Ryan Dagur – A Catholic school run by the Canossian Sisters in Timor-Leste has launched a green school initiative aimed at, among other things, reducing single-use plastic waste that is inundating the Southeast Asian nation.
The Dili-based Santa Madalena de Canossa School launched the program on Oct. 25 in collaboration with the Secretariat of State for Environment and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Tourism for All Project.
Sister Guilermina Marcal, provincial of the Canossian Sisters in Timor-Leste, said the program was a way to educate young people, their parents and the wider community about how to create a healthy environment.
"This school has 5,000 students and we see that every day it can produce 3,000 to 4,000 plastic bottles," she said.
The initiative also aims to minimize paper usage, save water and electricity. The nun hopes that these concrete actions will address the environmental problems.
Representatives of teachers, students and parents signed a declaration to establish a school environment club, undertake conservation activities and work to extend the green school model to other schools across the country.
They also agreed on a set of school rules in which every school member shall dispose of waste responsibly by separating organic and inorganic waste, packing food and drinks in reusable containers and drinking water provided by the school.
This year the Catholic-majority country has experienced serious environmental problems including flash floods and landslides on Easter Sunday due to tropical cyclone Seroja, which caused the worst flooding in 40 years. It killed 45 people and affected more than 30,000 households.
Harold Carey, USAID's economic growth officer, underlined the importance of sustainable efforts in responding to environmental issues. The Timor-Leste government had launched a zero-plastic policy but the understanding of environmental issues was not widespread in all sectors of society, he added.
"Like many places in the world, Timor-Leste is inundated with single-use plastic waste that is consumed locally or washed up on its beaches. This is unsightly, unhealthy and makes the country vulnerable to extreme weather events such as flooding," the state news agency Tatoli quoted him as saying.
The school's initiative was important to lay the foundations for sustainable ecotourism. "Environmental protection is one of the pillars of national tourism policy," Carey said.
USAID has provided 5,000 water bottles and bags for children and teachers as part of an effort to reduce daily plastic consumption.