What do students from Broad Acres Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland have in common with students from Colombia, Ghana, India, Kosovo and the West Bank? They care about making their schools a better place – and showed their commitment by participating in the first annual Green Apple Day of Service last weekend through projects supported by CHF International. As a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, CHF was determined to support Green Apple, a new initiative of the Council’s Center for Green Schools, both here in its hometown and around the world to raise awareness about the conditions of the schools and communities where it works and the importance of sustainability.
In partnership with IMPACT Silver Spring and Silver Spring Green – two local non-profit organizations focused on community sustainability – CHF International introduced the campaign idea to Broad Acres Elementary School, just five miles from its headquarters. Broad Acres serves 690 students and is the highest-poverty school in Montgomery County, with 95 percent of the children qualifying for free or reduced-price meals. School leadership enthusiastically supported the idea and together with parents and teachers identified ways to improve the school.
On Saturday, September 29, close to 100 people including parents, students, siblings, staff from Broad Acres, plus volunteers from CHF International, IMPACT Silver Spring, Silver Spring Green and the U.S. Green Building Council joined together to clean-up around the school and improve the playground. Much of the blacktop the children play on was covered by portable classrooms.
In just two hours, the volunteers:
As Assistant Principal Bob Geiger noted, “Most important, from my standpoint, was the energy and enthusiasm of the participants. People had smiles on their faces. Even when it was time to stop, people wanted to continue with their painting and shoveling. We were able to accomplish all this because of the time, energy, thought, and resources that the partner organizations contributed. This wonderful event gives us an excellent foundation on which to build a lasting partnership.” An important outcome of the event is the school now has photographic evidence to encourage the M-NCPPC (Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission) to better police Broadacres Local Park since most of the recyclables collected were beer bottles from the woods surrounding the park and school.
Tamara Arsenault, the volunteer coordinator from CHF International, observed while helping to sort and empty the bags into the dumpster, “This gives me a new appreciation for the work we do in Bangalore, India to improve the working conditions and lives of informal waste pickers. I’m only sorting trash for a couple of hours – they do it for a living and I’m proud that we have been able to help them organize and increase their wages by becoming a part of the city’s waste management system.”
In addition to working with students at Broad Acres, CHF staff volunteered and worked alongside students from seven schools and slum residents in Bangalore, India for an entire week of service events to plant trees, clean streets and neighborhoods and educate students and residents about sorting and recycling their garbage. In the West Bank, students at three schools created murals on the wall from recycled tiles to beautify their schools, planted gardens, participated in an art competition and learned about green buildings and ways they can protect the environment. In two of the largest cities in Ghana, CHF International worked with schools serving more than 5,000 students to clean-up classrooms, conduct energy and water audits, improve school gardens through composting and educate students about proper hygiene.
In Kosovo, the Green Apple Day focused on helping a village clean up an illegal dump site, while students had the chance to create works of art to showcase ways to care for the environment. Finally, CHF volunteers worked with seven schools dotted across rural northern Colombia to plant trees donated by the state government, pick-up trash and raise awareness about the importance of recycling and proper disposal of hazardous materials – particularly old pesticide containers which are sometimes mistakenly re-used for drinking water.
What united all of the projects around the globe was the enthusiastic partnership between the schools, community, local government, non-profit organizations and the private sector as well – partnerships that will go well beyond one day or even one week of service. Despite the challenge of poverty – it is amazing what passion and commitment to work together can do to transform schools and their surrounding communities.