Rafaella Thompson loves the beach; she especially loves visiting a clean beach. It disheartens her when people use the beach that she lives near, and leave it littered. With her parents in tow, and armed with gloves and trash bags, twice per week over the past year, the pre-teen has taken to cleaning up the beach she frequents. One of her main goals is to do her part in the global initiative to reduce or eliminate the consumption of single-use plastics, which is gaining momentum as plastic pollution impacts waters and marine life as well as the food chain and public health.
“My campaign is to ensure that the Coral Harbour Beach is kept free of plastics. I stroll the beach with my parents and collect all of the plastic products – and even other debris found on our beach and deposit them into the bins provided,” said the 11-year-old sixth grade student at Xavier’s Lower School.
“I did it to save the marine life.”
Research has shown that the fish and shellfish that people consume are suffering from the omnipresence of plastic.
“I heard that fish swallow the plastic, and we eat fish,” said Rafaella.
The sixth-grade student said doing the cleanup makes her feel good, but, at the same time, she hates that she has to engage in the cleanup effort, because it shows the nastiness of other people and makes her feel like she lives in a “filthy country”.
She has picked up plastic bottles, forks, cans and even baby diapers. And she says while her lone effort against plastics may seem minute to some people, she knows she’s helping the seabirds and marine animals that can’t speak for themselves, as well as her own health and the health of other Bahamians.
“If only the many persons who frequent our lovely beaches for picnics, parties, exercise or just to relax would clean up after themselves, our beaches would be so beautiful. It is my wish one day that more [children] like me, along with their families, would start something similar, if only for the sea creatures who cannot speak. I am honored to be doing this small part for my country with the support of my parents,” said Rafaella, the daughter of Raphael Thompson, a numeracy co-ordinator at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, and Remelda Thompson, a teacher at Yellow Elder Primary School.
While Rafaella’s initiative is a good one, if no one littered, there would not be a need to have more children like her picking up after others.
In fact, Rafaella’s forays to the beach did not start out with her going to pick up trash. Her father would take her to the beach where they would study words together. That morphed into him throwing words at her to spell while she collected the trash from her beloved beach, according to Rafaella’s mother.
“It keeps her off-guard. It’s a tool he uses to distract her as she learns her words, and educating her about the dangers of plastics in the water,” Remelda Thompson said.
By nature, the mother said Rafaella is a tidy child.
“She always says, ‘Mommy why do they have to leave it so dirty? ’I’ve had to tell her that’s how some people are. She said she doesn’t want to be like that. At school she’s always sweeping the floor, picking up stuff, or making sure the board is clean and the desks are in perfect rows. That’s just the type of person she is – she’s just a tidy person.”
While Rafaella’s mother doesn’t pick up trash as often as her daughter, she says she is proud of Rafaella, and that her husband assists by carting trash bags for Rafaella when they get too heavy for her to lift. The one thing she said she’s been most disgusted by was her daughter has to clean up after adults every week, and pick up disposable diapers.
“Parents would take the children into the water in the [disposable diapers], and when they come out of the water, they would take the [disposables] off their children and instead of putting them in the bins, they would leave them on the sand, or even bury them in the sand.”
Her mother would also hold out her daughter as an example for her peers.
Soft-spoken Rafaella is also the reigning Archdiocesan Spelling Contest winner, having won the 51st competition after 25 rounds, spelling the word “junco” (a North American songbird) correctly, then going on to spell “patriarch” to secure the title.
Rafaella is also a smart kid in the classroom and has a constant honor roll presence with a 91 percent average for both grades three and four. She told her parents that she was aiming for a 3.50 GPA (grade point average) for the Christmas term.
Still young, she aspires to be a pediatrician.
As Rafaella does her part to rid her neighborhood beach of plastic pollutants and other debris, a number of countries have banned several forms of plastic products. The Bahamas has signed onto the “Clean Seas Campaign”, launched by the United Nations in 2017, which aims to engage governments, the general public and the private sector in the fight against marine pollution. Minister of Environment and Housing Romauld Ferreira has announced that, in an effort to simultaneously address marine pollution and waste management, single-use plastics such as shopping bags, food utensils, straws and Styrofoam food containers will be banned by 2020.
“My campaign is to ensure that the Coral Harbour Beach is kept free of plastics each week,” said Rafaella. “It is my wish one day that more [children] like me, along with their families would start something similar. I am honored to be doing this small part for my country with the support of my parents. This is my first step towards making my country the place my parents and grandparents used to talk about, because every little bit counts.”