By Francis Abner Abanilla, RC Metro San Pedro D3820

I serve as the School Director of San Lorenzo School in the City of San Pedro in Laguna Province, PR. Our school offers basic education from preschool to Grade 12, and was invited in 2019 to become a member of the Global Schools Program. This helped strengthen my resolve to educate the youth and get them involved in conserving the environment and contributing to the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.  The students have embraced the call to become leaders, adding their energy and vision to the habitat restoration work which is picking up momentum in our region.

Philippine students pitch in to restore watersheds

Student Alfonso Reyes planting mangroves

The San Lorenzo School students have joined a growing collaboration between local governments and community stakeholders including Rotarians. I have served as President, Youth Service Co-Chair, and Vocational Service Chair for the Rotary Club of Metro San Pedro, and have been working with regional watershed restoration efforts since 2015, when I was invited to help reactivate the San Pedro River Basin Council as part of the efforts of the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) to improve the water quality of the Laguna Lake. The lake is fed by 24 sub-basins including that of our San Pedro River.  We formed a new council with the help of the city councilors and stakeholders in San Pedro. I was elected the Council President at the time, serving for two years. We worked with the Laguna Lake Development Authority to form the San Pedro Sub-basin Water Quality Management Area group with six other jurisdictions that the river passes through before draining out into the Laguna Lake.

Working with the Rotary Clubs, the City Environment and Natural Resource Office (CENRO), Rotaract Clubs, and other stakeholders, we are convincing more students – including from other schools – to get involved in environmental cleanup drives, waste segregation, coastal-rivers-lakeshore cleanup drives, tree planting, and tree nurturing activities.

Fun Run: take-home lessons plus take-home trees: One of the environmental cleanup projects that we initiated before the pandemic is a Fun Run for the Environment, a 3km-5km-10km race that we organized with our Parent-Teacher Association and the CENRO. Participants have to help clean up the race route by picking up trash along the way. Once they reach the finish line, they have to sort the trash they’ve collected into the right bins, to develop the habit of identifying the type of waste and its proper disposal. The race winners were awarded “living trophies” in the form of fruit-bearing tree seedlings which they can plant in their own backyard.

We also conducted an education campaign with the participants and parents after the race, teaching them how plastic residual wastes harm the environment and how these things can be transformed into useful aggregates for mixing concrete, or making bricks, bags, and so on.

Philippine students restoring watersheds

Students sorting trash collected during the Fun Run, cheered on by San Lorenzo School Director Francis Abner Abanilla

The pandemic interrupted our ability to get more students involved, but the Rotarians and Rotaractors of San Pedro were busy planting seedlings or saplings of hardwood trees such as caballero (fire tree), narra, acacia, bamboo and mangrove on the slopes of the Sierra Madre mountain range, the riverbanks of Pagsanjan, Laguna, and the coastline of Batangas.

Now that the pandemic scare is dying down, we are beginning to get the youth involved once again in these activities. The most recent outdoor activity our Club has carried out with the San Lorenzo School Interactors is the cleanup of a portion of a beach along the coastlines of San Juan, Batangas. The damaging effects of human activity on this uninhabited portion of the coast are clearly visible. We educated the students on the importance of mangroves in protecting coastlines from erosion and providing a better habitat for marine and terrestrial life. Interactors and Rotarians also planted 2,000 mangrove seedlings along the beaches in this area.

Offsetting our Clubs’ emissions. Our District has joined the regional collaboration by combining tree-planting with a new effort to understand and offset our own carbon emissions.  Our 2021-2022 District Governor Angelita Sunio launched a new tree-planting campaign, “Rise Up Sierra Madre”, in support of the government’s reforestation of the Sierra Madre mountain range. We’re using a carbon footprint calculator customized for the Philippine setting in order to determine the number of trees that we need to plant per club to offset the club’s carbon emissions. Our club’s offset contribution is $555.00 which will fund 2,000 seedlings to be propagated and planted there. 2022-2023 District Governor Gina Sy has expanded our environmental work by launching a district-wide action, “A Gift to our Shore”, to plant over 5,000 bamboo in partnership with the City of San Pedro and Laguna Province Environment and Natural Resource Offices.

Rotarian Millione Rodelas planting bamboo. She served as 2021-22 Youth Director for RC Metro San Pedro.

I am very grateful that ESRAG Communications Director Laurie Zuckerman presented a talk during the RYLA plenary session on Rotary’s environmental work, speaking by Zoom from the United States. As a member of the Global Schools Program, we are excited to connect our students with active environmental sustainability advocates around the world to help them gain more insights from the innovations and success stories of people who deeply care for our environment. We are growing students’ impact by cultivating the right habits, perceptions, and values that will help the present and future generation in our community to responsibly contribute to the well-being of the planet that we all live from and share together.