Josh Kaufmann, RPCV Group 128
During the last few months of my service I began working with a brilliant teacher who encouraged me to put into action a final project that had been on my mind for the past year. I had been collecting plastic bottle caps, along with several dozen Pringles cans, toilet paper rolls, and cereal boxes knowing there could be an opportunity to use them in future projects at site. It was the on-going collection of bottle caps, the possibility of participating in the world map project with my students, and the current work of youth leadership and service-learning initiatives that converged into the idea of making a world map out of bottle caps. It seemed like a great way to not only to finish my service, but even more so an opportunity to engage my students in a hands-on, creative, and team-oriented volunteer project.
Months later, with many doubts this project could become a reality, I humored the idea with a co-teacher I had become close with and the very next day we introduced the initiative to 12 B6 students. We talked about the world map project and then the caps.
“P’ Josh has been collecting bottle caps for over a year and has close to 2,000,” showing them pictures of the buckets of caps I recently separated by color.
“It took P’Josh, one person, a year to collect this many bottle caps, but with me and Kru Choo Chor (my co-teacher) there are 14 of us and I bet that in 14 days, two weeks, we can match that amount to reach 4,000!” They gasped and Kru Choo Chor and I smiled.
We collectively brainstormed how we were going to get another 2,000 caps in two weeks (talking to community members/local shop owners, looking through recycling bins, scanning soccer fields/stands after games, etc.).
I went back to the school a few days later to discover baskets and bags full of plastic bottle caps that the students worked together to collect as a class and individually after school. We washed the dirty ones, began separating them by color, and did our first big count, after all of us made guesses to see who was the closest to the total. It turns out the students pleasantly surprised themselves because in those four days the students had collected 3,466 bottle caps! It was at that moment that the project became real and our new goal was to collect 10,000 bottle caps, which incredibly was surpassed in the following weeks, to which we all lost track after the 10,400 count.
Days of collecting and sorting colors continued as we set forth to sketch the world map with a projector on four large wooden boards. The amount of time spent stretching and scaling the drawing of the map was tedious as we needed to assure an accurate portrayal of the world while making sure the bottle caps would fit into tight dimensions. If we went too big and it would either be obscure looking or need a lot more caps, and if we went too small it wouldn’t be possible to create all the countries and borders with the supplies we wanted to use. It took a lot of sharpened pencils and several erasers to get it to a good place. It was decided that nailing the caps to the boards would be the most sure way to preserve the map for years to come; it became a legacy project for the students before moving on to secondary school. We worked through different ideas and tested different ways to best secure the nails without damaging the cap and board, yet making sure they were on tight enough as not to fall or be pulled off. It was at this point that my co-teacher taught the students how to best make a small hole in each cap, so they could be ready to go without concern of crunching the caps or worse, accidentally hurting themselves during the process.
After the caps were collected, the map was sketched, and the holes were punctured, we moved into one of the most exciting parts of the project: selecting the color and type of cap that would represent each country by laying them out on the outlined sketch and jigsawing them together to ensure the shapes of each country were maintained. We finally started to see the vision of ours come into fruition, though we had to wait on the nailing as we unfortunately discovered the nails we were using pierced through the wooden classroom floors; luckily we only had to re-do the US and Australia. Thus we removed all the caps and organized them by country and moved into a new room with cement floor that would become our creativity studio for the next couple of weeks.
Hours upon hours were spent organizing, nailing, and redrawing the map to fit all of the requirements necessary to make the map look how the students imagined it would. Yes, we nailed some caps to the floor by accident, broke a few hammers and caps along the way, greatly underestimated the amount of nails and blue caps (for all the bodies of water) we would need, and of course the tedious amount of time nailing the more than ten thousand caps to the wood would take. The amount of challenges added up, but we were too far into this project and too motivated to complete it that very little was going to stand in our way of doing so. At long last, six weeks later, after extra support from community members and school staff pitching in on the collection of caps, hammering, and nailing, we hung the completed 7.5-by-15 foot map comprised of over 10,000 recycled bottle caps.
I have difficulty expressing the overwhelming amount of pride I have for my students, co-teacher, and community for collaborating on what turned out to be an incredibly rewarding challenge, one of the highlights during my two years of service. Though the map turned out greater than I could have imagined, it was the process, the moments shared, and the bruised fingers of those students showing such potential, with those contagious smiles, that will stick with me forever. The journey of the cap map was one of the most rewarding, thought-provoking, and humbling experiences of my time in Thailand.