The first time I visited Japan, I was with all the women in my life, i.e. my wife and two daughters. They were gleefully shopping around Tokyo while I dutifully followed, pretending to be interested. I was sipping tea from a plastic cup and when I was done, I wanted to discard the cup. To my puzzlement, I simply could not find a garbage bin on the street. As we walked and walked along the main street, there was just no garbage bin to be found anywhere. I was to find out later that the Japanese expect everyone to bring their garbage home to sort out and discard in an orderly manner, hence there were no garbage bins on the street!
In contrast, Singapore is literally filled with thousands upon thousands of garbage bins everywhere. And sadly, we still see litter everywhere. Apparently, we are far, far away from the standards of public cleanliness of the Japanese. As it is, we already read of stories of how Myanmar, Japanese and Korean nationals would clean up after themselves after they watched a soccer match, while the rest of the seats occupied by Singaporeans are completely covered by trash.
How do we turn this tide around? The answer is to simply start working at it, and keep working at it until we changed our entire culture into one that truly cares for the environment. While Habitat for Humanity is focused primarily in fighting poverty through shelter-related solutions, we recognize that the environment is closely linked with the shelters people live in. One of our key thoughts is "We build decent homes in decent communities", so community well-being is very important to us. Our late founder Millard Fuller used to point out that a dirty living environment manifests a "poverty-mindset" that breeds and perpetuates a negative attitude in life. Mr Fuller was known to be fond of picking up garbage everywhere he went, resulting in many journalists having to walk and pick garbage with him while they interviewed him.
Habitat for Humanity Singapore is determined to play a leading role in this seemingly gigantic effort. We have launched our "UnLitter Red Dot" initiative, encouraging the public to get involved in garbage-picking, with the primary goal of demonstrating that we want a clean Singapore and are prepared to put real effort into making it happen. We have even gone to kindergartens to get toddlers to participate in this, starting them very young, and hoping that they could also show the adults one thing or two about them wanting to live clean.
Our latest initiative is "LitteRally", a walk-and-pick activity gaining popularity around the world. We want people from all walks of life to come together for a walking session, picking up garbage along the way. This advocacy programme serves to remind all of us that this is our land, our home and our country, and it is up to us to love it and keep it clean and not simply assign the task to a huge army of cleaners.
Together with many volunteers and partners, let us keep working at this grand effort to truly make Singapore not just a cleaned country but a clean country. It is our sincere wish that one day, we will find no garbage bins on the streets of Singapore.
Join our biggest community clean up on Saturday, May 25!