Au Pairs Participate in U.S. Department of State Ocean Cleanup Campaign

September 01, 2016
On Sunday, August 28th PROaupair’s Bay Area cluster of professional au pairs participated in a half day beach clean up as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Our Ocean Roadshow campaign. The gathering, playfully dubbed “Sea the Difference,” was an opportunity for the au pairs to give back while learning about issues affecting U.S. oceans and waterways.

Lead by three PROaupair staffers (Claire Traganos, area director South Bay/Peninsula; Jane Smith, area director, Greater San Francisco; and Steven Courtney, vice president of field operations) and done in partnership with the San Francisco chapter of Surfrider Foundation, 22 professional au pairs spent the morning collecting trash on San Francisco’s famous Baker Beach. The au pairs were told to dress warmly – Baker Beach is known for being cold – but the day turned out to be beautiful and sunny without a hint of San Francisco’s normal summer fog.

The group met at the beach at 9 a.m. and had a short talk about the campaign prior to beginning their work. Over morning coffee, the staff explained that 80% of the oceans pollution comes from land – a figured that surprised everyone in attendance.

Their first glimpse of the beach – which appeared to be clean – was another surprise.

“I was initially nervous that the au pairs wouldn’t have enough work to fill the morning,” said Steven Courtney, vice president of field operations. “But, it turns out it just wasn’t visible. I was astounded by the amount of trash the au pairs found. They all came back with full bags. It was a good lesson for all of us.”

After three and a half hours of work at the beach, the au pairs and staff took a break and had a picnic lunch. Noshing on sandwiches, chips and soda, the girls had an opportunity to get to know each other, sharing stories about their host families and children and their plans for exploring San Francisco in the afternoon. One of the area directors sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” before passing out boxes of Cracker Jacks, introducing the au pairs to the American snack.

The event was a huge success – not only did the au pairs collect 25 bags trash from Baker Beach, but it was also a great opportunity for them to get to know each other. Two of the au pairs were new arrivals and had only been in the U.S. for a week before the event.

“One of the most memorable moments for me was when one of the au pairs walked over a bluff and saw the Golden Gate Bridge,” Courtney said. “It was her first time seeing it and she gasped audibly.”

Another memorable moment took place during the trash pick up. Lisa Dieterich, 24, an occupational therapist from Germany who is living with a family in Redwood City, won the group’s “most interesting piece of trash” competition. She discovered a sealed message in a bottle, complete with some tiny figurines and an intact scroll of paper with a note that said “I love you Daddy.”

The Our Ocean Roadshow campaign, arranged by the Office of Private Sector Exchanges within the U.S. Department of State, was designed to empower exchange visitors to become environmental stewards and teach them how their individual everyday actions can have a positive and lasting impact on the environment. All J-1 exchange visitors in the U.S. were asked to participate in a day of giving back, sometime between June 1st and September 15th, in an activity related to oceans and waterways.

“This is our first year participating in the campaign,” said Courtney. “Based on the enthusiasm of the au pairs and staff, we hope to expand it to other PROaupair clusters in other parts of the country next year.”