Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Lets do it Romania!" Round II

The second annual “Lets do it Romania!” popped off this weekend engaging thousands of volunteers all around Romania.  "Let’s do it" started out as a national clean-up project in Estonia and it has spread to several other countries in the world including the United States.  The need to clean up a country is a simple one to identify.  Estonia saw its forest more and more covered in trash as some people there believed the forest to be an acceptable location for waste disposal.  In Romania you may go on beautiful hikes in the forest, a pleasant drive on the Transfagarasan, or out to a nice quiet spot in nature to have a barbeque, and you'll probably see some trash.

Some people are the type of people that throw that trash on the ground but all people are the type of people that don't like to see it.  Whether you’re one that picks it up or one that throws it down, one thing you can agree on is that it’s not pretty.  Critics of "Lets do it" will ask you why anyone would go pick up trash in nature, "go back in a month and it will be covered in trash again", they'll say.  This mentality discourages the idea of cleaning up, claiming that it won't make a lasting impact.  Many may also use this mentality to justify throwing their own trash down.  "It's not a big deal if I just put a couple more plastic bags down on this huge pile of trash."  Interestingly the critics I've met tend to be older people (over 40) while the volunteers I've seen and worked with cleaning up Romania tend to be younger (under 30).  Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the people out there organizing teams and participating in this activity are older experienced volunteers.

Let’s talk about impact.  Those critics may be right when they say that there will just be trash there next year anyway.  Some people are going to continue throwing trash down regardless but others may not.  Those volunteer who were out picking up other peoples garbage are probably less likely to throw their own down, or at least they'll think twice about it.  The fact that the volunteers are typically younger makes that impact stretch into the future.  This year, being the second annual “Let’s do it Romania!” proved that the project isn’t just a one time event, but it will continue each with increased participation and increased impact until the need is met.  The corps of young volunteers in Romania is growing as well as the awareness to keep your environment free from trash.  The more immediate impact is easier to see being that it was a well promoted national campaign.  On Saturday September 24th people driving to the next town over, going to the mall, or watching TV in their living rooms knew about the project whether they were involved or not.  Those involved worked in teams seeing actually how much garbage can be cleaned up over the course of 2 hours by a team of 15 people.  They saw their impact both in the before-and-after shots of the area, as well as in the heap of garbage bags piled up on the side of the road waiting to be picked up.  Finally statistics will come out about the total number of bags collected in how many counties by how many volunteers and those numbers, blowing people away, will be used to support and promote the project next year.

Last year I was invited into a team by one of my colleagues, this year I tried last minute to make a team.  That attempt failed as it was last minute, and I didn't really know how the system of gathering people and choosing a location worked.  Plus, having just moved to Bucharest, I don't know enough people to gather into a large enough team to take on any of the trash piles.  The evening before the event the team consisted of two colleagues at MaiMultVerde, two colleagues from the Peace Corps and myself, which was not enough according to the “Let’s do it” site.  Just because we couldn't choose a trash pile from the site didn't mean that we couldn't try joining another team and go with them to a pile.  The night before the cleanup Courtney, Aran and I found the list of registration points and decided to head out to the IKEA spot to see if we could sign up to go pick up trash with whoever else was there at the time.  Part of my support in going to the IKEA spot was that I thought that if we couldn't get into a group at least we could check out IKEA.  When I was home I heard so much about it from my cousins in NC, plus I needed towels.

The "Lets do it Romania!" volunteers standing outside of IKEA were young, high-energy, and insisting that they could find us a team to go with.  Sure enough, within 20 minutes Courtney, Aran, and I were on a bus with eight other individuals.  With "Lets do it Romania!" across the screen in the front of the bus we were dropped off at a garbage-filled ditch sandwiched between the road and a corn field.  It was there that we spent the next couple of hours filling bags with everything from broken tiles to plastic bottles, to diapers... yuck.  During that time other volunteers stopped to help and several passing cars slowed down to see what we were doing.  My colleagues at MaiMultVerde kept in contact with me and were able to come out and continue the clean-up, showing up right as we were about to leave.  One of them told me later that as he went further down the road most of the garbage consisted of McDonald's bags that had probably been thrown out of car windows as people finished their quick meal.  It was a hot and pretty exhausting clean-up without much shade to rest under but seeing the pile of bags by the side of the road as we pulled off in the bus was a good indication of our success.

Since the activity I have seen some pictures of the event and how it turned out at my old site in Petrosani.
"Let's do it Romania! Colegiul Tehnic "Dimitie Leonida"
The above link will take you to Ernest's pictures from the event in Petrosani that he attended.

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