Maple Leaf student raises $40,000 for oil spill clean-up

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A backhoe helps in the clean-up of an oily substance along the coast in Tobago. – Photo courtesy TEMA

THE MAPLE Leaf International School has given $40,000 worth of supplies to the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) to assist with the oil spill rehabilitation effort on the south-western coast of the island.

The hefty donation was made possible through the efforts of Tyla Cooper, a grade ten student at the Petit Valley school.

Cooper met with TEMA director Allan Stewart at the agency’s operations centre in Bacolet on March 16. She was also given a brief tour of the facility.

At a news conference, Cooper said when she had heard about the oil spill more than five weeks ago, she immediately wanted to assist.

“My school is very community-oriented. They always encourage us to give back to the community in any way we can and they try to support us in anything we intend to do for a community.

“So when I heard about the oil spill, my first thought was, ‘How can I get my community involved?’ and seeing how my school always looks to care about the community, I chose to get my school involved.”

Cooper, who was accompanied by her mother Aritha Phillips-Cooper, said the staff and students readily supported the idea.

She said, “It started with an email I sent to my principal and vice-principal and they reached out to the rest of the school council and a couple of the teachers who organise things. From there, it was on school announcements every day for two weeks to get people involved as well as teachers rallying students and encouraging them to donate.”

Cooper said approximately $40,000 in supplies was donated to assist the clean-up teams along the coastline.

Among the items donated were medical-grade gloves, protective body suits, filtered masks, and disposable overalls.

“We would also like to request from the community of Trinidad and Tobago more boots, medical grade gloves, chemical gloves, more protective overalls, masks and baby oil to clean the animals.”

Cooper said she got the opportunity to visit the affected villages.

“I looked at the oil in the water. I was so shocked to see how bad it was. And even before I came, I saw the picture of the beaches and how they were completely flooded with oil and it really worried me. I was quite scared. “

Asked how she felt to have met Stewart and other members of his team, Cooper said, “It feels kind of surreal to me like I didn’t expect any of this to happen. I was obviously hoping that I could make an impact. But I didn’t think that people would have taken me seriously. I really appreciate that.”

She added, “I honestly did not expect to get so much from everyone. So I was very surprised and impressed to see how much people cared about the incident and how much they chose to give back.”

Stewart said he was moved by Cooper’s gesture.

“We have recognised the importance of persons understanding the length and breadth of the impact on our eco-system,” he said.

“I was moved and felt compelled to share this platform with a representative from the school because it is important for us to understand that whatever benignity that comes our way, it means a whole lot in terms of that type of love for nature and mankind and to help with that kind of relief to our population, to understand the diverse way in which our eco-systems are being impacted.”