by Mark Friedman, Community Service & Round Square Director
Greetings from Singapore! We arrived here safely this afternoon. The theme of the conference and the pre-conference trip in Bali is environmental sustainability. We arrived in Singapore in the midst of an air pollution crisis. The air in Singapore is thick with gray haze, smoke really, from fires in Indonesia. The pollution was so thick one day last week that they had to close all the schools. Gratefully it’s not that bad right now. The efficiency of Singapore was also on display. It was a long ride to the airport in Denpasar this morning through a sea of motorbikes. Despite the fact that the airport is on one side of Singapore and the Dover Campus of the United World College is on the other, the bus never had to slow on our long cross-town drive.
First thing on Wednesday, we participated in a session on waste management. After discussing how waste is managed in the different places represented by the schools present, we split up into small groups to walk the nearby dirt roads and pick up trash. It was a great way to explore the neighborhood. Bali is full of Hindu temples; there are two within feet of the school and we hadn’t seen them before. There is no trash or recycling pick-up in the Green School’s neighborhood, so some families just toss their trash outside their compound. Amazingly, the Green School has its own recycling center where people can bring items. We brought our trash there and sorted it into one of the 20+ categories of items they recycle. At the end, there was only a little that had to go to a landfill.
Then each student got to climb a coconut tree. Almost every Athenian student made it to the top! (And don’t worry, the students were belayed and wearing helmets.)
Lunch was a special meal and we were served a traditional Balinese feast. Bamboo mats covered the floor and large banana leaves were laid end-to-end. On the banana leaves was spread lots of great food. We sat on the mats and ate with our hands. We were told that this is the style of dining for a feast where everyone is considered equal, a significant event in a society with a caste system.
One of the highlights of our time in Bali was participating in the Balinese martial art of mepantingan that afternoon. We heard we were ‘mud wrestling’ and dressed appropriately. But we began with no mud in sight, standing in a circle on the field. Two Balinese men led us in simple martial arts stances and movements, with some vigorous call-and-response chanting—and a healthy dose of laughter. They taught us a couple of moves and had various members of our group come out and practice on them—or on each other. Then we walked over to a little oval amphitheater nearby, whose floor was covered in six inches of muddy water. And they led the group in a similar version of exercises there—except it meant getting wet and muddy and getting others wet and muddy. Various students wrestled with the instructors or with each other. What a blast!
The late afternoon and evening? The students had been working in small groups discussing issues such as consumerism, overpopulation, and waste management. In the late afternoon, each group wrote a shadow puppet show about their theme and cut out puppets to accompany their show. And the evening activity was watching the ten puppet shows, which were both serious and funny.
We ate breakfast at the airport in Bali this morning and reflected on our time there. The students talked about how part of what made their week in Bali so great was that all the Athenian students tried their enthusiastic best at every activity—and they wanted to bring that spirit back to their daily lives in California. They said that being around the delegations from the other schools made them appreciate even more the respectful relationships they have with their teachers at Athenian. And they were excited to keep exploring environmental issues having already spent a week thinking about them.
We’re excited to begin the Conference now that we are in Singapore. More to come!