We're well on our way with three major projects now and have been working officially with the Robertsport Community for six months. Over the next couple of weeks, I want to share each of these projects with you in-depth--how we started them, how we mobilize support for them and how we keep them going. If someone wants to do something similar, maybe they'll get some ideas. If anyone wants more details, let me know.
So, beach cleanup. The idea for this started on Nate and my first weekend in Robertsport in May 2009, right after we moved. We'd both visited before to do a recce, but hadn't really noticed the trash. That weekend, there were single-use plastic bags and marine debris all over the beach. That, and a 3-meter pit where someone had sand mined illegally and dug right under our neighbor's cotton tree, so deep that the roots were showing. Here we are with Trinity Dental Clinic dentist Keith Chapman after picking up the trash people were throwing in it. (Photo courtesy of Adam Weiner.)
All good projects need partners, so the first thing we did was see if Musa, the owner of next door Nana's Lodge, would be interested in partnering with us. Lucky for us, he was--and Nana's Lodge remains the lead partner of the Community Beach Cleanup. Every month, they pay for volunteers to share a meal together at the campsite. Then, they load our rice bags filled with plastic into their pickup and take it to the town dump. A big thank-you to Nana's Lodge for supporting this project.
Here's a photo (courtesy of Myles Estey) of our first cleanup, when we picked up almost 500 pounds of trash.
Since then, we've come a long way. We've handed over the project entirely to local leadership, which is sustainable and very exciting. First, we had the local surfers running it. That went well, but then local leader Abraham (aka A.B.) Fanbulleh came forward and really wanted to volunteer, so he's the project leader now. Here are the surfers with surfer and photographer Sean Brody, who took the rest of the photos below during our September clean-up.
We've had numerous people tell A.B. that they'd like to be paid for their work, and each time he brings this up (he brings this up a lot) we remind him that volunteering is...volunteering. And we reward participation with a small meal, cooked by Miriama and her friends. And if you participate for five months, you get a blue Clean the Beach shirt. And if you participate for 10 months, which will take us into the rainy season, you get a RCW raincoat (these will be stylin'). And, we tell him, we recruit for all of our microenterprise projects from the group of volunteers. I expect he'll keep bringing it up, though.
Over the six month beach cleanup has been running, we've had things become a little more informal--now on the first Saturday morning of each month, you just show up with your friends, grab gloves and a rice bag, and walk towards Locos. You come back to eat when your bag is pretty much filled or you score big, like a car bumper we'll be carrying back that washed up right at the Locos point. A.B. writes you name down as you eat, you hand your gloves bag, we count the bags and carry them to Nana's, where they load them with the weekend's garbage and take them to the dump. They bring the rice bags back and we use them again the next month.
Of course, where the trash goes is another story (hint: it's not great) and the focus of a future recycling project. Wonderfully, it's the community who pointed out that something needs to be done with the plastic in the landfill--and the community who notice now when day-trippers leave plastic plates and soda cans all over the beach. They don't just notice--they take a wheelbarrow and pick it up.
Now, it looks like the Monrovia-based surfer we sponsor, Peter Swen, is going to organize his own neighborhood cleanup at ELWA. We're lending him rice bags and gloves and helping him raise money to provide a thank-you meal for the volunteers. (Nice one, Peter.)
Thanks again to Musa at Nana's Lodge, to our anonymous donors who paid for gloves and rice bags and to all our volunteers.