When children receive food, candy, or drinks in disposable packaging, they are confused about what to do with the wrappers. Littering is not intuitive. It is learned by imitating adults who give children permission by their own behavior of littering.
We recently joined a group of US college students to help clean up a schoolyard in an impoverished town in Sinaloa Mexico. When we first arrived, we broke out rubber gloves to pick up the garbage. The kids eagerly joined in, grabbing the gloves and putting them on to help. To our surprise, however, they dropped the bags the gloves came in on the ground.
Picking up litter was a brand new experience for them. It was not part of their culture and they had not learned it from their families or teachers. Nevertheless, all the children enthusiastically joined in, and within hours, we had picked up 20 bags of garbage, transforming the schoolyard from a veritable junkyard into a showpiece of cleanliness.
We then celebrated with the traditional piñata and the kids all lined up to take a whack at it. Finally came the big moment when the piñata burst open to the squeals of the kids descending on the candy as it sprayed out wildly onto the ground. Within seconds, hundreds of pieces of candy were picked up and stashed in pockets, shirts and skirts.
We watch as child after child unwrapped the candies, popped them in their mouths, and then eventually let the wrappers fall to the ground we all has so painstakingly cleaned.
One little girl held the wrapper out to us as if to say, “What do I do with this?” We looked around and noticed that the school had no trash cans! We scrambled around and finally found one old beat up, split plastic garbage can and lined it with a plastic bag. Some of the volunteers ran around picking up the recently dropped litter, depositing it in the can to demonstrate to the kids that this was the place for trash. Others tried to catch the kids before or just after they dropped the trash and asked them to use the receptacle, giving them enthusiastic praise when they did. Eventually the mothers of the children began to join in encouraging the kids to do the right thing. By the end of the event, everyone was seeking out the receptacle and using it, but it took a few more steps that the volunteers had anticipated.
As we were preparing to leave, we found out that when children were “bad,” they were “punished” by their teachers by having to pick up trash. So, the teachers and parents also needed a good example to follow. The volunteers returned a couple days later with several garbage cans for the school, and encouraged the teachers to celebrate cleanliness by making clean up a matter of civic pride rather than punishment.
The volunteers originally thought that the clean-up itself would have a lasting effect, that the kids would be proud of their now-clean schoolyard, and would refrain from littering. We were not prepared for their apparent inability to associate the clean-up project with their future behavior. The kids needed to realize that they were the ones who were littering, be told when they were in the act, and shown a constructive alternative. And they needed adults to set a good example.
We hope this town’s experience with the volunteers will make a difference in the school children’s future behavior, their parents’ direction, and their teachers’ leadership. Feliz Navidad to one and all!
Who We Are
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.
Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.
They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.
Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at www.consumerbrandbuilders.com.
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