Olivia Bouler doesn’t have time for anything else these days except to draw and paint. But that’s OK for the artistic fifth-grader, because everything she does is for the birds.
The Islip, N.Y., girl, who turns 11 on Friday, has raised an estimated $80,000 by sending her sketches and paintings of birds to people who donate to organizations helping with relief efforts in the Gulf of Mexico spill disaster.
“I do some in the mornings and some in the afternoons, and weekends are really the time for me get cracking at them,” Olivia told msnbc.com on Thursday in a telephone interview as she and her parents were headed to the Gulf for a visit.
Olivia came up with the idea to help birds in the Gulf four days after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and triggering the nation’s worst oil spill. Olivia's father's family grew up in Alabama, and she has spent vacations in the Gulf.
“Olivia heard about the oil spill and she immediately thought of the birds. She’s a bird lover. She knew they were nesting and she knew the spill would bring an incredible change to their habitat,” said her mother, Nadine Bouler.
So Olivia wrote to the National Audubon Society, saying she would like to help by doing drawings and giving the wildlife conservation group any money she raised. She signed it, a bit precociously, “Olivia Bouler, 11 years old and willing to help.”
Thus was born Olivia's "Save the Gulf" campaign. In addition to purchasing one of Olivia’s drawings, the Audubon Society collaborated with Olivia's family to create a fundraising program whereby Olivia sends one of her original paintings to anyone who donates to any of several organizations helping wildlife in the Gulf.
AOL got on board, giving Olivia her own artist’s gallery on its site and donating $25,000 to Audubon in her name. Appearances on local and national TV followed, and her "Save the Gulf: Olivia's Bird Illustrations" page on Facebook has now attracted more than 10,000 fans.
For political people, highlighting these kinds of individual efforts is always a tricky thing. Those of us who believe that we need wholesale, systemic change often eschew stories like this, and I understand why. It's like applauding volunteers at your local food bank without asking why there is still hunger in your community. One of the largest, richest corporations in the world murders our environment (along with 11 workers) and a region's livelihood for profit, and the media turns our attention to the efforts of a fifth grade girl.
Applauding individual efforts to help should never shift our focus from the criminal corporate irresponsibility that is destroying our planet.
But in war and all other human-made disasters, individual people with ideas, energy and determinism are out there trying to repair the damage these capitalist criminals create. And those heroes should be applauded and supported. While we try to create a world without hunger, people should not be allowed to starve.
An 11-year-old girl with so much concern, passion and focus should be hailed; her efforts deserve to be widely supported. Young people growing up with a strong sense of the fragility of the planet, our shared need to protect it, and the belief that they themselves can contribute, should give us all hope.
As long as we don't miss the opportunity to denounce the unchecked capitalism that caused the Gulf disaster. Which brings me back to my last post, and more on that when I can.
Olivia Bouler's gallery
"Save the Gulf: Olivia's Bird Illustrations" on Facebook
The Suzuki Foundation asks us to contact the government to prevent a similar disaster from happening in Canada: here.