We met Susan and Sabine from STINAPA (an NGO that protects the Bonaire National Marine Park) early Thursday morning to drive our trucks from Kralendijk to Washikemba, on the east side of the island. There was an oil spill in Trinidad in April and chunks of tar have been washing up on the east side of Bonaire for a couple of weeks. As we arrived and started to understand the scope of the situation, we reminded ourselves of the starfish story when removing the tar became overwhelming. Not knowing what to expect before we arrived, many of us thought there would be oil on the surface of the water, beach, and rocks. However, because the oil traveled from Trinidad it had formed into chunks of sticky tar, which we removed with scrapers. As we cleaned up we noticed there were small creatures such as snails, hermit crabs, and crabs in and on the tar, which only made the situation more emotionally difficult. The toxic smell of the raw, crude tar was a constant reminder of how dangerous it was for the animal and plant life around us as we cleaned up.
In the end, we scraped approximately 150 pounds of tar off the rocks Thursday morning, which is insignificant when compared with the amount there, but certainly more than we expected to remove in a morning. Again, the starfish story was swimming in our heads. We will return to a different beach with STINAPA for an organized cleanup Saturday morning and continue to make a difference in that small area. All of this makes us think about the decisions we make in our lives regarding petroleum products, such as the cars we drive, products we use, and even the packaging of those products. Being on the east side of the island, where the current pulls trash from the ocean up onto the beach was an additional reminder of the choices we make as consumers, and how to respond to those decisions. We plan to return to Washikemba to remove debris one day next week.
We spent Thursday afternoon helping at Jong Bonaire’s after school program. The kids were very receptive to us as volunteer visitors and encouraged us to jump in and play with them. The after school program runs from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. and the students rotate through different scheduled activities for an hour each. We all found different ways to contribute. Aubrey, Jedd, Patrick, and Mike played an intense game of indoor soccer (barefoot!) while the rest of our group, leary of the intensity, cheered for everyone. Ivy and Chris anchored a group in the computer lab, and worked with youth interested in robotics and learning HTML programming. Alex and the boys played rousing games of table tennis, while Gia and Kathleen cooked goat stew for a group to take meals home with them. Zoe, Josie, and Mike went with a small group freediving (they were just learning, and didn’t go too deep) for most of the afternoon. We all found ways to contribute and participate in their program and, after our difficult morning, had an uplifting afternoon. One thing we noticed about the students at Jong Bonaire is that they are skilled and talented at every activity available. The program at Jong Bonaire has existed on the island for many years, but Bonaire’s 2010 change in government, to a “special municipality” of the Netherlands, brought more funding for Jong Bonaire and enabled them to expand their programs while lowering the cost of the program for participants. The structure and scope of the Jong Bonaire program is broad, so Thursday evening we spent some time brainstorming ideas for activities future George School trips could bring to Jong Bonaire. Friday we plan to accompany the group on their usual Friday after school swim. Two teachers are out sick, so the extra eyes will be helpful, and we even have lifeguards in our group!
All in all, we agreed this was our best day because the service we did felt satisfying, and we gained new perspectives about our own lives and the world around us.