Recently, a dedicated team of students and teachers met on a bright Saturday morning at ILSC-New Delhi’s main campus. Our mission was to pick up the litter between our two campuses (a stretch of around 200 feet on the main road in the Shivalik neighborhood). ILSC students, teachers and staff walk from the main campus (B-17) to our second campus (B-6) several times a day for class or to grab a cup of coffee from a local coffee shop near the second campus. While the path is relatively well-maintained by the local municipality, the amount of litter on the road is surprising to most non-Delhiites.
Delhi is considered to be one of the greenest urban areas in India. Most neighborhoods have set aside a central square for green space – often a small, manicured park. Also, Delhi boasts some of the most beautiful historical gardens in India such as Lodhi Gardens, Deer Park and, luckily for ILSC, the lovely Shivalik Park, which is a stone’s throw from B-6. However, Delhi faces many obstacles when it comes to being a truly “Green City”. First, the city is not in a position to provide basic facilities like public trash cans. The sheer volume of trash makes servicing a city with a population of close to 19 million no small task! Further, and more deep-seated, is the fact that the inhabitants of Delhi are not in the habit of maintaining public space. It’s the age-old, contagious mentality of: “Everybody’s doing it!” If the car parked next to you chucks their plastic bottle out of the window, why shouldn’t you offload yours too? If your friend tosses his cigarette in the gutter, why not drop your packet while you’re at it?
Which brings us back to our Saturday greening project – while we wanted to beautify an important space for our students and staff, our team of mean street cleaners wanted to send a message to our community: “Green ILSC, Green Shivalik.” If a group of people, many of them visitors to Delhi, can have the dedication to spend a (blazing hot) Saturday morning cleaning up their neighborhood, shouldn’t we all take the time to pick up a piece of trash or two? Or better yet, let’s spread the word that our streets aren’t our garbage bags.
But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that we spent the morning chanting idealistic messages of green and love in the middle of a busy neighborhood. We mostly just made fun of how silly we looked wearing masks and gloves, tried to throw a few teachers in the garbage bags, made up stories about what kind of person hides fifty empty packages of orange cookies behind a bush, and debated on which cigarette brand appears to be the most popular with our nearby shop owners and patrons. In the end we collected three full bags of trash – not too shabby! To wrap up the morning we treated ourselves to some morning refreshments to discuss how we felt about the project. Many students reported that they often participate in volunteer efforts in their home countries, and they all recognized the importance of giving back to their cities and communities. While Delhi may be their place of residence for a short time, we all proved that Saturday that it’s not the color of our passport that indicates where our home is!