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Saving Reefs and Servicing Communities at British International School

A whale with trash spilling out its busted belly, a seagull with feathers soaked in sticky oil, horses galloping in terror: a group of students circled around a computer peer over images of sculptures, searching for inspiration.

These members of the British International School’s Club CURE were preparing to make their own statue using repurposed garbage to motivate their peers to cut down on plastic waste. The activity is reflective of the school’s sustainability efforts and overall dedication to community service.

Students Ratul and Sagarika Mangal are avid scuba divers; when they moved to Vietnam, they were horrified by the state of the coral reefs compared with what they had seen elsewhere. They explained to Saigoneer that four billion people worldwide get their food from reefs and three billion depend on them for their livelihoods. The ecosystems are also crucial in keeping cities safe as healthy ones can absorb 97% of tidal waves, so letting the reefs die out is simply not an option.

They decided to do something about the issue and worked with diving companies in Nha Trang to sink an old boat and group of ceramic pots to serve as artificial homes for indigenous species. Not content with what they could accomplish on their own, they decided to reach out to their classmates at BIS HCMC and founded Club CURE last year. While initially envisioned as a reef-centric organization, the club has evolved to take on a broader identity, concerning itself with using general ocean health to educate the community about broader themes of waste reduction and the elimination of single-use plastic goods. They recently presented at Holistic Fair 2019 and redesigned the campus recycling instructions.

“Only one plastic fork? Last year there would have been hundreds,” art teacher Denise Clarke exclaimed when asking what trash they’d collected for their sculpture; Club CURE’s current focus. The progress is a testament to the work of Club CURE and the three other environmentally-focused volunteer clubs: Global Goals, which works on meeting sustainability goals and transforming old plastic items into usable materials with Precious Plastic machines; Greenr Minds, which implements tangible changes on campus and educates local Vietnamese schools; and Uniform Upcycling, which transforms old school clothing into aprons, cup holders and gifts.

The four clubs all meet as a committee and are a major reason why on our most recent visit to campus, Saigoneer didn’t spot a single plastic cup: not in the guard stand, lunch room or teachers’ room. The school have the ambitious goal to eliminate all single-use plastic across their three campuses by the end of 2020. They have already started on their journey with a ban on single-use plastic at school events, the introduction of reusable plates and cutlery in the cafeteria as well as reaching further afield to local businesses in District Two to entice them to switch to bamboo straws and phase out plastic bags.

The four clubs are all optional, but environmental themes enter the normal curriculum as well. In addition to regular lessons, the school celebrates special events such as Earth Day during which the cafeteria serves only vegan food, students plant trees, study the food chain and write to local businesses about changing harmful policies.

Exemplifying the school’s emphasis on self-motivation and risk-taking, the students in Club CURE decide what activities to pursue and the logistical details of scheduling, teacher aid, and even collaboration with outside groups like the diving companies in Nha Trang. These expectations permeate all the school’s clubs as they serve as a training ground for the type of responsibility and agency young adults need to thrive in the real world.

In addition to the four related to the environment, BIS has a range of other clubs related to community service for children aged 2 and above, alongside year group projects. For example, one group works with students at a school for the hearing impaired, another teaches local Vietnamese children about road safety and provides bike helmets, and others visit elderly homes, cancer wards or assist in providing books for the blind. Reem Mehanna, the school’s Community Service Manager, explains that these activities are instrumental in giving students a “window into the world” that exist beyond the bubble of their family, school or neighborhood.

Many of the students select community as their core project for the CAS element of the IBDP curriculum, choosing to devote more time and energy to service work. More than an add-on to a university application, these experiences help shape who the students become. Reem shared that she recently learned a long-since graduated student still makes regular visits to the foster home for the physically disabled where she volunteered years prior. Kisum Chan a BIS alumnus has recently been awarded US$1 million to launch his social enterprise with the goal of ending food poverty in South East Asia.

“Yes, it had changed a lot, the fish were actually coming back,” Ratul said with a grin when asked if they’d been back to see the progress of the constructed reef in Nha Trang. A few fish and budding coral surrounding an old boat may appear tiny in the grand scheme of things but those are the small acts that add up to result in a profound change in the world and for an individual’s future. The service programs at BIS keep this macro view in mind as they prepare students for a lifelong commitment to community involvement.


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BIS HCMC, SECONDARY CAMPUS | 246 Nguyen Van Huong Street, D.2, HCMC



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