Last week my daughter, a first-grader, shared with me that one of the kids in her class had "thrown a beer bottle" at another during recess. I pressed her for more information, and was told that the whole playground was covered in garbage. I knew that her school was in a run-down neighborhood, but had just assumed someone at the school would take on the job of keeping the playground beer-bottle free.
I considered what to do. Write a letter? Cowardly. Talk to the PTA president? I'd probably have to get all sorts of permission and it might take forever. Complain to the principal? She is a woman who never looks like she has time to eat, let alone talk to me about the playground problem. None of those were real "get-something-done" options.
So I decided to just go clean the place myself without asking anybody permission. I invited one of the other moms from the class, the kind of person who gets things done and asks questions later, and we showed up one day at the school with plastic bags, ready to take the place on.
I was concerned that we'd be stopped at the office, or that we'd see a sign I hadn't noticed before: "No unauthorized helping allowed." But there was none. When my friend told one secretary what we were doing, I cringed, ready to receive a reprimand for not going through the proper channels. Instead, she said, "that's fantastic! It's about time somebody went out there and cleaned up!" (I know you're wondering what the janitor is doing all day...and so am I...but that is a different post.)
When we got out to the playground, the whole first grade happened to be out playing. The teachers waved at us, and as we started picking up garbage around the fence, a few students came by to ask us what we were doing. Before long, we had about 20 kids fanning out in all directions searching for trash, and returning to put it in the plastic bags. They were beaming with pleasure! One girl screamed, "this is FUN!!!" and another boy yelled, "I think I got the MOST of ANYBODY!" With the kids' help, we cleaned up a huge area in about 20 minutes. The teachers thanked us sincerely, and my friend and I had a great time talking about all sorts of things while we were working.
It occurred to me as we were doing this important but neglected job that perhaps the most effective mission projects are those where folks see a need and just do something themselves to make it right. Furthermore, I am sure that it would have taken up alot more of my own energy to complain about the junk in the playground than it did to just clean it up myself. I'm not saying we should take on all the problems of the world without help, but I am saying that if there seems to be a need, and we are capable of meeting that need, then we should act first and ask permission later.
It is also worth noting that a bunch of 6 and 7 year olds left their playground to help us, and had a blast doing it. This tells me that working together to improve our surroundings and take care of the earth are concepts that kids not only can understand, but that they can enjoy. They probably had almost as much fun as I did.