July 12, 2013

Ukraine: Taking Good Care

A recycling project at an Odessa school provides TEAM missionary Kurt zurBurg the chance to take care of the earth while also fostering caring relationships within the community.

  • Field Trip

    The fourth-grade class from Garmonia School visited a recycling plant to learn about how the process works.

  • Community

    After TEAM missionary Kurt zurBurg (far right, front row) and the fourth-grade class started the recycling project, the whole school and some community members got involved.

  • Progress

    The school has been participating in the recycling project for only seven months, but it has already recycled more than 770 pounds of plastic.

Kurt zurBurg’s science antics are a common sight at Garmonia School and around the city of Odessa. Puffs of smoke in bottles and other tricks help bring science to life for the high school teacher’s students and for groups that pay to bring zurBurg’s act to parties.

But zurBurg’s latest science project, a school-wide recycling program, is less of a show and more like a community challenge.

About five minutes away from his apartment, large canvas bags overflowing with empty plastic bottles hang from the fence around Garmonia School, where zurBurg teaches. Blue bins bearing a rainbow logo are interspersed throughout the school hallways. zurBurg is old hat at developing creative lessons for the high school and elementary students he’s helped teach, but the added community interaction of the recycling project gives him a platform from which he can touch the physical, sociological, and spiritual needs of the community.  It has also created valuable opportunities to share about the Lord.

Before moving to Ukraine, zurBurg taught high school science in the United States, and on the mission field he has combined his love for science education with his call to share the love of Christ. zurBurg has always been interested in biology and believes that it is the duty of each Christian to care for the earth. “Caring for the environment is a Biblical thing,” he said. “It’s not environmental worship. It’s just stewardship.”

The recycling project began when a fourth-grade teacher approached zurBurg for ideas about a class science project, and zurBurg saw it as an opportunity to address an environmental issue in Ukraine. Drinking fountains are not common, and tap water is not safe to drink due to heavy metals in the water, so people buy lots of bottled drinking water and other beverages. The trash that piles up from these bottles and other discarded materials made the need for recycling clearly evident to zurBurg. In the seven months that the recycling project has been going, the school has recycled 770 pounds of plastic.

Recycling addresses the community’s sociological needs as well as its physical ones. When Ukrainians hear about caring for the environment, they think of natural resources such as land, water, air, or trees. But zurBurg includes people in his definition and believes that recycling cultivates a concern about both the earth and the people living in it. He hopes for the project to become a community-wide effort in a culture inclined toward individual isolation. “[People] live in their own little apartments and might not even know the neighbor they’ve lived next to for 20 years,” zurBurg said. A few of his neighbors have already begun to participate, and the recycling project requires the whole school to work together. Everyone is involved, from the director who oversees the project, to the fourth-grade hall monitor who checks the blue recycling bins, to the families who bring in plastic from home, to the guard who empties the largest receptacle into the canvas bags hanging from the fence.

Due to the project’s success, zurBurg has gained a leadership role and made connections in the community, and the relationship between him and the school is mutually beneficial. The school is happy about the time it was featured on the local news, about the chance it had to present its project to other schools, and about the invitation it received to share at a nation-wide conference. zurBurg is equally excited about the relationships the project has fostered with individuals, especially between him and a few of the fourth-grade parents, and he is delighted about their willingness to hear about the Lord.

Although the fourth-grade teachers were initially looking for just a year-long science project, the director of the school is continuing the recycling project indefinitely, and zurBurg is planning to expand into the surrounding community. Through this project, zurBurg is not only meeting the needs of the environment, people included, but he is also fostering relationships through which the love of Christ can be shared.

-Written by Emily Scheie
-Photographed by Kurt zurBurg