Tag Archives: Ashley Moran

Plastic Fantastic Concert

From a young age, Andrew Colabella hated plastic straws. He couldn’t understand how something that was used for just a few seconds could be so quickly tossed aside, then lie around on land or in our oceans for centuries.

He never used a straw. As much as possible, he tried to avoid all forms of plastic. He used metal forks and ate off porcelain plates. But we live in a plastic, throwaway society. The number of plastic cups used and discarded at bars floored him. He thought he was the only one who noticed.

Colabella is now an RTM member. At last he can do something about plastic that goes beyond changing his own habits.

The District 4 representative has already convinced 38 local restaurants and franchises to find biodegradable alternatives to single-uise products.

Now he’s introduced an ordinance to ban plastic straws in Westport. (There are exemptions for disabled people, who need them because other alternatives are not strong enough.) The proposal is making its way through the RTM Environment Committee.

But this is not some quixotic quest. Colabella has partnered with 4 other longtime Westporters, in what they call the Plastic Pollution Project.

Wendy Goldwyn Batteau was inspired by her first boss — the editor of Silent Spring — to co-found Sierra Club Books. She’s worked for decades as an award-winning editor/executive at major publishers, collaborating with Rolling Stone, the New Yorker, Audubon and the Ocean Alliance.

Liz Milwe — in “real life,” a choreographer and dance filmmaker — has a long history of environmental activism. Ten years ago as an RTM member, she helped Westport become the first town east of the Mississippi to ban plastic bags. She’s won awards from the US Environmental Agency and Westport’s Green Task Force.

Ashley Moran is a Saugatuck Elementary School teacher. A founding member of Nurturing Minds in Africa — a non-profit helping educate poor and at-risk girls in Tanzania — she believe that education leads to meaningful change.

Greg Naughton — a filmmaker and producer — grew up in Westport and Weston, in a family of performers. His 9-year-old son is in Moran’s class. Excited by what he learned about plastic straws, composting and the environment, the boy got his dad involved in the cause.

Naughton is also a founding member of the Sweet Remains. The indie folk-rock band has over 35 million Spotify streams.

Which is why and how the Sweet Remains are playing a benefit concert, to raise funds for the Plastic Pollution Project.

The event is Friday, January 4 (Fairfield Theatre Company, 7 p.m.). It starts with a reception in the lobby/art gallery, featuring presentations about plastic problems from P3 members, Westport students and others. The Sweet Remains and P3 founders will be on hand to chat.

It should be a “sweet” concert. And one that helps ensure — in a small but meaningful way — that plastic no longer “remains” on our land and in our seas, centuries after all the rest of us are gone.

(For tickets and more information on the concert, click here.) 

This SEGA Is Not A Game

It’s a common story in Tanzania, though one we don’t hear much about in Westport.

Getting an education is tough — particularly for girls.  The barriers are formidable.  Girls’ status in Tanzania is much lower than boys, so they start school later and drop out earlier.  Many girls pregnant at a young age.  Others are forced into child labor.   Some have been orphaned by AIDS.

An American woman named Polly Dolan spent many years as a consultant for CARE.  In Africa, she saw the urgent need for girls’ education.  In 2007, she opened an all-girls secondary school in Morogoro, Tanzania.

Her childhood friend, Ashley Moran — a 5th grader teacher at Kings Highway Elementary School, and a Westport resident — joined the board of Nurturing Minds in Africa, the new school’s sponsoring organization.

“These girls are desperate for education,” Ashley — who has seen the situation first-hand — says.

Girls who are in school don’t get pregnant as often, or as young, she adds.  And when — thanks to their education — they get jobs, the money they earn stays in Morogor.  Men often leave the community.  “It’s a cultural thing,” Ashley explains.

The school  — called SEGA (Secondary Education for Girls’ Advancement) now has 85 girls, in grades 8-12.  Most are boarders; some are day students.  The goal for 2015 is 200 girls.

SEGA students, and a teacher. It is a Tanzanian tradition for girls to wear very short hair.

There is a strict admissions process, involving tests, interviews and home visits.  Girls are desperate to get in.  One asked the police to tell her mother that they had to send her to SEGA.

Their hope and faith is founded in statistics like these:  In 2009, 96 percent of the girls in the day school program passed a country-wide standardized test.  Nationally, only 49 percent did.

But SEGA does not just teach to tests.  “It’s teaching people how to change their lives,” Ashley says.  “These girls will grow up to take care of themselves.”

By that year too, the school hopes to be self-sustaining, thanks to business help.  Operating costs this year are $160,000.  Construction costs are estimated at $250,000 a year, through 2015.

That’s real money.

Nurturing Minds does what it can to raise funds.  Local businesses chip in.

And, here in Westport, Ashley is getting Westporters involved.

At King’s Highway, she runs a club.  4th and 5th grade boys and girls volunteer to meet during their lunch period and recess.

“Kids that age are the future.  And they believe they can change the world,” Ashley says.

The youngsters learn about SEGA, and educational issues in Africa.  They raise awareness throughout Kings Highway.  This spring they helped organize a walk-a-thon that raised $1,500.  They also gather change from various classrooms — “to create change in Africa,” Ashley notes.  That brought in another $1,000.

“When we talk about this as a cause — and the impact it can have — kids here recognize how lucky they are.  They really do realize how much they have,” Ashley adds.

In mid-July, Ashley and her 3 children head to Morogoro.  They’ll spend 3 weeks there, helping out.

And the bonds between girls hungering for education in Tanzania, and a suburban town in the US with a great school system, will grow even tighter.