5-25 Get Out of the Way and Let Them Build: Boat Race Part 2

The inside of a rain tank makes for a three-men-in-a-tub style boat.

Monday morning the boat race construction was supposed to start. I showed up at work and started bothering tutor after tutor about who was going to be on their boat, who was going to pick up the garbage, where they were going to build their boat. I was handing out transport money like a pusher peddling drugs.
Styrofoam mixed with gasoline makes glue.  Or Napalm.  You know, whatever.

Tuesday I went to the Peace Corps office and did my PCV Leader work.

Wednesday I showed up at 8:15. Three different people told me the tutors were looking for me. Each one I found asked for more transport money and told me the plans they had for their boat. The Youth Center agreed to fund the materials. GIZ, a German government organization with a name about a sentence long, agreed to fund the transport for the boats and the litter clean ups. By Friday, I had tutors and youth coming to me to ask for more tape, more rope or just to show me the boats.
The next week was all about boat building. A lot of the tutors canceled normal classes to build boats or stayed late and worked their days off to build their boats. It was incredible to watch the Youth Center work on the project as a group.
Lots of bottles make things float.

I challenged them to be creative. They met my challenge. The music group built a boat around an old refrigerator. The computer class built their’s using nothing but bottles, glued together with glue made from gasoline and styrofoam (also possibly the base to napalm) and packaging tape. The literacy class used the insulation from an ice chest for the floor of their boat and made a frame from leftovers from building the set in the theater. Hiphop and the Girl’s Group used bamboo they got from a torn down nakamal as the structure of their boats. The Fire Squad used shipping crates and stuffed their kerosene bottles in between for flotation. The Sport team wrapped bottles in old goal nets. Nutrition sewed a sail out of broken umbrellas.

Tearing apart an ice chest to use the styrofoam for a boat bottom.

By Thursday afternoon, I was mostly convinced we were going to have boats that could finish the race. I was also pretty convinced we were going to have boats that were not going to finish the race. In fact, I was not-so-secretly hoping we’d have 2 or 3 boats finish and 2 or 3 break apart spectacularly or capsize in the middle of the race. I’m all about the comedic effect.

Friday morning, I had to chase youth away from their boats to get them to attend the weekly youth meeting. I used the meeting to explain how the day was going to run and remind them that if their boat broke, they had to retrieve all of the pieces. We were supposed to be showing good environmental management, not polluting the ocean.

5-25 The Intersection of South Minneapolis, Vanuatu and Climate Change Awareness

Interviewing at Radio Vanuatu to promote the race.
My childhood in South Minneapolis included things like the Mayday Parade and the Milk Carton Boat Race. I created a crossover between the creative, constructive process I learned while building boats of milk cartons and parade floats out of paper mache and this tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was pretty fantastic.
My job at Wan SmolBag is outreach about the environment and waste disposal. On a small island, landfills are a pretty unappealing concept, however there is no trash incinerator to take care of the rubbish a different way. We have a new metal recycling place, but that doesn’t help with the plastic bags, plastic bottles, glass and paper waste. So, I’ve decided that my job needs to be teaching reuse and creative thinking about garbage.
Here is where the Milk Carton Boat Race comes into this story. From when I was 6 or 7-years old, my family built boats made of milk cartons and raced them on Lake Nokomis against other equally questionable seafaring vessels. We saved milk cartons, milk cartons which would have been thrown in the trash, for months before the race. Then we used them as the building blocks and flotation devices for our boats.
I took the idea of boat racing on things that would go into the garbage a step further. I opened it up to any form of garbage and put in a rule that they couldn’t buy anything from the store. I looked around online and found other people with the same ideas. I took pictures of their boats and showed them to the staff at Wan SmolBag. Then I asked if they were interested in a boat race. They said yes.
The public schools here run on a trimester system. Between each term there is a 2 week break. School break causes a disruption in the population of the youth center with regulars going out to the island to visit family and students coming down with their friends. I suggested that we should do our boat race during school break so as to not disrupt the classes any more than they otherwise would be. That was one week before the term break.
I spent that week requesting funding and sponsorship from local organizations, interviewing to promote the race, writing and re-writing budgets and generally doing all the behind-the-scenes work these things take. On Friday, I presented the boat race concept to the youth at the Friday meeting. Then I forced them to sign up. Every youth I saw that day, I made sign up with a team. At the end of the day I had under 50 youth signed up for 6 teams and I was pretty convinced it was all going to fall apart under me.