UNICEF visits Gulhi School to talk plastic

The UNICEF Maldives team and Anne Sophie Bonefeld, the Regional Chief of Communication for UNICEF South Asia, talked to students in grades one, nine and ten about reducing single-use plastics in the South Male Atoll.

Elissa Miolene
First grade students at Gulhi School hold up their new reusable water bottles.
UNICEFMaldives/2019/Yasir
17 February 2019

On Thursday, February 8, the UNICEF Maldives team traveled to Gulhi, an island in the Kaafu atoll, to visit students from grades one, nine and ten at Gulhi School. They were joined by Anne Sophie Bonefeld, the Regional Chief of Communication for UNICEF South Asia.

Children from the Gulhi School were one of nearly 10,000 first grade students who received reusable water bottles from UNICEF earlier this year. We distributed these bottles to kickstart the government’s environmental protection campaign, the aim of which is to reduce single-use plastics. We have been able to distribute these bottles – which are BPA free – to every first grade and upper-kindergarten student in the country.

First grade students at Gulhi School hold up their new reusable water bottles.
UNICEFMaldives/2019/Yasir
First grade students at Gulhi School hold up their new reusable water bottles in February 2019.

Initiatives like these are incredibly important for combating environmental degradation. Last year, 104 million plastic bags were imported into the Maldives – and every day, 280,000 plastic water bottles were used in the capital city alone. Over 80 percent of the waste in our oceans are plastic, and 50 percent of that waste is from single-use products including straws, bags and bottles. The ocean is suffocating under the weight of our waste, and by 2050, some studies suggest there will be more plastic in the world’s seas than there are fish.

Children at Gulhi School were very aware of the devastation single-use plastic waste is having on their communities. Many commented on the startling link between plastic in the oceans and plastic in fish – which, in turn, circles back into the stomachs of humans.

“We see it when we go to the sea,” one child said. “And when we’re swimming. Once the sea creatures eat the plastic, they die.”

Students said that adults need to know more about single-use plastics, as many older people are unaware of their destruction. However, changing behaviors is often easier said than done, as many times, families rely on rainfall for a clean water source. Using plastic bottles is often tied to this challenge, along with pre-existing concerns about water safety and quality. UNICEF spoke to the parents of grade one students about these challenges, and spurred dialogue on reducing plastic waste in an affordable, sustainable way.

We also spoke with the grade nine and ten students about what they can do to reduce single-use plastic consumption. Some of these activities included school-wide cleanup events and placing dustbins in public areas.

Anne Sophie Bonefeld, the Regional Chief of Communication for UNICEF South Asia, speaks to secondary students about single-use plastics at Gulhi School.
UNICEFMaldives/2019/Yasir
Anne Sophie Bonefeld, the Regional Chief of Communication for UNICEF South Asia, speaks to secondary students about single-use plastics at Gulhi School.