Inspired by their affection for the environment, a desire to have a clean and beautiful city, and wanting to send a message to people to stop littering, a group of some two dozen volunteer youths have taken to picking up trash day and night from Phnom Penh’s filthy Boeung Trabek canal.
The youths, who come from diverse backgrounds and who began by contacting each other on Facebook Messenger, have been hard at work, unpaid, for 12 days thus far.
They have collected almost 40 tonnes of rubbish from the Boeung Trabek open sewer, working from morning to midnight, but each morning they are met with yet more.
In Ratana, 22, who has just completed his master’s degree from the National University of Management and is one the volunteers, replied to The Post on Messenger while he was busy cleaning up the city yesterday.
He said the factors driving the youths to perform this thankless task were their love of the environment, a wish for the city to be beautiful and a desire for people to better understand the impact of rubbish and the benefits of disposing waste properly.
Ratana, whose Facebook name is Kodomo and has posted a host of pictures regarding their garbage collecting activities, has been unemployed since graduating.
“Ideally, you want to have more people collecting rubbish than people throwing rubbish away. My message to those who throw rubbish indiscriminately is that they must pack it up and put it into rubbish bins."
“I want to raise awareness of the importance of disposing of rubbish properly so people stop throwing it into the sewer,” he said.
Teng Veasna, another volunteer, who is an artist and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in tourism, told The Post yesterday that rubbish was still floating in the sewer even though the group has been cooperating with authorities and gathering rubbish daily.
“We will keep going until all the rubbish is removed from the sewer. We don’t how long it will take. And if while we collect the rubbish people continue to throw more into the sewer, we will just persevere and keep cleaning and collecting,” Veasna said.
Duong Chansarath, the director of the Sewage, Pumping and Treatment Unit at the Phnom Penh Municipal Department of Public Works and Transport, expressed his support for the youths’ activities. He said he wished to see more young people join in the effort.
He said the work they were carrying out not only helps government officials who have a duty to stamp out littering but also helps raise awareness for the general public to properly dispose of rubbish in the bins that have been placed throughout the city.
“It sends a message to everyone in the city, but especially people who live alongside the sewer – and other sewers in Phnom Penh – to dispose of rubbish properly in the bins. I hope [the volunteers] don’t stop what they’re doing."
“I have been instructing people since 1990 and I have spoken about littering at schools – and continue to do so. But clearly, people still don’t understand as littering continues,” Chansarath said.
According to the Phnom Penh Municipal Department of Public Works and Transport, more than 10,000 tonnes of rubbish a year are thrown into the sewers.