By Clarine See (18S03G) and Zacchaeus Chok (18S03O)
Photographs courtesy of Raffles One Earth and Raffles Photographic Society
After months of planning, Raffles Community Advocates’ environment-focused advocacy group, GlassArk, and Raffles One Earth rolled out Ecoweek 2018. A week meant to educate and inspire students to take responsibility for their actions on our earth, the event featured a poster exhibition on various forms of wastage, a Pledge Tree where students could express their commitment to reducing wastage in their own lives, an activity booth where students could give newspaper and plastic bottles a new lease of life as bags and pencil cases, and a clothes donation drive for students to take the first step towards being environmentally conscious.
That said, how did the student populace respond to Ecoweek? To gauge the school’s reception to Ecoweek, and to reflect on its effectiveness, Raffles Press administered a quick survey on a random sample of the student population, and conducted informal interviews with some students and members involved in Ecoweek.
As part of publicity efforts for Ecoweek, GlassArk-One Earth members employed a novel method of reaching out to students. As One Earth vice-chairperson Amanda Tan (18S03L) puts it, “Rather than doing up posters, we made publicity items from recycled materials such as cardboard and hung them around school.” Be they shirts hanging on the railings of staircases, or sea animals made with newspaper, these art installations were definitely an unexpected addition to the school environment, and hearteningly, some students indeed took notice of them. Student Elizabeth Leong (18S06G) especially appreciated its innovative aspect, and remarked, “I found the art installations around the school quite effective at drawing attention to the cause.”
Some of the numerous art installations created by members of GlassArk and One Earth to publicise Ecoweek.
From Press’ observations, the response to the clothes donation drive was quite strong. By the end of the first collection day, there were enough clothes donated to fill up three cardboard boxes, which had to be placed in storage to allow more clothes to be dropped off at the booth. The activity booth, however, received a comparatively muted response. While some students would sidle up to the booth and observe members creating plastic bottle pencil cases and newspaper bags, not many stayed to give it a try on their own.
Most interviewees gave special mention to the Pledge Tree activity. Serving as an important symbol of recycling, the Tree was customised to add an interactive crowdsourcing element. The creative nature of the activity also had a deeper intention: to prompt reflection amongst RI students with regards to waste management. This novel approach to advocacy certainly captured the attention of many students.
Yet, whether the students were truly sincere in their pledges remains an entirely different question. A few pledges did show detailed and realistic plans to reduce waste, such as taking shorter showers or using the recycle bins. Other pledges had a hint of sarcasm and individualism, such as “Auspicium Melioris Aevi. Climate Change is a Hoax” and “I will never use plastic surgery”. Even if the Pledge Tree activity did not stir up serious pondering, it definitely mirrored the student body’s widely differing attitudes and perceptions towards waste management and environmental issues.
With responses such as these, it does seem that the purpose of Ecoweek did not resonate with these students.
Strategically located right next to the Pledge Tree was the poster exhibition on wastage. Yet, while the Tree seemed to attract plentiful attention, students seemed to skirt around the posters without a second glance. Other students merely gave the informative posters a passing look without learning any concrete waste reduction steps.
Overall, while it was heartening to see a sizeable number of students actively learning about waste management, GlassArk’s leader Timothy Martin (18S03D) feels that the overall response was limited. Not many students were attracted to the Ecoweek booth, and those who did visit were more often than not influenced by repeated persuasion from GlassArk-One Earth members. Disappointingly, despite the morning announcements and art installations plastered throughout the school campus, some students said that they did not know that Ecoweek was happening.
This may point to the school population’s indifference towards environmental issues. After all, the effects of proper waste management seem intangible and far-fetched, and it may be hard to imagine that one could make much of an impact in improving it. Yet, it is precisely because of this indifference that Glassark and One Earth decided to collaborate under the shared vision of promoting environmental sustainability. The Pledge Tree and activity booth were just a few of the initiatives rolled out by GlassArk and One Earth, with the hope of infusing fun into advocacy to better engage the school population.
Organising a school-wide event is difficult on its own, and having to include an element of advocacy brings forth even greater challenges. For instance, some of the deliberations and dilemmas faced by the planning committee included: How do I capture the attention of students? How do I establish the relevance of this topic? What if the fun parts overshadow the educational parts? GlassArk and One Earth members had to go through multiple discussions before deciding on a mix of fun and informative activities (though the two are not exactly mutually exclusive) to parallel their goals of increasing the appeal of environmental issues and to transfer practical knowledge.
In short, Ecoweek was the product of balancing fun and information. In retrospect, Timothy feels that one aspect – empathy – was not emphasised enough. “Students need to see first-hand the implications of excessive wastage of resources to strengthen their resolve and commitment towards active waste reduction,” he opined. “Other possible activities such as a photo exhibition or a learning journey that exposes the ‘trash trails’ we leave behind might go a long way.”
While Ecoweek might not have been an outright success on all fronts, one cannot deny that it was a much-needed first step in creating a platform to advocate for the environment. Ecoweek sets a new precedent for future advocacy events in this institution through the use of innovative and engaging mediums, a strategy that should be considered by following batches who want to raise awareness for pertinent social causes and spark intellectual discourse.