Civil Affairs Team Encourages Students to Pitch in
The U.S. Army 4902nd Civil Affairs Team put its teaching skills to work, using artwork and colorful flip charts to encourage students to pitch in for their school and community.
Pitch in trash, that is.
The team, which is part of the 490th Civil Affairs Battalion from the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, launched a trash awareness program at Ecole de Quartier 5 School for the students in coordination with Djibouti City officials and the local Djiboutian trash company, OVD.
"This is a very good program in this school," said Ilias Hassan Aden, director of Ecole de Quartier 5 School. "This program helps the environment, first of all, and then it helps (everything) from health, to students, to the teachers."
Educating the students was the most important part of the program, said U.S. Army Captain Justin Lev, CA Team 4902 chief.
"We could have bought the trash cans and given them out that day and the project would've failed, because the kids wouldn't have known what they were and OVD wouldn't have been there," Lev said.
Having OVD involved is essential for program sustainment, Lev and Aden explained, as the company is providing garbage bags and removing trash as cans fill up.
The team's first phase was educating the students about the benefits of keeping their school and community clean with the help of large, colorful flip charts with pictures explaining the concept of trash pick-up.
"We brought some trash cans with us and some trash bags and we flipped through each one of the charts with the kids," said Lev. "There was no problem with them recognizing the bad with trash in their school versus having a trash can. We told them, 'We're going to come back and we're going to collect some art you create."
The following week, the team returned as promised and collected students' pictures depicting trash pick-up and clean surroundings. The team flipped through the charts again to reiterate the concept.
"All the kids did fantastic artwork that displayed exactly the mentality that we want the kids to have - that trash on the ground is bad; picking up trash is good. It was hard to pick a winner," Lev said.
From the pile of eco-friendly art, the team selected four students' entries - two from the morning class and two from the afternoon class - for U.S. Army Specialist Tiffany Larriba, CA Team 4902 member, to paint on four shiny, new trash cans.
"(The art contest) motivated all the students … One day they heard there would be a little prize for the best drawings and they were very happy to hear about that and were very competitive," said Aden.
The students had their chance to put their awareness into action when the team returned, this time with four colorful receptacles in tow. Lev and Larriba reviewed the charts one more time and then turned the trash cans to reveal the art contest winners.
"Now they own those trash cans, literally. Their artwork is on the side of it. OVD's symbol is on the side of it," Lev said.
And ownership is what will make all the difference for the program's future, he continued.
"If they have that awareness of 'trash is not good' - to pollute the community - then it will have a lasting impact," Lev said.
Planting this seed in youth will make a difference for Djibouti as a whole, said Mahamoud Omar Omir, deputy director of OVD.
"When the kids learn the awareness program at a very young age, they will eventually bring it to their parents, this will help us to keep the city cleaner," Omir said. "These kids will indirectly help make the city cleaner and they will put the trash in the garbage points that the OVD put in place."
As students scurried back to class after their concluding trash awareness class - with new green trash bins outside their doors - Lev reflected on the program his team started.
"Really, it was the government's idea. We just took the assets we had available and empowered (the kids) with the trash cans and got it kick-started," he said. "OVD is going to take ownership of the program from now going forward and we're going to continue to support with personnel. It will be a good partnership between the OVD and the office of the mayor in Djibouti city."
The plan is for the Community Action Volunteers at Camp Lemonnier to take the torch from the CA Team 4902 and spread the program to other schools throughout Djibouti.
"We have an additional 20 trash cans," said Lev. "We'll continue to spread this. If you take each school that has roughly 300 students - it's a big impact. Those kids are going to go home to their families and talk to them about what they learned. They're going to grow into the future of Djibouti - a brighter future of Djibouti."