Sustainable Development in Northern India
It’s a sunny Wednesday afternoon in Naddi and I am on my way down to the community in Channey to give them a workshop on how to separate their waste properly. I have recently designed and implemented a method in which the Educare waste is to be dealt with between our staff living in 4 different houses. It’s now time that I acted on a few of these ideas for the benefit of the community.
As I arrive in the courtyard I see that Hanh and Pooja (two of my colleagues) are already waiting for me, they were early. They are here for moral support, assistance in translating and to help me gather whoever is available from the community for the waste education session. This can be a tough task in itself as the kids are just back from school, have homework to do or just want to play. A workshop involving trash isn’t an easy sell, but I have a trick up my sleeve. It may sound simple but the colourful posters that I made to help them learn how to separate their waste begins to draw the children to me like bees to honey. The older teenagers suddenly become interested in what the kids are looking at.
There’s a chorus of “what’s that? New bins? Those are pretty colours?”
I have their attention. I explain to them that I’m here today to teach them how we can separate our waste effectively, leaving us in a position where we can recycle or reuse the materials.
With Pooja as my translator we explain to everyone how the system works and that the four bins with accompanying posters are there so that they can separate their waste into the following categories, “soft plastics”,”recyclables (metal, glass, hard plastics)”, “paper and cardboard” and“ rest of waste”.
I continue to explain that EduCARE has started to collect soft plastics (biscuit wrappers, crisp packets, noodle packaging…), and paper and cardboard to be used for future projects. Recyclables can be given to local independent trash collectors who then sell the materials on to recycling plants. Unfortunately the “rest of the waste” bin will have to go to the dump. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than dumping locally in the river or just burning it all (which is what often happens).
They look at me with blank faces. Although many of them have very good conversational English, I feel that the combination of my Irish accent and the topics which I am discussing has allowed my points to go over their heads. I’m lucky that Pooja, a colleague that has come to join us from Delhi is here to help.
She translates for me and they seem to understand. I’ll find out in a minute whether or not this is the case. I have brought a bin with me that contains an assortment of specially selected waste products that I am going to use to put them to the test.
I open up the bin whose content is greeted with very little affection from the kids.
I explain to them that the point of the activity is to take each item and put it into the correct bin, using the colourful posters placed above them as guide. This may sound simple, but based on my experience trying to organise a separation system for the EduCARE intern houses, I have seen that this is easier said than done, even with willing participants educated to a university degree level!
Bobby, a cheeky little eight year old is right beside me, placing himself in the hot seat. I give me him some trash which at first he doesn’t want to touch.
“It’s plastic!” he says
“What kind of plastic?”
“Then put it in the bin”
He gets it right. This process continues and as I go through my audience, engaging them to categorize correctly, I can see that the disdain that they had a few minutes ago for my rubbish is quickly disappearing and they are very quickly become more willing to take part. It might initially only be for a short while, but for now they truly seem less disgusted by the trash.
We are making progress, but now it’s time for a few curve balls. I give Bobby a battery pack and I tell him this is not as obvious as the previous items. He’s confused, he thinks he knows what he’s to do with it, but someone behind him is nudging him. He thinks for a minute, then he tears the plastic away from the paper and puts the two parts into their respective bins.
I am delighted.
We continue the activity for another fifteen minutes, answering questions along the way. My workshop has gone better than I had imagined. I try to acquire some volunteers to help with the proper disposal of the bins. Apparently it’s too early for this part of the process as no one responds to my request. I’ll try again next week.
The group begins to disperse and as we are packing up our things, I see four of the younger kids have started running around the courtyard collecting bits of rubbish that have been strewn around the place. They run up to the bins and begin making a game trying to separate the waste materials properly.
This is a turn of events that none of us expected. The scene reminds me of a game that many people have when they are young children where they have to match a shape to a corresponding hole, like triangles, squares and circles. These kids probably never had such a game, but they have discovered it now with trash as the object and the category of bin as the shaped hole. While playing, they are cleaning up the area. I know this game won’t last forever and that they will eventually loose interest when I am not around, but the fact that they are running around having fun and cleaning up at the same time leaves me with a small and very warm feeling of accomplishment with my afternoons work..
– Alex Moran, Ireland
– SWASH Project Manager, Naddi