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Dharavi boys join beach clean-up wave

SPARKED by one man, Afroz Shah, and joined by thousands, Mumbai’s Versova beach clean-up – the largest in the world – has turned into a movement that has inspired many.

Amongst them are 22-year-old Saif Ansari and Adnan Khan, 20, from Dharavi, Asia’s biggest slum – and the most densely populated.

While still in their late teens, the young lads once volunteered with the Versova beach clean-up team to dig up the dirt washed up on the sands. The endless amount of plastic and other waste they came across on the beach – along with dead fish – stayed on their minds like a bad aftertaste.

Already sensitised to the effects of our throwaway culture, Maharashtra’s ban on plastic in June this year, stirred their concerns about the environment again – and the pair decided to do something about it.

“It came to us organically. To clean  Mahim beach. We see that it’s getting dirtier day by day. Before we used to play football there but because of the waste spread out across the beach, we had to stop,” says Saif.

There were a number of things that could have dampened their enthusiasm. To start with, they couldn’t afford to buy gloves and baskets needed for the clean-up. Saif’s mother makes bags out of recycled plastic for a living while his father works as a receptionist at an NGO. In Adnan’s family, his father is the only earning member and runs a small home-based business of reselling old sarees.

Every Sunday the scene on Mahim beach.

 But there was no stopping these boys. They went to BMC, the city’s municipal corporation, with their plan and requested them for a supply of gloves. But the workers at BMC said they didn’t have gloves themselves, let alone have any spare to give them.

So Saif and Adnan went around asking people in the neighbourhood for gloves and baskets and collected a few which they now often share with BMC workers.

Saif says: “They remove the waste with their bare hands but it’s not safe because sharp objects like broken glass and beer bottles are often found in that.”

The boys also went about talking to students in their neighbourhood about their beach clean-up mission and urged them to join. They spoke to about 80 students, of which 20 turned up when they started in July.

Ever since, every Sunday at 7am, Saif and Adnan, along with the other volunteers, head to the Mahim beach in their area to clean it.

“Now about 70 to 80 people turn up every week, from 12 year-old children to fishermen. We pick up the trash and put it in a designated corner. We have convinced a BMC worker to bring a dump truck to pick up the collected waste,” says Saif.

Over the weeks they have learned that a beach clean-up is not just about picking up the rubbish on the sea shore – that there is a method to it.

Saif explains: “We got in touch with the Versova beach clean-up people and they told us that it’s important to ensure that sand is not picked up along with the waste. So, we tear up all the wrappers and packets – like milk pouches – to take the sand out before adding it to the heap of rubbish. Otherwise often in the waste we collect, 50 percent of it is sand.”

Saif and Adnan also made a trolley from recycled items to carry the waste. “It’s difficult and takes a lot of energy to carry so much waste in our hands and to walk a distance to dump them in the heap. So, we created a trolley to stack up four boxes of waste and carry all of it together. It worked for some days but then one of the tyres got punctured so that was that,” Saif recounts.

But trolley or not, these young boys are determined to clean up the Mahim beach. Adnan says: “One day we will play football on this beach again.”

And it’s not just them, Saif insists. “I know so many people across Mumbai who are trying to clean the city. If this continues, one day I’m sure Mumbai will be clean.”

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