Shrugging off the summer heat, the unpleasant smell and the dirty black water around them, the volunteers work tirelessly to clear a small corner of the city. Like industrious ants, they slowly carry each basket full of trash to a cleared area on the shore. The trash is gathered here, waiting to be picked up by trucks from the Urban Environment Company in the evening, and sent a waste-treatment plant on the outskirts of the city.
Starting out as strangers, the desire to make Hanoi a cleaner and greener city has brought them together as part of the Keep Hanoi Clean project.
The small lake is the third location they have cleaned up so far. Before this, the group worked on projects like the ditch on Nguyen Khang and the canal on Nguyễn Hoàng Tôn Street, both of which used to be covered in trash. Not only have they cleared the rubbish, but the Keep Hanoi Clean members also planted a small row of trees in the ditch, which will beautify the area in the longterm.
James Joseph Kendall, founder of Keep Hanoi Clean, is a permanent fixture in the area as he is the most proactive member, daring to venture into the most dangerous places or the deepest waters.
Having lived in Vietnam for the past three years, the 34-year-old English teacher from the Xuan La Primary School inTay Ho District has observed many local environmental problems and came up with the project as an effort “to make people realise the need to protect the environment more.”
“I have been concerned about the environment for years,” Kendall said. “We all live here and share the environment that surrounds us, but we’ve seen some areas get flooded while others are very dry. So I just realised we need to preserve the planet.”
Established in May, Keep Hanoi Clean has around 50 active members. Its activities take place throughout the week, including working days, so the project’s Facebook page calls for the participation of anyone who is concerned about the environment. Kendall regularly announces the schedule for the following week on Facebook so that people can easily follow and manage their involvement with the group.
“There is no specific requirement to be part of the project. Participants just have to show up and help us in some way,” Kendall said. “Some people show up but do not really get down in the dirt. However, they help us in different ways, such as designing the logo for our team or going to the stores to get things that we need like gloves or boots.”
Cleaning trash in such polluted areas, especially in dirty water, is dangerous, so proper equipment plays an essential role. Kendall himself had to put on two layers of safety pants, rubber boots and two layers of gloves to venture into the dark waters of the lake, but still failed to avoid minor accidents. “I got one cut on my finger, and one cut on my leg. I went to the hospital and the cuts have fully healed now,” Kendall said smiling.
Getting equipment, which is very important, is a difficulty Keep Hà Nội Clean is encountering. As more people join the clean-up, there is at times not enough equipment to go around.
“There are a lot of things we need, especially good gloves and boots for all the members. I cannot afford it myself, so I’m seeking a sponsor who can help us with that,” he said.
Kendall also said he is going to sell his motorbike and donate the money towards running the group. He said he will purchase an electric motorbike instead, which is cheaper and better for the environment.
Since its launch, every clean-up project by the group has received enthusiastic support from locals living near the polluted area and the Facebook community.
“There are also a lot of government officials who are helping us. I think it is excellent that the local authorities are getting involved, and with their support we can do anything,” he added.
Furthermore, in addition to collecting the trash, the group members have tried to encourage locals by raising awareness on protecting the environment and dumping trash at regulated times and at proper places.
“I hope our voluntary activity will be recognised and followed by the locals,” Nguyen Huy Hiep, a volunteer for Keep Hanoi Clean, said.
The lake is now looking much cleaner thanks to the group’s efforts. Although it might take months to totally clean out the huge amounts of trash that have been dumped into the lake, Kendall is not discouraged. He confirmed the lake clean-up project will continue for as long as it takes.
“I believe all the trash can be cleared to make a nice area for people to walk around and have coffee by the lake. That’s the ultimate goal of this project that we are working towards,” Kendall said.