How many times have you strolled through the neigbourhood, seen a pile of garbage on the street-side, and wrinkled your nose, only to walk past it. For a majority of the population, the appalling state of our surroundings only elicits one reaction; that of disgust.
But others like We Mean To Clean (WMTC) - a group of city-based volunteers - have willingly picked up the baton to keep the city clean.
Two years ago, Hari Nagar-based Austin Sabu was actively looking for NGOs and volunteer groups to work with. A corporate lawyer by profession, Sabu says, "I saw the WMTC page on Facebook and dropped them a message. They responded, and I ended up joining them for a plantation drive. I’ve been working with them ever since."
Recalling how he usually spent his weekends before the pandemic, Sabu (25) mentions he was a part of plantation drives in Janakpuri and Dwarka. For the past one year, he has been helping in WMTC's pet project - developing a nursery in Janakpuri.
The volunteers re-used discarded plastic packets of milk, detergent powder, and savouries, to sow seeds of consumed fruits. They also extracted a few stray saplings for this nursery. Now, the nursery is a lush-green zone with native trees like Peepal (Sacred Fig), Neem, Amaltas (Indian Laburnum), and Mango, among others.
Sabu adds, "I have been very involved with the nursery expansion for a year. Now, with work-from-home, I usually water the plants at the nursery at least two or three times a week."
It was only a co-incidence that WMTC started operations on October 2, 2014, the same day the government initiated the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Was bringing together a group of like-minded volunteers a difficult task?
Manish Khurana (38), co-founder of WMTC, says, "Currently, we have more than 1,200 members in our group. We primarily use Meetup (an online service used to organise events for like-minded individuals) as our engagement platform. Apart from that, we invite volunteers through social media and a few join us by word of mouth."
With a mix of students and working professionals in different age groups, WMTC conducts waste management awareness programmes and implementation, native tree plantation and maintenance as well as clean-up drives.
Discussing the philosophy behind this initiative, Khurana, a Vikaspuri-based market research and consulting professional, mentions, "As citizens, we need to play our part in the cleanliness of our surroundings and environment. All our events are action-oriented. There is a lot of gyaan available online, and we don’t need to add to the noise. The philosophy we want to share is: enough talk, we need to act."
In the past, WMTC has conducted clean-up drives in Vikaspuri, spot fixes in Saket, Noida, Janakpuri, Hauz Khas, and Dwarka. Their volunteers have also administered a plantation drive in Dwarka. Khurana stresses that every project focuses on a low-cost, self-reliant, zero-waste model, "Taking the nursery as an example: the milk packets as well as seeds are brought from home, and we take soil from the park. Some of our volunteers even make their own compost from kitchen waste to nourish the saplings."
A mechanical engineer by profession, Princy Goyal has been a WMTC volunteer for almost five years. The Khanpur resident tells us about how they conduct spot fixes in various neighbourhoods - selecting a place prone to open littering, defecation or urination; cleaning it with the help of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi; and painting the walls to beautify it.
Talking about the projects she has actively been involved in, Goyal elaborates, "We created a mini-forest in Sainik Vihar, and have named it the Amaltas Van (a mini-forest named after Delhi’s native Amaltas tree). Some of the trees we planted three years ago have grown above 5ft."
Discussing another project, the 25-year-old elaborates, "In a slum cluster at Chuna Bhatti, Kirti Nagar, a resident approached us to convert a dumping yard into a clean park. He took the ownership and agreed to maintain the park once it was cleared up. We removed the garbage, added soil, and planted native saplings. A family, which resides nearby, planted Aloe Vera. Now, the space has been converted into a full-fledged park for the community."
Both Sabu and Goyal have evolved from their first volunteer activity. Sabu says, "I was always environment conscious; and with each passing day it is only increasing. I try segregating waste at home and in the office. I have minimised using paper by sending emails instead of taking print-outs."
Goyal, who also manages WMTC’s social media accounts, likes how her perspective has changed over time. She says, "I have always been environmentally conscious, and that is why I joined WMTC. But now, I realise that cleanliness and garbage cleaning is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many nuances to this. Most of us volunteers are trying to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle. Also, now when I see a problem, I don’t crib about it; I look for a solution instead."
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