UNESCO creates a Giant Poem for the Ocean on Copacabana Beach
Early morning joggers and dog-walkers saw something different as they arrived at Copacabana Beach on 21 June: a huge roll of paper was being taped to the sidewalk, 150 meters long! Giant pencils were being sharpened as a UNESCO banner was unfurled. Everything was in place for passers-by to write a Giant Poem for the Ocean.
At 10:00 am, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for External Relations and Information, Eric Falt, wrote the first verse – about life and the power of the ocean to sustain it. “We want to ensure that the plight of the ocean is not forgotten,” he said. “This Giant Poem gives people a chance to say what they think about the ocean – and what better place to say it than Copacabana, perhaps the most famous beach in the world?”
True, but would the people of Rio – the Carioca – feel the same way? One of the first people to pick up an oversized pencil was Edriana Maria Barbosa Pontei, a municipal trash collector in a bright orange uniform. “I love the idea of this poem,” she said. “Protecting the ocean has a lot to do with my daily work. If I don’t collect cans, paper and other garbage, they would go straight into the sea. Everyone should learn to love the ocean.”
Elderlino da Silva agreed. He’s in the food and agriculture business, just about to head off to Angola for six months. After some thought he wrote this on the paper: Rio +20 – the world breathes better. The ocean protects us.
Not everyone was so positive. Donna, visiting from Canada, wrote this: If human greed and selfishness let the ocean die, we will die too. ACT NOW!! She had been following the progress of the Rio +20 conference and wasn’t impressed. “I don’t think it has achieved its principle objective of renewing political will for sustainable development,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s up to people to tell their leaders to change policies. This poem gives us the opportunity to say what we feel.”
As video cameras rolled for television news programs, and reporters interviewed organizers and people writing verses, the giant strip of paper was slowly filled with thoughts, emotions, dreams and pictures. Passers-by stopped to read what was written and discuss the ocean and how it could be saved. Some added a verse or thought of their own; others strolled down the strip of paper, reading and commenting.
The Giant Poem is the creation of Angel Arenas, an innovator from Spain. He’s produced Giant Poems in 45 different cities – but this one is special. “Come on,” he tells the crowd. “Let’s do something to take care of the Ocean! Let’s write some verses to tell the whole world that we can protect the Ocean by using our hearts and our sensitivity. Together, our little drops of emotion can evoke responsible and conscientious action from thousands of people.”
And by the end of the day, thousands of people had been touched by the poem, some by writing part of it, others by reading it, or being inspired by it. One of them was Vera Maria Cunha, a public health nurse and the proud owner of two small dogs. We must respect oceans and everything else that deserves respect, she wrote. I believe in the future.
Lawyer and teacher Alfonso Pereira stopped to read what she had written. “I am a real Carioca living in Copacabana,” he said. “This poem is a wonderful idea. I hope that in the next 20 years we have a better world and a healthier ocean.” And then he moved on to read other verses on the giant strip of paper.