Bye bye plastic bags

Transformational learning – changing habits and attitudes on a big scale

The term transformational learning commonly emerges in CAS.

Students can often cite moments and experiences wherein they have changed and in doing so they become lucidly aware of the need to change the behaviours and the attitudes of others.

Teachers and parents are privileged to witness similar ‘evolutions’ in their classes and their children.

Three years ago sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen were sitting in a class in the Green School in Ubud Bali. They were then aged 10 and 12.

They relate that they were inspired by this class where the focus of discussion was on heroic people such as Mahatma Gandhi and Princess Di.

“We sat on the couch brainstorming – ‘What can we do as kids on the island of Bali?” They knew rubbish was a big problem in Bali but it seemed insurmountable. And then they learned Rwanda banned polyethylene bags in 2008. “If one of the poorest countries does that, Bali should get on its game,” Melati says. “We don’t have to wait until we are older to make a difference.”

And what a difference they are making.

In pursuit of a goal to have plastic bans banned on their island these young ladies have lead a movement to shift the habits, the behaviours and the attitudes of others in using plastic. Calling their movement bye bye plastic bags and by starting with a local focus before going global, these young ladies aim to gather 1 million signatories on a petition to rid their island of plastic.

Last September the girls presented a powerful TED talk in London.

“In Bali we generate 680 cubic metres of plastic a day. That’s about a 14-storey building,” Isabel says in the TED talk. “And when it comes to plastic bags less than five percent get recycled.”

And to their credit, responses to the huge problem with which they identified is in itself monumental. Their campaigning and quest for signatories to their petition started locally but along the way they had an out-of-the-box idea. They decided lead their teams into Ngurah Rai international airport  greet the thousands of visitors who daily come to Bali but with a traditional greeting and a new twist,

“Welcome to Bali,” the sisters chant, hands pressed together in the Balinese om swastiastu greeting gesture. “Do you have any plastic bags to declare?”1457747178602

This bold initiative itself was controversial and in gaining permission to do this they met with Governor of Bali, Made Mangku Pastika. The Governor himself was at first a doubter on the girls’ ideas. Only a few years ago he had attributed monsoonal rains as the main cause of for the tons of rubbish that routinely wash onto Bali’s beaches. He believed that it was a “natural phenomenon….a  problem that is not anyone’s fault, but is due to a natural phenomenon that routinely occurs.”

He is now convinced that there is a solution and he himself has changed his mind and his policies.

In March 2015 (the girls) received a letter from the Bali provincial government environmental agency saying Bali would be plastic bag free by 2018. It was a triumphant moment. But the sisters aren’t resting on their laurels. They are now working on an educational booklet, aimed at elementary school students, packed with information on how to make your own bags, waste management and pollution. “Change doesn’t happen if no one is educated,” Melati says.

I invite you to read more, be inspired, and reflect on your potential to transform……Unknown-1

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