“I am not trying to be a hero. But work together with others.
Anyone who wants to join us – and change our community. Our city. Even our country.”
– San Dara Vit
Sometimes Cambodia surprises me. Reminds me that things are a changing.
And it happened again yesterday when I met Dara Vit. He’s a young Khmer man in his late 20s who lives close to the ‘canal’. A waterway that has become a sewer; a dumping place for rubbish. Until recent months, it held so much plastic and debris that you couldn’t see the water. I’ve learned to avoid this area because of the smell. It was shocking!
Dara Vit struggles to get by financially. Life is challenging. But 12 months ago, he decided enough was enough. He was going to get rid of the rubbish in his neighbourhood and beautify the area. He hadn’t heard of any campaigns across the world. He was oblivious to ‘Clean Up Australia’. He simply put out the word and started gathering volunteers. 22 of them.
On March 4 this year, they got started. Initially they used nets to drag the top layer of the rubbish out of the water. Then they built a barge allowing them to travel in the canal and remove the rubbish trapped or growing. The volunteer numbers swelled to 65 with local community members joining the throng.
Within 3 weeks they’d removed 80% of the rubbish. The corresponding smell was gone and the community responded.
Rubbish was no longer thrown into the canal. People put out planted pots and planting bushes along the canal’s edge. People jogged along the waterway. Shopkeepers swept their shopfronts anticipating customers and walk by traffic.
It is a truly remarkable transformation. And Dara Vit isn’t finished there. He has plans to transform Phnom Penh. To take up the challenge of making his city beautiful. And he’s engaged 25 vibrant young volunteers to assist.
But it’s not easy. He’s sold his small fish shop to lead the work. He’s trying to engage with government. He’s meeting the physical demands of the work and leading a team. As much as anything, Vit needs emotional support. So send him a message. Let him know that small beginnings are the starting point for all movements that change the world. And I think that’s exactly what we’re seeing right here, right now.