
As another voluntary organisation had conducted a coastal cleanup earlier on, the amount of litter collected and recycled by the Tzu Chi Teenagers’ Class was less than expected. It was a clear sign that environmental awareness had increased in our society!
Through this coastal cleanup, 76 personnel and 12 youth participants witnessed how littering could damage our environment. The activity brought home the message that everyone has a part to play in keeping our surroundings clean. Indeed, if we can start with ourselves and practice recycling in our daily lives, we will bring much impetus to the collective effort of saving the environment.