Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Trash Talks!

In my last Blog I described a long-term project that any Peace Corps Volunteer could attempt regardless of sector: the creation of an Environmental Education Center. This week I want to share an activity that is quick, fairly easy to make, and has been an effective tool in the Philippines for teaching Solid Waste Management (SWM). This idea can be used in other countries where Environmental Education and Outreach is on-going. This activity has been great for all ages and the board can be made at little cost! The Trash Decomposition Board serves as an introduction to SWM discussions, and the activity helps the learner become aware of concepts such as bio-degradable, organic, and non-biodegradable. The activity helps the child understand that highly processed items such as plastics take a long time to break down compared to things organic.

To make a Trash Decomposition Board you will need the following materials:
A large piece of ¼ inch ply wood 
Paint and paint thinner (optional)
Marine Epoxy
9-10 pieces of dry trash
Permanent Marker
Colored Paper

Step One: Use your saw and cut your plywood to a  good size. Mine is about  2ft X 3.5ft. Smooth down the edges with sand paper.

Step Two: Paint your plywood the color of your choice! You will need paint thinner to clean your hands and brushes later.

Step Three: After the paint has dried glue 9-10 different trash items to the board using Marine Epoxy. Dry trash only - nothing wet or gross. Wait 24 hours for the Marine Epoxy to dry.

Step Four: Use the permanent marker (or paint) and write the decomposition time frames on your board under each trash item (See next section).

Step Five: Cover these time frames up. If you want to go cheap use tape and paper, but you will have to replace these regularly. Because our LGU is teaching over a thousand kids a season and durability is a necessity - we laminated ours and attached Velcro. I printed a question mark on yellow paper just to make our Trash Decomposition Board a little more fun.

Step Six: If you laminate the cover cards as we did then you must use Marine Epoxy to glue the Velcro (Magic Tape) on to them. Hot Glue doesn’t seem to work well. Use Marine epoxy to glue the Velcro’s mate to the board. Use sand paper to give the surface a rough surface before applying glue. Allow 24 hours for Marine Epoxy to dry.

Step Seven: Create answer cards! This is what the kids hold up during the activity. We have 5 different sets and each is a different color for up to 5 teams. There are usually about 10 kids per group. Again, these answer cards were laminated to ensure durability over the years. You are now ready to teach!

How To Play!


 Divide your students into groups. Each group is given a set of answer cards with the different periods of time either written or printed on them (See Below). The teacher will begin by talking about trash and the problems of trash in the community or around the world. The teacher can explain terms such as “biodegradable” and “non-biodegradable” and can write these words on the board. The teacher can also define the term “decomposition rate” and explain how certain trash items take longer to fall apart or decompose compared to other trash items. To begin the game the teacher should ask “How long does it take for an apple core to decompose?” The students will discuss this question in their small groups and they should examine the cards. After 1 minute a representative from each group will hold up the card the group believes is the right answer. After all groups have held their answers in the air the teacher can reveal the correct answer on the Trash Decomposition Board. At this time the teacher can then go into more detail about that specific trash item and talk about both local and global solutions.

Time Frames:

Apple Core:                          3 Weeks
Paper:                                   1 Month
Cardboard:                           6 Months
Cigarette Stub:                     5 Years
Plastic Bag:                          50 Years
Tin Can:                               100 Years
Diaper:                                 500 Years
Plastic Water Bottle:            1000 Years
Styrofoam:                            Immortal
*Mainland Highschool (2009)


Trash Time-Line: Use the different sets of cards and tape them to the pavement outdoors. Have the groups race to place the different trash items along the time-line in the correct order according to how long it takes for them to decompose. Great for youth camp situations where outdoor space is available.

Trash Jeopardy: Use this style for when you have an audience of 200 or more people and can’t break up into groups. Invite 3 contestants on stage to work as a team against the audience. The 3 contestants will hold their answer card up in the air. The teacher can then ask the audience if they agree or disagree. This is super fun if candy is involved. If the 3 contestants get 7 out of 10 correct they get the candy. If the audience wins then the candy is instead thrown out to the large group.

Small Group Matching: Give each group a bag with 10 different trash items. The group has 5 minutes to match their 10 answer cards with the 10 different pieces of trash. This activity promotes small group participation. At the end the teacher can go through the answers as one group. Keeping score adds to the excitement.

Reference: Mainland Highschool (2009) www.mainland.cctt.org/istf2010/Plastic.asp

Sunday, 26 July 2015

SEA DAY - More than a day at the beach!

Remember that kid during school field trips who was always collecting leaves, sea shells, drawing in their diary, and passionately exploring the outdoors with not a thought in the world to apply sun screen? That was me growing up! I’m still the same person at 33, except I prefer to call my diary a Journal – and I’m more concerned with the harmful effects of the sun! I’ve always learned best in out-of-classroom capacities; in fact, those school field trips into nature remain the most memorable of my academic days. I took Walter McKenzie’s (1999) Multiple Intelligences Inventory exam recently, and I was not surprised to discover I scored high under the Naturalist category. So when I was asked by San Jose de Buenavista’s Local Government Unit (LGU) to help develop a small children’s marine museum by the sea and facilitate school field trips, I entered into an intense state of presence: I was simply OVERWHELMED! 

Our marine education learning center by the ocean!
This project was previously begun by a husband-wife Peace Corps couple in coordination with San Jose’s LGU.  The team worked to transform an old building by the sea into what appeared to be a small learning center. The building had been painted with a beautiful mural depicting the three Marine Ecosystems: Mangrove, Sea Grass, and Coral Reef.  A large preserved sea turtle was also on display.  My primary project in the Peace Corps has been to further develop the building into a full-fledged Environmental Learning Center that focuses on Marine Conservation Education. It has been an absolute delight working with San Jose’s LGU on a project I feel so connected with.
An Environmental Learning Center can be replicated by any Peace Corps Volunteer regardless of his or her sector, and such a project would be an amazing asset to any community in the Philippines – or any other country where Environmental Outreach is a necessity. As I wrote in my last blog, one of the most severe of environmental struggles around the planet is happening in the Philippines, and an Environmental Learning Center would bring awareness to both global and local problems, such as Solid Waste Management (SWM) and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation.
The community will be inspired by your Environmental Learning Center! And once other people start to see the vision materialize the community will help assist you! Our project has had nearly 300 sea shells donated to it, and the names of the shells have been put into Kinaraya - the local dialect with assistance from the fisher-folk. Books were donated to our Center to begin an Environmental library, and a local carpenter even helped me reconstruct a turtle skeleton to put on display!

Local residents help ID our new shell collection and put the names into the local dialect: Kinaray-A
Once you have created your safe learning space you can then bring people together. During the second half of 2014 our team arranged to have every grade 5 class in San Jose visit our Environmental Learning Center. Over 1,200 students from 23 of 24 elementary schools engaged in what is now affectionately called SEA DAY (Students for Environmental Awareness). The Marine Conservation based field trips were a hot success and we are currently in our second year of administration. This can be a sustainable project! Create a school package and a small registration fee, which will allow educators at the very least to replace needed supplies and materials. Short on help at your Center? Work with the community and the LGU to create a volunteer or internship program to assist your lead teacher.

MENRO staff gave Environmental outreach and education to approximately 3,000 children during our first year

Children listen attentively as our Environmental Education Specialist talks about turtle conservation

Some Creative Ideas for YOUR Center
* Create an Environmental Library: Write to Books for Peace, Books Across the Seas, and Books for Asia and request Environmental books. Ask your Filipino friends and co-workers to translate the books into the local dialect. Make “Sit-A-Pons” from braided pieces of old cloth or newspaper and create a child friendly reading area.
* Discovered some old bones on the beach? Glue them together! Use marine epoxy (~135 pesos) and aluminum wire to re-assemble. If this seems too difficult paint them with clear gloss lacquer and leave them mixed-up in a box as a “puzzle” skeleton instead. The lacquer basically turns the bones into plastic. Be sure to wash and scrub the bones and allow them to dry before applying lacquer. Several coats is best!
*Start a sea shell collection: Purchase magnifying glasses and rulers from the National Book Store to inspire deeper connections to nature.
*Create a sea glass mural: The children will love picking beach glass up along the beach during your beach clean-ups. Often, Filipino children don’t know what this is until you point it out to them! They simply love beach glass after that!
*Create a garden at your Center – or better yet – a “Food Fence”. This is great for introducing topics about Climate Change and also talking about eating locally. Getting into the gardening? Don’t stop! Start a Vermi-compost, a container garden, or sack garden! Harvest your veggies and cook them with the kids or local residents.
* Offer life jackets and snorkeling equipment for a small fee. This generates income and helps sustain your project.
* Create a trash segregation station
* Create an Eco-Bench or other infrastructure from bottle bricks. This is great to begin discussions about Solid Waste Management or when beginning a beach clean-up.
* Show environmental films if you have access to a projector. We are blessed to have a small flat screen TV hooked up in our center. Media-technology is great for showing power points, movie clips, and academic videos (or for movie nights with pop corn!). Those Sit-A-Pons come in handy again here!

Connecting to nature!

Reference: McKenzie, Walter L. (1999). Multiple Intelligences Inventory. http://surfaquarium.com/MI/inventory.htm

Monday, 20 July 2015

Time Flies When You're Eating Rice With Your Hands!

I’ve been in the Philippines for more than two years, and it was just today I realized the importance of sharing my International Development experience with others beginning their journey. This inspiration came to me while out on a walk at sunrise in the rice fields of Antique. I’m serving as a Coastal Resource Management (CRM) Extension Worker in the Western Visayas, Philippines. I work mainly in the coastal barangays, and basically, I inspire children to love the ocean and marine environment. The Fisher Folk children and I play games, do activities, make crafts, and engage in Service Learning Projects that help rehabilitate the environment. Sound fun? It’s contagious work! I’m staying a third year actually - and such education is incredibly necessary for the Philippines right now.

My host brothers looking festive during our going-away celebration!

Currently, the Philippines is engaged in one of the most severe environmental battles around the globe (BROAD, 1993). Manila remains one of the most polluted cities worldwide, and the Philippines is one of the top three countries contributing to the most plastic waste in the ocean. Families depend on surrounding resources for their immediate survival, which has resulted with Natural Resource degradation. The 1993 literary work Plundering Paradise declares “there are few places you can go in the Philippines without meeting some sort of ecological disaster” (BROAD, p. 31).
However, the Environmental War is not exclusive to this Southeast Asian country. The United States is facing its own environmental crisis in the form of elevated CO2 emissions , toxic waste, and over-use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. More educators from the US and from around the world are striving to Teach for Environmental Consciousness and Change. Information, Education, and Communication  (IEC) are the first steps to bring about awareness for the environment, and it is in this capacity I have been serving  as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I am grateful to have this unique International experience engaging in work I am passionate about. What I did not expect was a reinvention of myself! An entirely new person emerged and I discovered a new Ecological Me. This Blog gives insight into my two year experience thus far. It also shares a variety of Environmental Education activities that any Peace Corps Volunteer - regardless of sector - could attempt at his or her own site in the Philippines. This Blog is essentially a guideline for how to incorporate Environmental Education into Peace Corps work. Additionally, the following activities may be useful Stateside for Environmental Educators, Park Rangers, or teachers looking for new activities to try with students.
My new Close Of Service (COS) date is October 16, 2016. During my third year of service I will continue to use nature to inspire Filipino children and to bring about awareness for the environment. I am also interested to learn more about Filipino solutions to environmental problems, which I can share at home later. I’ve learned from this experience that it is in the most devastated of places that the most ingenious environmental inventions arise. The Philippines has many creative solutions that Americans and other countries can learn from. This Blog is meant to share these solutions. To conclude my writing, I must say that I am grateful the idea came to me this morning while I was out on my morning walk. And I will continue to walk through the rice fields at sunrise looking for inspiration, just as I will continue to eat rice with my hands.  I will thoroughly enjoy both!
One of my morning walks through the rice fields!

Broad, R. & Cavanagh, J. (1993). Plundering Paradise: The Struggle for the Environment in the Philippines. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.