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Okinawan students looking to join forces for environment

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-01-08

Students at Hokuzan High School, located in Nakijin, have begun to take environmental problems into their own hands. Lead by second year student Hatsumi Sakai, the group gathers once a month to clean a local beach, and they also record everything they pick up along the way. Their first cleanup was in November of last year, and they just recently were out in force on Saturday, January 16.

Although the student volunteers are supervised by Yukari Akamine, an English teacher at Hokuzan High School, they plan and conduct the cleunups on their own. They work together in small groups of two to three members, carefully separating each piece of garbage into bags for burnable materials and for trash to be recycled. Another student records on paper what they find. At the end of the cleanup, the students gather together and listen to each other's impressions, and discuss the results of their efforts. On Saturday's cleanup, nine bags of burnable trash and four bags of non-burnables were collected by about fifteen students. "Today there was much less foamed plastic than last time," pointed out volunteer leader Sakai.

Akamine, who had supervised a similar student volunteer project on Kume Island, explained that she wanted to continue the same activities with her new students at Nakijin. "In November I heard about the UNESCO program for the 'Year of the Ocean'. I told my students about the project, and they began right away," recalled Akamine. "They love to do this, and through this activity they want to also exchange with other high schools. They want to meet other people and expand their minds," she continued.

Sakai, who aspires to be an artist one day, said she was very surprised by the amount of garbage the first time they cleaned the beach in November. "I realized that people just can not litter like this," she commented. Cleaning beaches is not the first time the seventeen year old has done volunteer work. She has volunteered to help the elderly, and also collected clothing in the past. "I hope our beach cleanup efforts will also spread to other schools, and we can all join together."

Fellow classmate Koh Hirayasu, who participated for the first time last Saturday, said, "I think it (litter) is a big problem all over Okinawa." He also mentioned that he believes there are not enough laws concerning the problem of trash. His message to other students was: "Big problems can be difficult, but we can all try to accomplish the things that we are able to do."

Ryoko Kamizato, a teacher at Mawashi High School in Naha, was also present at the cleanup. Having experience as a co-supervisor with Akamine for student volunteers on Kume Island, she believes the students can learn much about the environment from the cleanup activities. However, she also said, "I think there needs to be more environmental education in schools." She attributes environmental problems on Okinawa to the gap between education and the rapid development of Okinawa, which occurred after the war. Kamizato hopes to get her students in Naha involved with the same beach cleanup projects being done by the student volunteers from Hokuzan High School.

The students all expressed their desire to continue the cleanups and to also hopefully get other schools involved in adopting other beaches around the island. "I think the kids have become aware that environmental issues are related to their own lives," said Akamine. "I think it is important to link to other groups and communities."

The Hokuzan High School students are looking forward to working with other schools and are also very interested in possibly doing future joint cleanups with American students. Akamine asked that any teachers in the northern area of Okinawa, who wish to either join or start their own adopt a beach project, to call at 0980-54-5433. English is spoken, so all interested American high school teachers are invited to participate.

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