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In a recent post, I talked about Swachhata Hi Seva, a cleanliness campaign that was initiated by India’s Prime MInister Narendra Modi. On September 15th, Amma’s Amritapuri ashram residents and visitors, as well as students from Amrita University, participated in Swachhata Hi Seva by cleaning up six kilometers of land in communities near the ashram. More than 1600 people, including Amma herself, participated in the clean-up.
I had never thought about what would be done with the trash that was picked up that day. In the West, we would have either dropped it off at some waste management facility or city employees would have picked it up. A few days after Swachhata Hi Seva, I started seeing notices from the ashram’s recycling depot asking for volunteers to help sort the litter. It was then that I remembered there was no infrastructure in India to deal with garbage (or at least none that I know of) and that all of the trash that had been collected during the ashram work party would have been brought back to the ashram. I decided to help for a while.
There were many processing tables set up on the beach, with approximately eight volunteers at each station. One bag after another was brought to us and the contents were dumped onto the table. This photo shows what the garbage looked like, although the items in many of the bags were dirtier. Some of the bags contained the biggest ants I’ve ever seen.
We sorted the trash and put the items into new bags. There were bags for hard objects, soft plastic, metal, shoes, plastic bottles, glass bottles and fabric. I was impressed by how fast we were able to sort each bag and be ready to move on to the next one.
When the bags of sorted items were full, they were moved to a separate area.
Next, someone sewed the bags shut.
After the bags were sewn, they were moved to another pile.
The sorting had already been going on for days. I don’t know how many bags of litter had been brought back to the ashram after the work party, but this photo shows how many bags still needed to be processed when I left the recycling depot that afternoon. The original pile must have been huge.
When I left the beach, I felt happy that I had participated in the work. A day or so later, I started to think about the situation again. What was going to happen with all of those bags? The ashram has had a recycling program for many years and I knew the recycling companies they sell to wouldn’t take dirty garbage.
Before I go on, let me say something about the ashram’s recycling program. There are recycling stations all over the ashram. Residents and visitors separate their garbage into many different bins- hard items, soft plastic, yard waste, fabric, metal, dirt and hair, sanitary items such as toilet paper, cardboard, paper, food waste, and soiled plastic.
The garbage bins are picked up daily and taken to the recycling depot. Volunteers do a second sorting there. They move any items that were put in the wrong bin and separate recyclables from non-recyclables. After the second sorting is done, the yard and food waste is taken to the composting facility and objects that need to be washed are washed.
Then, an even more detailed sorting process occurs. For example, there are at least 10 types of recyclable paper and many types of plastic and metal.
The day after I worked with the trash, I found myself sitting next to the person who is charge of the recycling depot. She confirmed that the more in depth sorting will need to be done and that the recycled items will have to be cleaned before they can be turned in. The thought of doing that work, in addition to all the regular ashram recycling, has got to be overwhelming; I imagine it will take all year. Maybe the next time I’m in Amritapuri, I will help them again.
Towards the end of last week, we started to see signs posted around the ashram about an upcoming event planned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The event, Swachhata HI Seva, would be held from September 15 through October 2. It was timed to be near Mahatma Gandhi’s 149th birthday and the 4th anniversary of Prime Minister Modi’s campaign to clean up India. To read Amma’s encouragement for everyone in India to participate in the clean up click here.
We soon learned that Swachhata Hi Seva would begin with a video conference where representatives from many different groups around India would report to Prime Minister Modi, and each other, about the clean up work they had done during the first four years of the campaign. They would also share their plans for Swachhata HI Seva.
Amma was to be one of the speakers. After the video conference, ashram residents and visitors, students from the local Amrita University and groups from Amma’s other institutions in the area would be cleaning up a six kilometer stretch of the coastal region near Amritapuri. Work parties would also be held at Amma’s schools, universities and institutions throughout India.
During the afternoon of the 14th, I glanced into the auditorium and saw lots activity. There were at least ten men setting up and testing cameras; I believed that they were from Amrita TV and surmised that this must be part of the video conference preparation. Later in the day, and throughout the night, chairs were set up in and around the auditorium, and the auditorium was decorated.
Seating began at 9:15 a.m. Amma arrived around 10:15. Ashram residents and visitors as well as students from Amrita University and people from Amma’s other local institutions were present. I thought it was interesting to listen to the speakers; they represented so many groups dedicated to cleaning up India. Only a few of the presentations were in English but it didn’t matter to me. I enjoyed seeing and hearing the speakers’ passion for the campaign. The Prime Minister responded to each presentation.
Amma watched the video conference on a monitor that had been set up in front of her. The presentations were projected onto numerous larger screens so that everyone seated in the auditorium could watch… and hear…them.
Amma was the last speaker to present.
The first video below shows the Prime Minister introducing Amma. It also shows Amma giving her presentation. (The flags you see waving in the background on the photo above and in the video are Swachhata Hi Seva flags.) To read excerpts from Amma’s speech in English click here.
The second video is of Prime Minister Modi’s response to Amma’s report. There are English subtitles at the bottom of the screen throughout the video. The Prime Minister’s respect for Amma was palpable.
After the video conference was over, instructions to go to the beach to board buses were given over the loud speakers. There were so many people. Some of the female college students grabbed each others waists so that they wouldn’t get separated. I felt like joining them as a way to make it through the crowd, but I resisted the impulse. It has been a long time since I’ve been in the middle of a crowd that big.
I had originally thought about going to the beach and helping with the cleanup. I knew that I couldn’t do it for very long in that heat and the last time I did litter pick up without a litter grabber, I hurt my back and was out of commission for most of the year. I thought I could help for 15 minutes though. When they started talking about buses, however, I assumed that going for a short time wasn’t going to be an option, so I headed for my flat.
Later, I learned that Amma had gone to the beach to help with the clean up before she started giving darshan that day. The couple that she was going to marry at the beginning of darshan helped too, in their wedding garments! I’m assuming that Amma was at the beach closest to the ashram, so that would have been an option for me too. Seeing the photos below reminded me of all the times Amma has joined in the ashram work. In the early days, I remember her carrying building construction materials, such as bricks and bags of gravel. She was, and is, SO strong.
More than 1600 people participated in that day’s 6 kilometer clean up!
(This has been the first of two posts about this event.)
The photos and videos came from Amritapuri.org.
Today, an Amritapuri friend showed me this photo she took in Fort Kochi.
When she pointed out all of the litter behind the sign, I thought of how many times I have been picking up cigarette butts in Seattle and someone has stood watching me and then dropped the butt from the cigarette they were smoking on the ground right in front of me.
I like to think that if people see the trash bins in Ft. Kochi or watch others pick up cigarette butts in Seattle, it will plant a seed in their minds that will sprout sometime in the future. Perhaps at that time they will stop contributing to the litter problem. Perhaps they will even start picking up litter themselves!
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