Today we joined thousands of Chennaiites in taking part in the 2013 International Coastal Cleanup. Regular readers in this blog will recognize that Chennai struggles to maintain clean beaches and waterways, like many large urban areas on the coast. It was impressive to see the number of people involved and active in this annual event. Early on a Saturday morning, the beaches were covered with roaming groups of people carrying trash bags and doing their part to beautify the city’s coastline.
We were briefly held up by speeches by the Chennai organizers and dignitaries including the city’s mayor (where we received event t-shirts!), but soon there were group leaders handing out plastic gloves and trash bags. Biodegradeable plastic trash bags!
According to information we were given, India’s military is very involved in this event. In fact, if I understood correctly, the country’s entire coast guard was deployed this morning in the trash gathering area. Protecting the country’s coast from more than just military threats….
The Army was well represented as well, and as the speeches finished and we headed out on to the beach, not only were we accompanied by a half dozen press people with cameras eagerly snapping photos of the (obvious) foreigners picking up trash, we also had some Army cadets insisting on carrying our trash bags for us. They were very interested in talking about American beaches, the U.S. military and other topics. The common refrain we had from everyone, however, was gratitude (and a little surprise) that foreigners were willing to come out and clean the beach in Chennai!
At one point a helicopter was zooming just over the heads of those on the beach:
After some time, our military escorts were summoned by their bosses and we grabbed a group photo:
There were also other civic groups participating in the cleanup, including several schools, who spent some time working with one of my colleagues:
All over Chennai on any given day, there are squads of women employed sweeping the streets and the sidewalks, clearing them of both dirt and trash in general. On this day, they watched us nervously/curiously on the nearby beach. When we asked, they were excited to have their pictures taken as fellow cleaner-uppers!
This event was short, and it only happens once a year. But the curious stares and comments we got suggest that today was not only about physically picking up trash – it was also about changing a mindset. And the fact that so many people were involved means that change is happening steadily. And this is good news to everyone. Except for the crows.