On Saturday, 25th June 2016, we held our first Unlitter Red Dot collaboration at a school. 37 students, teachers and parents (to my pleasant surprise) from Nan Chiau High School came by to pick up litter in the blocks of flats just adjacent to their school compound.
The young people, all aged around 15, worked hard at their task, picking up cigarette butts, discarded cleaning containers, tissue papers, sweet wrappers, etc. all strewn around the housing blocks. What was significant here was the fact that we did not request for the regular cleaners to stop cleaning for one day (which is the typical procedure, to demonstrate to residents that their environment is cleaned, not clean). Still, the group picked up a staggering 37 kg worth of litter within 1 hour of activity! So despite of the cleaners doing their regular job, the place was still filthy from litter!
Technically, the fact that we did not suspend regular cleaning and yet found so much litter, solved an on-going obstacle for us. In many places where we plan to conduct UnLitter Red Dot activities, the relevant authorities have been most reluctant to suspend regular contracted cleaning services for fear of complaints from the residents. This event demonstrated that we need not bother with suspending contracted cleaning anymore, so we could get agreement easier to do more sessions.
Emotionally however, I felt saddened that this meant that the situation is worse than we thought. Even with regular cleaning, the team could pick up so much litter. We really have our work cut out for us then.
The UnLitter Red Dot programme is of course not just about providing free additional cleaning services for the residents. The project aims to create a positive pressure for Singaporeans to not litter, seeing that others are so concerned about our country that they would volunteer to pick up litter. We want to make it a part of our culture for people to be cleanliness-minded.
Engaging the young people is important for this strategy to work. So the programme did not end with the collection of litter alone. The team returned to the classroom, and we had a debrief, discussion and sharing session. With the help of their teachers, the young people shared their experiences and lessons learned via the programme. I was particularly pleased with the participation of the parents, many of whom are active volunteers at Nan Chiau High School's events.
This particular event has given us a good template to use, as we introduce UnLitter Red Dot to more schools. This is a classic win-all project, not only would the students learn important lessons about public civic mindedness, the environment gets cleaned up, the residents living nearby the school would witness how the school cares for their shared environment, creating goodwill all around.
So come join us! If you know of any school or organisation interested in conducting an UnLitter Red Dot event, contact us. Let's play a part in making our Little Red Dot a place where there is no litter to be found anywhere!