Volunteers work to revive Hà Nội's lifeless waterways

April 19, 2024 - 10:04
The team has cleaned nearly 100 highly polluted river spots since its formation, earning the National Volunteer Award in 2023.
Hà Nội Green's members collect waste from a waterway in Hà Nội. — Photo qdnd.vn

HÀ NỘI — With nearly 200 cleanup campaigns in just over a year, Hà Nội Green has restored the natural hue to almost 100 once-blackened waterways in the city.

For years, Hà Nội’s rivers have suffered from severe pollution. Untreated wastewater and solid waste from residential and industrial areas have transformed these water bodies into lifeless veins, choked by debris and foul odours.

Nguyễn Tiến Huy, 29 years old, decided to take matters into his own hands. In late 2022, he founded Hà Nội Green, leaving his office job to tackle the city’s environmental issues head-on.

Armed with gloves and high spirits, he and his small team began cleaning up the rivers, one stretch at a time.

"I vividly remember being a first-year student residing near the notoriously polluted Tô Lịch River," said Huy. "During sunny days, a foul stench rises from the river, affecting people’s health."

Initially, Hà Nội Green had just three members, but their impact was swift. After a few cleanup sessions, they started creating videos to raise awareness on social media.

Their message resonated and the group expanded to nearly 200 members of all ages and backgrounds within two months. At present, it boasts almost 400 volunteers.

Each volunteer had to get vaccinated and take precautions to prevent accidental needle pricks or exposure to harmful bacteria during their cleanup activities.

"We don't receive any training in advance," said Nguyễn Thắng, a Hà Nội Green member. "We've been accustomed to farm work since childhood, so these cleanup activities feel familiar."

Early on, manpower shortages meant heavier workloads for each member. As more volunteers joined, new challenges emerged involving management issues such as task allocation and scheduling.

The most significant obstacle was funding. Fortunately, community support poured in, from gloves and protective gear to meals and encouragement, which became powerful motivators for them to persevere in their mission.

Alongside the support, Hà Nội Green occasionally faced negative feedback. Some dismissed their efforts as futile, some said what they had done was just a drop in the ocean.

Huy stayed his course regardless.

"If we believe it's the right thing to do," he reminded his team, "we should just do it."

Phạm Khắc Tùng, a 26-year-old member who has been with the group for over six months, shared: “I find this work impactful, but not everyone has the courage to do it."

He believes that if people are more environmentally aware and stop littering indiscriminately, the environment will become cleaner and greener.

Hà Nội Green went into high gear in 2023 with around 15 cleanup sessions monthly. As waste significantly decreased over the year, so did their volume of work. Now they conduct about four sessions monthly.

The team has cleaned nearly 100 highly polluted river spots since its formulation, earning the National Volunteer Award in 2023. Huy was recognised as one of the seven outstanding role models for positive action in the same year.

"Most of the waste in these rivers consists of plastic bags, glass fragments, and foul-smelling organic waste," said Huy. "We also encounter larger items like wooden furniture and used household goods – all carefully sorted by our team.”

Huy has set his sights on establishing a community fund to provide additional support for volunteers, allowing them to stay committed to the team for the long term.

He is working on another project that involves placing public trash bins at every location they visit, encouraging responsible waste disposal. He also calls for the Government support in educating people to sort their waste to facilitate recycling. — VNS