“Mother Ocean, we love you!”
Eight youths stood under the hot 33-degree sun, yelling out loud as they faced the sea. It was indeed an uncommon sight, done in the name of meeting a challenge proposed by their friends.
On 25 June 2016, a group of Tzu Ching youths (members of the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association) arrived at Sembawang Beach at 10 am. They were there not for a day of fun but to be part of the beach clean-up efforts after an absence of four years from the last such activity. The timing was specially chosen by the event planning team to coincide with low tide, so that the activity could proceed smoothly. The beach, located in the northeastern part of Singapore and facing the Straits of Johore, sees much rubbish from the Straits land up on its shores all year round.
Paper bags, plastic bags, glass, bits of clothing and even diapers; these were just some of the rubbish that lay on the seemingly clean beach. On closer examination, one could see green algae already growing from the exposed parts of such rubbish sticking out of the sand. This was a telling sign that the rubbish had been there for a long time, and slowly, they became submerged under sand. Though not easily visible to the eye, they nevertheless remain as pollutants in our environment. Poisonous chemicals are released from rubbish such as plastic bags which not only pollutes the land but also harms the eco-system.
Tzu Ching senior and coordinator Jiang Wei Jie explained that the Sembawang Beach was chosen as the location of the activity because it was not a tourist spot, thus the governmental authorities seldom assigned cleaners to the area. As a result, rubbish was piling up slowly. He elaborated that as the Tzu Chings usually only sorted out waste at the Tzu Chi recycling points on a monthly basis, this was an opportunity for them to see for themselves the severity of environmental pollution and the damaging effects it has on the eco-system.
The Beach Clean-up
The team of 42 Tzu Ching youths were accompanied by 6 Tzu Ching seniors and mentors. Before the cleanup started, the youths were split into three groups and given team names inspired from the popular animation film “Finding Nemo”. They also played a game of Q&A to deepen their understanding of environmental issues.
Tzu Ching Chen Jun Peng from Taiwan had taken part in previous beach clean-up activities and as part of the curriculum team this time, he shared his experience with the planning committee. He said that utilizing a game format could help make the youths more aware that global warming and other problems in our eco-system are closely linked to our daily living habits.
After the safety briefing, the Tzu Chings put on gloves and armed with tongs and bags, proceeded with their mission. With the cool breeze blowing and the sound of waves lapping at the shore, everyone went about energetically picking up waste from all corners of the beach. The rubbish that was picked up were sorted and placed into different bags.
Gathering the Kindness in Our Hearts
With sweat streaming down their backs, Tzu Chings worked tirelessly, unearthing rubbish from the beach. Some of the plastic materials, having been weathered long by the elements, broke up easily, which made their efforts harder. Sometimes, they came across plastic bags which held rotting contents and stank badly.
Liang Xiao Jun is familiar with Tzu Chi’s recycling philosophy as she had been accompanying her mother in sorting rubbish at its recycling point since she was young. She confessed that before starting the activity she thought that paper bags and glass were the only types of rubbish she would find. However as she dug deeper into the sand, she also found diapers, clothes and sacks. This prompted her to say that such rubbish was the result of people who litter just because they see others do so. She felt that everyone should do their bit to dispose of rubbish properly instead of littering indiscriminately.
Many Tzu Chings made good use of the term break to take part in the activity. Shen Kai Wang from NTU was invited to join by his friends and said that the activity was meaningful as otherwise he would be surfing the internet or shopping outside. After two hours of the beach clean-up, he realised that though an individual’s contribution was small, the combined effort of many could produce significant results and expressed hopes that similar activities would continue to be organized in future.
Li Zhen Hui too, invited her friends to the activity and is one young person that makes green living a part of her daily life. She brings her own bottle and eco-utensils even when she buys food and drinks in school. Remembering that she was once told that the chemicals from a battery cell can render one square metre of land unusable for agriculture, she said, “We have only one earth and if we do not take good care of it, our future generations may suffer the fate of living amidst mountains of rubbish.”
Though people are becoming more aware of environmental issues nowadays, changing habits and mindsets do not happen overnight. The beach clean-up this time not only resulted in the removal of much rubbish, it also resulted in the youths leaving behind footprints of love for the earth, implanting the seeds of kindness deep in them.