Robert Michael Pyle, a prolific writer and advocate for connecting kids to nature, once wrote “I’ve always felt there is something sacred in a piece of paper that travels the earth from hand to hand, head to head, heart to heart.” Last month I had the privilege to deliver 180 postcards, written by 3rd graders in San Pablo, CA, to their peers in Manzanillo, Mexico.
Although the two cities are over 2000 miles apart, it is easy to see why they are called “sister cities.” Geographically, they are similar as they are both found near busy ports on incredibly beautiful bays. They are also similar demographically, as the majority of the students in San Pablo are Spanish speakers and many have family roots in Mexico.
Bye Bye Basura is the name of this educational program, which The Watershed Project has been implementing for the last five years. Throughout the classroom visits, students really do say “bye bye” to basura, or trash, through hands-on activities exploring the concept of marine debris. However to me, the real theme of the program is home.
In both cities, I was struck by how proud students were of where they live and how enthusiastic they were to share their stories of the parks, beaches, and vacant lots they frequent around their homes. They were beyond thrilled to celebrate the strengths of their communities through writing postcards. Seeing the faces of the children upon receiving their postcards and photos of their new pen pals indeed felt sacred.
Many of the students had never written or received a postcard before. Despite only having a photo and some text to go off of, it was not difficult for the students to feel an instant connection to their peers abroad. The issues of litter and marine debris are present in both areas. And the desire to clean up the community and protect the natural beauty around goes beyond any borders on a map. I felt this again and again, as school teachers, university students, professors, and other community members rushed to our side to help with the efforts of this program and learn our curriculum.
Throughout Bye Bye Basura, students are given another reason to love their home. That reason is the inspiring thought that there is a similar community working towards the same goals 2000 miles away. Is it not empowering to think that around our planet, at this very moment, there are countless other people who are also trying to make the world a better place in the same ways that we are?
To have this realization as an eight-year-old is a lesson of a lifetime. I am beyond grateful to have witnessed this magic that can happen when culture, nature, and education are celebrated in such a way. And I am beyond grateful to the Sister City Committee, San Pablo Community Foundation, Universidad de Colima, Casa Hogar Los Angelitos, Manzanillo Rotary Club, and Jasmine Blaine for all of their support to make this happen. Saludos!