Tzu Shao Youth Clean Polluted Riverside to Save Our Beautiful Earth

Northwest  |  November 16, 2022
Tzu Shao find lots of trash in the temporary settlement area where the unhoused pitched tents. The rubbish has been exposed to long-term wind and rain such that most are buried in the mound and need careful excavation to dig out. Photo/Vivian Cang

Written by Nancy Ku, Zoe Huang, Winnie Su
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Diana Chang, Andrea Barkley

On the weekend of March 20, 2021, Tzu Chi volunteers from Sacramento, California, held the first Tzu Shao (Tzu Chi youth volunteers) sustainable event in fifteen months. This event was the first gathering since the COVID outbreak. They had it at a riverside park at N9 Mile, American River at Sacramento

The purpose is to educate Tzu Shao on the importance of eco-friendliness and loving our earth. Through the practical action of picking up trash at the park bushes and walkways, they helped to prevent river pollution and support the ecosystems of our riversides. A total of 30 attendees, including Tzu Shao, parents, and Tzu Chi volunteers, were present at the event. 

Environmental protection awareness spread like dandelions in this event as good actions took root in the hearts of all attendees. Eventually, these beliefs will grow into towering trees. Each small effort and time accumulated would lead to an immeasurable impact, which is the meaning of environmental protection.

Protect and Cherish Nature With Love

The American River runs through the city of Sacramento, CA, from east to west. It is known as the River City by the mainstream population. It is also the “second port” commonly known by the early Chinese (San Francisco is a major port). The American River meanders for 119 miles. Rapids, lakes, and reservoirs provide entertainment, electricity, and irrigation for Northern California.

To maintain the cleanliness of both sides of the river, American River Parkway Foundation, ARPF, invited community residents to adopt one-mile units by Riverside park. In addition to protecting the environment and ecology, the goal was to educate against littering. As a result, Sacramento Tzu Chi volunteers adopted the N9 Mile, which they would tidy each season. This time, Tzu Shao gathered the efforts of each individual, which, although not enough to make immense changes, was extremely precious to them.

The river adopted by Tzu Chi volunteers, N9 Mile, is beautiful and dazzling in spring, but rubbish hides under the grass. Photo/Nancy Ku

Careful Arrangements to Prevent the Spread of Virus

Although the pandemic has gradually eased, for safety, Tzu Shao limited daily activities to ten volunteers, and each could only participate for one day. Each family became a team, and the accompanying parents became the team’s leader. During the event, participants wore masks and socially distanced themselves as much as possible. 

To avoid bacterial infection, volunteers carefully cleaned and picked up the tools the day before the event. They washed and sprayed the tools with alcohol disinfectant to keep everything sterile. This act confirmed that everyone could contribute to the community with peace of mind.

Volunteer Nancy Ku leads the event, counting the materials that must be prepared the day before, including cleaning, and disinfecting the tools that volunteers will use during the activities. Photo/Robert Ku

On the day of the event, due to the two consecutive days of light rain, the air was extra fresh. The warm sun in the early morning drove away the chill of early spring. Tzu Shao and their parents had arrived early at the park entrance and lined up. The team received gloves, clips, and garbage bags for cleaning. After everyone received their equipment, the volunteers formally entered the American River Park. They set foot on this beautiful natural land with their tools in talks and laughed together.

With the help of Yzu Shao mothers, the process of allocating cleaning tools goes smoothly. Photo/Nancy Ku

Gathering in Early Spring Inspired Root of Wisdom

A ten-minute walk from the entrance of Riverside park, one could see the gathering point with the Tzu Chi USA logo. First, volunteers took a group photo while everyone maintained their social distance. Then Tzu Shao families started working in two large areas taking care of more dirty areas of the park and river.

The stop sign printed with “Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation” is the starting point of every cleaning activity in the Sacramento community. Photo/Robert Ku

Tzu Shao and their parents walked along the river. The breeze lingered on the tip of their noses, carrying the fragrance of plants and trees. The plants were bathed in the sun and grew densely. Everything seemed beautiful. But if you looked carefully at the grass, you could find all kinds of food packaging bags and beverage bottles. Some garbage hid at the border between roads and plants. Some had long been trapped in the soil, covered by weeds. There was an unhoused community of tent dwellers nearby. Tzu Shao quietly cleaned up the environment to avoid disturbing the resting neighbors.

Under the beautiful green grass, you can always find tucked away treasures. Photo/Vivian Cang

Small mushrooms could be seen everywhere in the humid area covered by wood. Tzu Shao was very excited, thinking they were edible mushrooms for humans. But their father, Tom Zhang, warned them that mushrooms in the wild were not to be eaten since they might be poisonous. At the same time, he took the opportunity to explain why mushrooms grow in such an environment. Because many leaves fall every autumn, they become natural compost and the best food for mushrooms to feast. In addition, mushrooms like humid environments, so they tend to thrive here. Tzu Shao was inspired and learned a precious lesson about the local environment.

Tom Zhang (front right), the father of a Tzu Shao, shares his knowledge of mushrooms in the wild. Photo/Nancy Ku

Volunteers bent down and patiently looked for waste items that were incompatible with the emerald green. Soon, they filled bag after bag with trash. Finally, noon was fast approaching, the wind rose, and the sun became bright in the sky. Although the hard work drained them, Tzu Shao continued to wear a smile on their faces, not just because of the mutual inspiration of their peers but the kindness and gratitude from passers-by. Every sentence, from a simple “Good morning” to “thank you for your contribution,” made the volunteers feel warm and inspired.

Bicycle path by the riverside park is filled with people coming and going, such as runners, walkers, and bikers. They are very friendly and greet the volunteers. Photo/Nancy Ku

A gentleman interested in Buddhism came over to thank the volunteers and expressed his support for environmental protection activities. When he knew that Tzu Shao belonged to a Buddhist organization, he was excited to share that he was reading Lotus Sutra. This connection was a pleasant surprise and touching news to Tzu Chi USA volunteers who were also learning the Lotus Sutra. In such a vast riverside park, fate brought a friend who shared the same interest in scriptures and love for the environment despite speaking a different language.

On the right, the gentleman who is interested in Buddhism comes to express his gratitude. He also asks the volunteers if they were distressed or hurt, consequential to the recent violence across America, when they were serving in the community. Photo/Nancy Ku

Dedicated to Environmental Protection Whole-heartedly

One of Tzu Shao’s parents, Lily Mo, is full of vitality. Bringing along her triplets to the event, the family of four filled with laughter and joy during the trash-picking activity. She said, “I hope Tzu Chi USA can launch more activities of this kind in the future so that we have the opportunity to experience meaningful activities with our children and create happy memories.”

Lily Mo (right) must accompany underage children to participate in activities according to regulations. Brilliant sunshine, cool breeze, and the happiness of her children is contagious as they happily volunteered for the community. Photo/Nancy Ku

Steven Huang, who had participated in several riverside cleaning activities before the outbreak, was pleased to be able to participate in this event. He said, “It’s nice to be out, enjoy nature, and chat with friends. In addition, I think we can protect the environment and ensure that garbage does not pollute the ocean. It is a significant thing.”

Steven Huang (front right) cooperating with his team to ensure all trash is picked up. Photo/Lucy Huang

Each Tzu Shao and family had a different experience with this event, the first time since the COVID outbreak. One of the Tzu Chi USA volunteers, Winnie Su, said after the event, “I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in this event today. I am particularly excited about being able to do my best and serve everyone. I hope this environment can benefit from everyone’s little effort and improve as time progresses.”

What Winnie Su (right), Tzu Shao thinks is a regular trash item ends up being a dirty and rotten shirt. Photo/Nancy Ku

Tzu Shao Kennice Tee was cautious in picking up trash. She did not overlook any small piece of confetti in the grass.

Because I know that if I don't pick it up they will be blown into the river by the wind and rain, and the animals may eat it and get injured, so I want to do my best to pick up all the trash.

Kennice Tee who usually does things very methodologically is no different when it comes to picking up trash. She gathers even the smallest debris and only returns to her team after ensuring no trash is left behind. Photo/Nancy Ku

This event not only helped maintain the ecological environment of riverside parks in the United States but also allowed volunteers to get a rare opportunity to reunite with each other during the pandemic and strengthen their bond. At the end of the event, everyone gathered one mile away from the starting point to break down and count the results. They tallied up items such as cigarette butts, aluminum can, discarded clothes, cigarette, and other data to list one by one according to the requirements of the Park Foundation.

Volunteer Nancy Ku, who was in charge of the event, reminds Tzu Shao to tally the types and quantities of trash while their memory is still fresh. Photo/Vivian Cang

At last, the countdown of “three, two, one” instantly captured everyone’s joyful and contented faces. The two days of activities finally ended amidst fruitful results and laughter.

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