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Oct 4, 2019

by Natalie Edwards '14

On Saturday, September 21st, twenty-four St. Stephen’s students and two teachers rose early in the morning to join Legambiente, an environmental organization, for a beach clean up at the Lido di Ostia.

The student volunteers were motivated by a shared love for the environment and frustration with the prevalence of littering in Rome. As tenth grader Sofia Peng explains, “I never realized the importance of our environment until a couple of years ago; I observed the process of every one of Rome’s streets and parks filling up with all kinds of trash piled up on each other. Just a clean-up by the beach, or picking up a plastic bottle by the road of Circo Massimo matters. Every small step matters because it builds up to influence and change.” For these students, participating in the beach clean up was about more than beautifying a portion of the beach, it was an opportunity to educate beachgoers and to participate in the global climate movement.

When the group arrived, they were met by Legambiente volunteers armed with gloves, trash pickers, and biodegradable trash bags.  The students kept a quick pace; according to ninth-grader Riccardo di Fabio, “we ventured into the dunes divided into groups, everyone had a specific job. We picked up stuff from the biggest of bottles to the smallest pieces of paper and we pretty much cleared the area between the beach and the road.” Sofia Peng recalls being struck by the abundance of trash spoiling what was otherwise a beautiful beach: “the area was covered with unique vegetation, you could also observe lizards crawling in the shadows. Yet, old plastic sheets, candy, and ice cream wrappers stuck out between plants and rocks.” Eleventh grader Edoardo Altieri recalls being “overwhelmed” by the volume of trash. In his words, “the most uncanny part was that there were several trash cans and recycling bins placed at the very center of the beach.” Sofia Peng made a similar observation, noting that, “loads of garbage wastes were just thrown to the ground by uneducated people.” When passers by stopped to observe the group, the students happily explained their mission.

Just as thousands of small, seemingly insignificant actions add up to a beach littered with thousands of bottles and cigarette butts, the three hours these students dedicated to the clean up resulted in a completely cleared section of the beach. “We had a lot of fun,” recalls Riccardo di Fabio, “but the most important part was doing something helpful for the earth… We felt really good after and [it] was a wonderful experience I would surely repeat.”

Riccardo, Sofia, Edoardo and their classmates are evidence of a rising concern among today’s students for the environment. They realize that they will, in their lifetimes, be directly affected by climate change. Participating in a beach clean up is one way to make a difference. The students who participated in the beach clean up shared their experience at an all-school assembly last week. For Sofia, there was one moment in particular that stood out to her: “I heard a statement made by a student [at the assembly], he said a phrase that sounded so bold and distinctive, ‘Nobody’s going to clean the trash for us, if we don’t!’ This is the reality. This is what pushed people to act towards our fading future and the reason behind this activity.”

A graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, Natalie Edwards double majored in Art History and Archaeology and Economics. Natalie attended St. Stephen's as a boarder in 11th grade, and later returned to Bologna for a semester abroad during university. Natalie is fluent in Italian and is currently a Residential Assistant in the St. Stephen's Boarding Department and a Communications Office Assistant.