Maryanne MacDonald, OWSAG member and Ottawa grandmother
Every year, a small forest next to the school that my granddaughter attends is cleaned up by the students to mark Earth Day. And every year, the children show up to find the forest floor littered with the detritus of a throw-away society: Plastic bottles, candy wrappers, coffee cups, chip bags, lost mittens and gloves, take out food containers and, my least favourite, broken pieces of styrofoam, and plastic bags of dog waste. All this trash makes the forest a less desirable location to visit with small children who like to explore and pick up what they find. In addition, especially on windy days this trash has a really good chance of ending up in our waterways.
With school closing during the week of Earth Day, due to the pandemic, and the regular school break taking place the week before Earth Day, a group of young Earth Helpers decided to take on the clean-up task usually accomplished by their entire class. Their little task force are online learners, preschool, Grade 1 and Grade 4. After working together to assemble two claw picker uppers, four grocery bags, gloves for all, masks for all, and, of course, and adult assistant/supervisor, they headed off.
But wait, before even getting to the forest, the garbage on the street needed to be collected. Once their street was clean, and the “full to the brim” grocery bag deposited in the garage, they ventured to their forest.
In one afternoon of working non-stop for two and a half hours, they filled four bags with garbage, only taking a break to have dinner. After satisfying their hunger and thirst, they insisted on returning and getting more done before dark, this time with a different parent, and managed to collect another two bags of garbage from the forest floor.
The following day, they were off again for another three hours to complete the task. What was achieved was more than just collecting grocery bags filled with garbage, it was a sense of accomplishment and purpose in the hearts and minds of these youngsters, the lessons they were teaching the adults about making a difference, no matter what your age, and the visual satisfaction of seeing a clean, natural forest floor where kids could play safely.
But they were not finished!
In the afternoon, the Earth Helpers decided to create and colour some posters that they then posted on local mailboxes, light poles, and fire hydrants in the neighbourhood. When it was suggested, by a practical adult, that those dark clouds in the sky indicated rain and all of these posters would become litter - creating another problem of garbage on the streets, the Earth Helpers instantly decided to collect them all and paste them to their arms and shirts. They proceeded to run up and down the streets inviting anyone they met to look at the pictures and read their messages; they were being the voice for the Earth.
As a Grandmother, who happens to be an environmental activist, my heart grew two sizes bigger when I saw the purity of what these children had done. I hope nothing dampens the caring and enthusiastic spirit of these youngsters - they give me hope for the future. But the adults need to do our part, too, by eliminating single use packaging, and slashing the amount of plastic trash, so youngsters don’t have to spend their youth cleaning up our messes.