We will walk the extra miles together
My little extra mile has surprisingly, brought me rather far.
First, Minister Mr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister of Environment and Water Resources visited my humble site.
Then I was mentioned in Parliament by Ms Grace Fu.
Thanks to them, two reporters did a a story on my work.
First, there was Ting Kheng Siong from ZaoBao.
I did a translation of his article. (I enjoyed doing it and I am very proud of it!!)
“The Malays have a proverb “sikit sikit lama lama jadi bukit”, which means small amounts can be accumulated to form a mountain.
It is just like litter and bad habits.
The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) mentions Singapore’s littering situation at almost every Budget debate.
The year before, MEWR quoted a study that found out that every 12 hours, for every 100 square meters (the size of a 4-room flat) of public space in Singapore, there would be 33 pieces of litter.
Yesterday in Parliament, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, 2nd Minister for the Environment and Water Resources and 2nd Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ms Grace Fu did not talk about the volume of trash but announced that MEWR will increase the number of man hours its inspectors spend on patrol, from 24,000 a month, to 35, 000 a month – an increase of about 50%.
The only way to arrest a litterbug is to catch him red-handed. In addition, in the minds of most people, littering is not a heinous crime, unlike murder or arson, so for Singaporeans to recognize littering as a problem is not easy.
So for Ms Grace Fu to be able to mention a netizen’s self-generated facebook initiative – “A Litter at a time” is exceptional indeed.
This facebook page was set up by Ms Elisa Ng in January 2013. On her facebook page, she encourages everyone to pick up a piece of litter everyday, to keep the environment clean. Her facebook page also described how she and her 6-year old son brought two plastic bags and went around the neighbourhood to pick up litter.
Although the facebook page only has 60 over “likes”, Elisa was not discouraged. She told the reporter, “For every one I encouraged, it is one more who will do something he/she has never done before. Actually, picking up a piece of litter is a very simple thing to do. If half the population does it, people’s attitudes will start changing. The most important thing is the influence on the next generation. Now picking up litter from the floor comes quite naturally to my children”.
Besides additional enforcement, Ms Grace Fu also said that the government is considering increasing the penalty for repeat litterbugs. They may be fined up to a maximum of $10,000. In addition, MEWR is piloting the use of CCTV to keep litter-prone areas under surveillance.
Actually everyone knows, that using strict laws to restrain the public from littering, or increasing the efficiency of cleaners to create a clean Singapore are merely stop-gap measures, although these methods have been found to be effective in Singapore all these years. However, to be able to do it the way Elisa does, a little at a time, through family education, is our Achilles’ heel.
Ms Grace Fu revealed that one of the littering cases was discovered after a member of public submitted a video of a man throwing a piece of tissue out of the car.
These increasingly advanced methods and heavy penalties serves only to reflect the moral shortcomings of our people.
We cannot blame the Government for failing in its duties. To be considered a cultured and advanced society, we need a high level of civic-consciousness shared by everyone. Unless everyone agrees and is willing to put in effort, we will simply continue to criticize others for their lack of civic mindedness on the one hand, and think little of our own littering habit on the other.
A colleague of mine witnessed an incident the day before at a bus-stop. My colleague saw a girl throw a plastic bag on the floor. When the mother asked her to pick it up, the girl said : “Nevermind, the cleaner will do it”. My colleague decided to speak up and remind the mother/child pair, whereupon the mother changed tack and scolded my colleague for being a busy-body.
That girl might have thrown away a worthless plastic bag, but the mother threw away something precious, and that is her opportunity to educate her child.
The series of measures to be implemented by MEWR will result in a cleaner environment in Singapore. But as long as there are still some moral dregs and erroneous thinking remaining, the clean city is simply a façade. Hidden, as if under a beautiful carpet, is still the people’s thoughtless propensity to litter.”
Then there was Audrey Kang from the New Paper (Here’s the link to the article).
Thanks to the Zao Bao report, 大拇指 (The Big Thumb) also had a feature on my work.
Separately, the “Singaporean of the Day” video team approached me to do a feature on what I was doing. (Blogpost and video here).
Lastly, my family and I appeared in New Paper again, thanks to the Singaporean of the Day team. (New Paper wanted to feature them, and came along when they did the video with us.)
It was a simple idea, and a simple project which I did. I never thought that it would go so far – that I would make so many friends.
What touched me most about the whole experience was not the media attention or publicity. What really encouraged me was for me to know that there are many people out there who shared my passion, and that includes the 89 people who have liked my facebook page so far. I especially enjoyed the article by Zaobao because it described so clearly what was in my heart. I also liked 大拇指 (The Big Thumb) who quoted me :”What’s most important is the encouragement it brings to the children”.
Yes, I am doing this for the children – for our future generation. I want to do my little part, in changing the hearts and attitudes of youths and children.
I wrote a little essay in my “A litter at a time” facebook page:-
“Today I really went out with two plastic bags. In fact, I brought along three bags because I believed that I would need them.
I only filled up two plastic bags. I did not run out of litter to pick. I simply ran out of time. The carpark has been especially dirty this week. I wonder why. Anyway, today I had a bit of time, while waiting for a friend for lunch, and I decided to pick up as much as I can.
I remember that when I was a child, parents used to tell their children this : “You better study, if not, you will end up like that uncle there – sweeping the floor”. I wonder what parents told their children today, when they saw me picking up litter.
As I was picking up litter, I was nearly in tears. Again, I wondered – why is this place so dirty – there must have been blatant littering. Why?
I don’t care what people think of me when I pick up litter. I wish a child will come up to me and ask me – why are you doing this? Is it that you are a cleaner? Is it that you did not study when you were a child?
I want to tell them – no. I studied very hard. I got very good grades in school. I graduated from National University of Singapore with honours. Before I stopped work, I was earning more than $100k a year.
Education is not so that you will not need to do any menial, dirty job. Education is so that you will have the wisdom to know that you are not defined by your job, whether it is a cleaner or a lawyer. Education is so that you will understand, that a great man is simply a man who sees what needs to be done, and does it. Education gives you the confidence of making the world a better place, through the talents which you have been given, the knowledge you have gained, skills which you have honed, because thousands of people have poured themselves into your life. Education gives you the insight, that there is a time to give back.
But of course, I picked up the litter for a second reason too. A selfish reason. I don’t want my child, my precious little child who still has the enthusiasm of picking up litter, to be educated in an environment strewn with litter.
I don’t want him to walk past pieces of plastic bags… pieces of tissue papers…packets of drinks… everyday, to and from school, and ignore them, or neglect them because he is rushing to school, or hungry for dinner. I don’t want his warm little heart to become cold, and his sensitive conscience to become hardened, till one day, he no longer cares that his world has become ugly, and that he has become ugly.
I care for my world. I want my child to care for his. I think that is what it means to be a parent.”
My dear, dear children, I know that these extra miles are not easy to walk. I know, because it is as difficult for me as it is for you. I just do not talk about it much.
But I also know that these extra miles are worth walking. People may not understand and many will call us fools. But I know, that it is when we choose to lose our lives, that we gain it. I hope you will understand that one day.
And you will not be alone. You will find friends, as mummy did.
There are other people who are choosing also to walk this way too. The grace of God will allow us to find each other. We will walk together.