On a blazing hot day, eager exhibitors hurried across the fairgrounds, where they were adding the final touches to the myriad of booths and displays. Flocks of anxious kids arrived proudly swinging their bag of recyclables in one hand and dragging their parents with the other hand to an eye-catching van used by storm chasers. After surveying the crowd and the layout of the fair, I was overwhelmed with a sense of relief; three months of planning had paid off for us. With no rain in the forecast and everything in place, the Green Fair was ready to begin on the grounds of the National University of Pedro Henriquez Urena (UNPHU) in the Dominican Republic.
Last summer, U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo's "Green Team" celebrated the third annual Green Fair, which attracted more than 850 adults and children and brought together the public and private sector to address eco-friendly practices and "green" initiatives. During the opening ceremony, Ambassador Raul Yzaguirre, the Rector of UNPHU, and Dr. Bautista Rojas Gómez, the new Minister of the Environment, emphasized the important role that each individual plays in improving the environment and highlighted the successes of public-private partnerships in their country.
Each person, organization, and community must do their part to keep the environment in good shape for future generations. Accordingly, the fair showcased 37 exhibitions, including an artisans' market; a green market with fresh, organic products; a solar-powered house; free veterinary services for pets; a film festival featuring environmentally-themed documentaries; and a stirring nature photo exhibit, entitled "A Glimpse of Your Planet." Mrs. Yzaguirre and Lucia Amelia Cabral, a local author, engaged the kids with animated readings of environmentally-themed books, and artist Claudio Cohen and the Ministry of Environment children's choir kept the crowd energized with a lively selection of songs. UNPHU's dance and jazz department and a local percussion group impressed the crowd using nature-themed music and recycled products in their performances.
For the fair, the Green Team used the motto "live green," because we wanted the event to demonstrate why and how we should integrate green practices in our daily lives. Recycling is critical -- and those who brought a bag of recyclables to the fair received a discount at the fair's green market -- but preserving the environment is also about living a healthier lifestyle. So, we used the fair to generate awareness of health issues and discussed the principles outlined in First Lady Michelle Obama's campaign against childhood obesity, "Let's Move!". People attending the fair had the opportunity to workout to free pilates, hip hop, and zumba sessions in the afternoon.
Our Green Fair would not have been possible without the assistance of many volunteers. Volunteerism is an American tradition, but the spirit of community cooperation certainly knows no geographic boundaries. I am seeing that firsthand here in the Dominican Republic. In May 2010, U.S. Embassy employees created the Green Team, with the objective of increasing awareness of environmental issues both within the embassy and the larger Dominican community. Within a year of launching an embassy-wide recycling program, the Green Team has collected over 30 tons of paper and plastic items. The Green Team has also organized tree-planting projects, beach clean-ups, and a fashion show showcasing recycled garments made by Dominican designers. Earlier this year, the Green Team successfully petitioned to make the Ambassador's garden a certified wildlife habitat.
Clearly, no matter where one lives, there are opportunities to help make a difference in the local community. How will you serve? If you are living in the United States, you can visit www.serve.gov to learn about opportunities to get started.
Editor's Note: This year, MLK Day commemorations will coincide with the U.S. Presidential Inauguration, so President Obama is asking all American citizens to join him in participating in a National Day of Service on Saturday, January 19.