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Day Camp, Conservation Style: Tzu Chi Teaches Students How to Love the Earth

September 12, 2022
Class demonstrations of recycling trashed tires into pots for flowers and plants through paints to decorate the garden. Photo / Tzu Chi volunteer

Written by Wendy Wang
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Maggie Morgan

The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has a knack for weaving many of its core values into a single event. Sometimes, the lessons show themselves organically, other times the endeavors are purposefully multi-faceted. Two of Tzu Chi’s global footprints fall into the categories of Education and Environmental Protection, so it’s no surprise that an Earth Day event melded the pair together perfectly. 

On April 21, 2022, Tzu Chi invited teachers and students from Ekstrand Elementary School to a one-day, environmental protection camp. The immersive experience included three stations: A. Reduce, B. Reuse, and C. Recycle. Each station held a 45-minute class where students learned to cherish the planet’s resources, grow their awareness, and develop deep gratitude for nature.

Students, teachers, and parents are presented with gifts. Photo /Tzu Chi volunteer

Fun with Philanthropy: Hands-On Learning Fosters Growth

Teachers, students, and parents from Ekstrand Elementary School took two school buses to the Tzu Chi Education Foundation’s Walnut Campus Headquarters. Upon their arrival, Tzu Chi staff and volunteers welcomed them with open arms, excited to start a day of learning. 

The Earth Day Camp started in 2012, is one of Tzu Chi’s favorite ways to connect with the community while teaching children about the importance of environmental protection. Tzu Chi has hosted the one-day event for Ekstrand Elementary School every year since its inception, but the pandemic paused the camp for the past two years. 

The opening ceremony was kicked off by the Director of the Character Education Promotion and Development Office, Yuanjun Luo, and Tzu Chi Primary School Principal, Chet Crane. They welcomed the students, parents, and teachers to the campus and handed out some Tzu Chi hats; they were all in it together. After the ceremony, the students explored the three teaching stations and dove into the immersive lessons.

Thank you for the invitation to participate in the environmental protection one-day camp. The students learned that we only have one earth at the teaching station, and learned how to care for the earth. After returning to school, the students will record their learning experience and let their newfound awareness for environmental protection take root.

Carol Phipps, teacher at Ekstrand Elementary School

The Reduction Station taught students to save water in response to California’s drought crisis. Through games, the teachers listed the amount of water used for brushing teeth, washing dishes, and washing hands, and then asked students to scoop the same amount of water into buckets. By helping students visualize their daily water usage, teachers were able to guide them on how to use it sparingly. This type of teaching style allows young children to better conceptualize how they can help what seems like a “grown-up” problem; even their little hands hold so much power, and they can make a difference. Students learned that taking shorter showers and turning off the faucet when brushing their teeth could make a positive change during uncertain times.

The Reuse Station was set up on the Life Science farm. Situational scenarios helped teachers illustrate the amount of garbage each person produces per day, and the harm waste causes to our environment. Teachers showed students how to make the best use of resources and turn waste into something new through reuse. They invited the learners to be creative, while reminding parents that they could foster parent-child bonding through these meaningful activities. 

Students at the Recycling Station learned all about garbage sorting. Through real-life examples of turning recycled bottles into soft Tzu Chi blankets and clothes, they saw the magic of recycling right before their eyes. The teacher split students into two teams and taught them how to classify paper, plastic, aluminum, iron, and miscellaneous items through a relay race.

There’s Beauty in Everything, Even Trash

Teacher Carol Phipps was very grateful to Tzu Chi for preparing the activities and lunch. She said, “The one-day environmental protection camp was really meaningful. Students learned to sort waste and know what can and cannot be recycled. They understood that water resources are very precious and that many people live in severe water shortages, unable to obtain usable water. The process of transforming waste products was full of creativity. In addition to environmental protection, this event also promotes the creativity of students.”

Students learn the beauty of nature at the Life Science Farm, and also play with drums made of trees that have been blown down by the wind. Photo /

Students painted old tires and planted flowers in them; something that would be considered garbage was suddenly transformed into a unique garden decoration. All it took was a little creativity to turn trash into treasure. The activity was a hit with the kids, and it also won the approval of Ji WangWang Ji, Principal of Ekstrand Elementary School. The eye-catching creation now lives as artwork in the school’s garden. 

Parent Charleen Mejia said: “I also listened to the teacher’s class and learned a lot. I am grateful for the opportunity to come to the Tzu Chi campus. It was a very fulfilling day; the delicious vegetarian lunch was very special, and the children all enjoyed it.” She also thanked Tzu Chi for the gift to form ties, and a beautiful hat.

I am very grateful that such a warm and friendly organization is willing to open its campus to hold a day camp. I am also very grateful to the Tzu Chi volunteers for their efforts. They taught students to implement the concept of environmental protection, caring for the earth, and respect for the earth.

Parent Charleen Mejia

Student Henry Washburn said, “I learned a lot of interesting things today, particularly that recycled bottles could be transformed into blankets, something I had never known. “

Volunteers and Tzu Chi Education Foundation staff serve vegetables. Photo / Tzu Chi volunteer

During lunch, students, teachers, and parents happily munched on vegetarian fare. Some students loved it so much they asked for seconds, raising their hands to get a refill. Parents were pleasantly surprised as they watched their children eating a healthy lunch with such delight.

Bamboo Banks Spread Good Vibes

During the closing ceremony, Judy Chuck, Deputy Executive Director of Tzu Chi Education Foundation, asked the students what they learned at the stations. The students responded enthusiastically, sharing their experiences and new pieces of knowledge. 

Tzu Chi Education Foundation leveraged the opportunity to promote the spirit of Tzu Chi’s Bamboo Bank initiative to students. The team encouraged children to take the Bamboo Bank home or put it in the classroom to store their spare coins. Tzu Chi explained how the small sums from one individual could turn into a big force that supports others in need.

The resumption of the camp symbolized that society was back on track. Wendy Wang, an employee of the Tzu Chi Education Foundation, said, “I am very happy to resume the one-day camp. Ji WangWang Ji, the principal of Ekstrand Primary School, had contacted the character education team at the beginning of the year to express her hope that Tzu Chi would once again invite second-grade students and teachers of Ekstrand Elementary School to participate in the one-day camp.”

The past two years have been shrouded by the pandemic. As such, volunteer Luen Li expressed his gratitude to be able to come out and participate in the event once again. He said, “Today’s environmental protection one-day camp will be echoed by tomorrow’s beautiful Earth, which can make our living environment better. “

As the school bus left Walnut Education Park, the team reflected on a day of fun and learning. Students were now equipped with the tools to change their daily habits to protect the planet, and the joint efforts shown by teachers and parents would only propel their enthusiasm. The camp was a hit, and the seeds of love for Mother Nature had been planted in the next generation.

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