Ministry of Environment and Housing

Littlest heroes capturing hearts for saving their land

In a country whose heroes are usually those who run faster, sing better or earn more, four children are capturing hearts and attention for their heroics of a different kind – protecting the land they will inherit.

They’re the winners of the Ministry of Environment’s Be A Hero program and along with Adelaide Primary, they demonstrated to judges that individual stewardship and action can make a difference.

Meet Olivia Cambridge, 11, Elrine Bongon, 11, Taran Thompson, 7, and Demarco Darville, 4, champions of clean beaches, streets and school grounds.

Olivia and her godbrother Taran led the efforts at St. Cecilia’s Catholic School to keep their school and its surroundings spotless, getting faculty and other students onboard to become trash troopers, taking to Carmichael Road and side streets armed with large garbage bags, disposable gloves and determination. For months last year they kept the area spotless and posted their pics on Be A Hero’s social media pages. Minister of Environment Romauld ‘Romi’ Ferreira visited St. Cecilia’s and applauded their efforts.

“We took this campaign to 19 primary and junior high schools, talking to thousands of students for sim months this year in an effort to change the mindset and the culture of young people,” said Ferreira. “We know that if you get to the age of 35 or 40 and you are throwing a fast food box out your car window, there is little we can do to change your behaviour. But if we can get the message through to the young ones that this is their land, we are just borrowing the use of it, and it is their individual personal responsibility to protect it, then we will make The Bahamas a better, greener, safer place for them and for generations to come.”

And creating respect for the environment of The Bahamas is what the Be A Hero program did, said the minister. Surprisingly, though it was directed at students in New Providence during its first phase with planned expansion to the Family Islands in 2020, there was a young boy in Abaco whose environmental efforts caught everyone’s attention. At 9, Elrine – who had been helping to clean up beaches since he was old enough to give it a thought — began a project collecting plywood large enough to create signs. He sanded, primed and painted words like “Please do not litter. Help keep our Abaco beaches clean.” With his family’s help, he posted the signs on beaches throughout South Abaco, a one-young-man protector of the sand and sea he loved. Elrine took one of his signs to a town council meeting and earned a resounding round of applause.

“Every one of us can make a difference,” said the youngster who is now 11. “After I put the signs up, there was considerably less littering on the beaches in South Abaco.”

Elrine, whose family lost their home in Hurricane Dorian, is now in school in Nassau and wound up in the same 7th grade class as former St. Cecilia student Olivia, now both at Aquinas College where Elrine’s dad, an education administrator, was transferred.

The winning students – The Bahamas’ newest heroes – are making the rounds in their Superman capes, gaining their glory on TV and radio shows for the past two weeks. They’ve been applauded by Shenique Miller on her popular ZNS show, The Conversation. They’ve starred on Island Luck TV on Clint Watson’s Beyond the Headlines show, providing wholesome relief from the often heavy news topics Watson investigates, and little heroes have been celebrated on Tribune stations and Island FM.

The second phase of Be A Hero launched in mid-November, this one with more incentive than ever – up to $10,000 in prize money for the beautification or environmental improvement project or projects by neighborhood associations, civic groups, community organizations, church congregations or others who form a group to compete. Royal Caribbean is sponsoring the Be a Hero community association campaign. Competition is open with all information available throughout #Be A Hero on social media, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat.

Meantime, Olivia and Elrine have taken on a new responsibility – keeping Goodman’s Bay clean.