Mirman's Recycling Program Makes a World of Difference

04/07/15 03:16:pm
| Category: Global Village

It was a mere ten years ago when Mirman began the odyssey that resulted in the school becoming a major recycling center. At that time, Rooms 1 students were studying the rainforest in science. When it came time to hold a class meeting about their school service project, one student suggested that they buy a piece of the rainforest. According to the student, he had seen a documentary that said people could buy a piece of the rainforest for seventy-five dollars. The next step was to figure out how to earn the needed money. Another student added that his parents sold cans and bottles at the Santa Monica Recycler. Two ideas came together, and we had a plan. Beginning in October of 2004, rotating groups of parents began coming to school each Friday to join their children in collecting the cans and bottles brought to school by members of their class. In time, a class field trip to the Santa Monica Recycling Center introduced the students to the concept of “cash from trash.” In no time, money was mailed off to purchase a piece of the rainforest.

Not content with their initial success, students and their parents asked to continue their recycling efforts. In fact, they later asked to continue the project throughout their Rooms 2 experience and right on into Rooms 3. The question then became: What organization do we support with our expanding funds?

With administrative permission, parent Dr. Diane Flannery, the director of the Global Center for Children and Families at UCLA’s Semel Institute, volunteered to contact worldwide organizations she worked with to see if any of them were interested in “buddying up” with Mirman School. Of all the organizations contacted, one responded: Women for Peace at the Nobantu Center in Mfuleni, 40 kilometers from Cape Town, South Africa. Actively involved parents and their children decided to head off to South Africa in March of 2006 to jump-start our relationship. Together they spent their Spring Break building an irrigation system for the township’s vegetable garden.

The stories told by the returning Mirman travelers, along with the pictures and videos they shared, encouraged all of us to increase our recycling efforts. This trip was repeated in 2007, 2009, and 2011. Numerous Mirman family members were transformed by their visit to South Africa. To ensure that the program was curricularly based, Mrs. Clark-Hansen, Dr. Susan Garrard (then Technology Department Chair), Nia Ujamaa, Paul Kay and I also trekked to Mfuleni and worked with our counterparts in South Africa to develop the summer program themes.

In addition to the irrigation project, Global Buddies helped to build the Nobantu Center’s first playground and library, to wire a computer lab, provide improved electrical service, and brightly paint once drab center walls. We organized a digital photography and music program. Today, the money that comes from the recycling funds continues to help support ongoing dance, choir, and soccer programs.

When not laboring in the community, "edu-tourism" at its best was practiced. American and South African Global Buddies took off by bus and boat to see the sites of Cape Town and its surrounding area. These excursions were just as exciting for the children of Mfuleni as they were for Mirman travelers, since the residents of Mfuleni have little or no means of leaving the township. Together, we felt a sense of awe at visiting the World Heritage Site, Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for twenty-seven years. A trip to Boulder Beach, home of the African Penguin Sanctuary, was thoroughly enjoyable as was a stop at the lush Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and a cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain. We were all enthralled.

Super Recycler!Our program expanded in January of 2010 when three Global Buddies from Mfuleni arrived at the Los Angeles Airport for a whirlwind visit. Sandile Hoboshe, Anelisa Hlokomile, and Zukiswa Kopo toured the greater Los Angeles area and took part in educational activities in Lower School and Upper School classrooms, including recycling. A ballroom dancing exhibit, dance lessons and tutorials on African games were just a few of their contributions to our school. At the same time, they took part in technology, science, history, drama, physical education, and English classes. Mirman students learned that children from the other side of the world could become valued friends while the African children enjoyed getting to know what it is like to live in the home of a Mirman School student.

The Global Buddy’s Photography Show then provided members of the school community with an opportunity to view the wonders that we saw and experienced during the previous four trips. Next, Siviwe Mbinda, our South African guide, arrived in Los Angeles to spend some time at Mirman School. He spent a week on campus and shared the history and culture of South Africa with his Mirman School friends. Students were mesmerized by his South African tales, thoroughly enjoyed gumboot dancing, and were amazed at his extraordinary soccer skills.

This year, Women for Peace received a check for $1,000 from the Mirman School recycling funds. How will it be spent? Ballroom dancing, and the competitions associated with it, has long provided an opportunity for social advancement for poor township residents. The children of Mfulini, without televisions, movie theaters, or computer games, spend many hours at the center learning to ballroom dance. This year’s team is thrilled to have received the Mirman “trash-to-cash” money. It will provide travel costs, housing, and entry fees for their dancers who will be competing in a championship dance competitions to be held this December. To win at this level would bring the center and its dancers national recognition. Women for Peace will be sending us photos of the contestants at the event. We can barely wait!

The immeasurable good we do in South Africa is the result of the Mirman School recycling initiative. A sincere thanks goes to all the children and parents who consistently bring us their plastic bottles and cans on Wednesday morning. We are ever so grateful to the Upper School children who scour the campus for recyclables at the same time. Finally, we are grateful to the hard working parent volunteers who sort bottles and cans and cart them to the Santa Monica Recycler. Together, our efforts prevent trash from overtaking our local garbage dumps while positively impacting our South African Global Buddies.