On a winter morning last December, passersby and motorists were surprised to see two foreigners sweeping the streets of Sao Tome in Panaji. US national Amalia Mora and Dutch national Jeroen Gevers held brooms in their hands as they went about clearing the streets littered with garbage on December 16 from 9am to 3pm.
"I love Panaji. Besides, there's absolutely nothing dishonourable in keeping your streets clean. It's nothing to be ashamed about," Mora, 30, from California, Los Angeles said.
"It's not just workers who can clean your street. Anybody can pick up a broom and clean it," Gevers, 26, from Zoetermeer, Netherlands, said.
PhD candidates at the University of California, Los Angeles, both plan on completing their dissertation on Goan music.
Mora and Gevers, along with Goans, Daegal Godinho, Sonia Kerkar, Armando Gonsalves and a few workers hired by local resident Sergio Dias, who conceptualized the clean-up, swept the streets of Sao Tome as part of Goa ForGiving project to revitalize the Mermaid garden, located on Panaji's waterfront. The streets were also locations that were used in the 1980 Hollywood movie 'Sea Wolves', which featured locals and shopkeepers in the area.
While Mora confesses that she is quite "obsessive, compulsive" about cleaning, Gevers hails from a country known for its culture on cleanliness and hygiene.
"It's part of our Dutch culture. My parents were very strict on cleanliness, both at home and in public. It starts with the family. But, its not just family, society and our government plays a very important role too," Gevers said.
"In Netherlands, if you return glass bottles or plastic bottles, you get your deposit back. Sometimes, this amount is adjusted in your grocery bill. If you return a crate of bottles, you get an amount equivalent to Rs 200. In many countries in Europe, stores charge you a small amount if you want a plastic bag," he said.
"In LA, some stores don't even provide plastic bags anymore. The city went through the same phase in the 1980s that Goa is witnessing now, and pollution got bad. The authorities did something about it and things got better. Today, we have fines for littering. It's anything between $300 and $1,000," Mora said.
"As for our beaches, we have police monitoring littering. Even lifeguards are empowered to catch violators," she added.
"In the Netherlands, our canals were used as sewers during medieval times. Somewhere in time, people realized the beauty of these water bodies. Today, our government punishes factories if they dump chemicals in our canals. Now, it is even expensive to have a home by a canal," said Gevers.
Both have a word of encouragement for Goa. "I would rate Goa as cleaner and calmer than other parts of India. Elsewhere, if I had trash in my hands, people would tell me to throw it on the floor or out of the window. I ended up carrying trash in my bag till I found a dustbin. At least in Goa, there are a lot of dustbins around to dump trash into, which you won't find elsewhere in India," Mora said.
Armando Gonsalves chairman of the Goa ForGiving Trust said, "I think these two have inspired a whole lot of Goans that we can do it ourselves, if we want a cleaner Goa." [TOI]