Mr. Foreign likes to clean up trash

HANOI – James Joseph Kendall (42 years old) cannot forget his surprise when he saw the female cleaners pushing garbage trucks twice as tall when he first came to Vietnam 9 years ago.

Since then, the American man has helped them push carts and sweep the garbage in his free time to reduce the workload.

“For me, female environmental workers are like silent heroes, so I want to have the opportunity to say thank you,” James, an English teacher, shared about the idea of ​​sharing work with environmental workers. .

On October 20, the 42-year-old man and volunteers wore gloves, a garbage clip on his side, and pushed the cart to sweep and collect garbage for many hours to support 160 female workers in the Hoan Kiem district. At the end of the day, the group sent flowers and gifts to the sisters, making the recipients emotional.

“I hope next time I can help more than 2,000 female cleaners across the city. They deserve to be honored,” James said.

James Joseph Kendall during support for female cleaners in Hanoi in October. Photo: Provided by the character

This is just one of the hundreds of garbage cleaning activities that James and volunteers have implemented over the past 6 years, hoping to keep Hanoi clean.

James Joseph Kendall, born in Springfield, Ohio (USA), worked as a physiotherapist and massage therapist at a private clinic. In 2011, he went to Hanoi for a month to visit his brother who is a university lecturer. When he first came here, he was impressed by the bright smile and the friendliness of the people. The next year, he tried living and teaching English here for three months.

Returning to the country, the image of Vietnam kept swirling around in my head, the intention to stick with the new land became more and more obvious. In 2013, James decided to sell all his assets to go to Vietnam and be supported by his family.

Liked Vietnam, but the environmental pollution, waste littered in ditches, lakes, around residential areas is what worries James. He thought something had to be done and started by taking out the trash in the dirtiest places. “People always ask me why I choose to clean up trash in Hanoi. But why can’t I do that for my city to fall in love with?”, he explained.

In May 2016, James went to a stinking ditch , thick black water, full of garbage at the end of Thanh Thai Street, Yen Hoa Ward, Cau Giay District to clean up the trash. He said, after wearing gloves, holding a large plastic bag, and with more than 10 volunteers, he immersed himself in a muddy ditch, directly picking up trash bags and picking up plastic bags – something he had never done in the US.

But what James did not expect was that the image of wading into the black sewage stream to pick up trash became famous, he began to be called “Mr. Tay” or “Mr. Tay” In addition to praise and thanks, many people say that he is crazy, overworked, advised to focus on making money, but James shook his head: “I clean up trash because I feel dirty, not to get attention”.

After that, he started a social network group called Keep Hanoi Clean, shared his knowledge of environmental protection, organized garbage cleaning sessions on weekends. The volunteer group prioritizes cleaning the most polluted open-air sewers, ditches, ponds, lakes, under bridges and parks in Hanoi, then collects and transports them to the gathering place in accordance with regulations.

But finding contaminated sites, calling for volunteers is not as difficult as preparing professional garbage collection tools because large quantities are needed. “I can’t leave people empty-handed. All activities need gloves, plastic bags, professional garbage tongs and my duty is to use my teaching salary to buy things without a sponsor.” he shared.

After 6 months of implementation, the group estimated about 1,000 participants. Depending on the size, James will call for an appropriate number of volunteers, averaging from a few dozen to several hundred people, even large events that attract thousands of participants.

In addition to the team that directly cleans up trash, many people actively cook rice, bring fruit and drinking water to the place where the group is cleaning up trash to support. Volunteer activities are continuously supported by local authorities and environmental organizations.

“It is the love of the people and the relentless efforts of volunteers that become the motivation for me to continue on my journey to clean up trash instead of giving up every time I face the pressure of work, economy and time. Time for myself”, he shared and affirmed that the garbage removal comes from a personal desire, loves Hanoi, does not consider it a duty, requires someone to pay or be grateful.

James and the volunteers of Keep Hanoi Clean during the garbage collection at the foot of Long Bien Bridge in 2017. Photo: Provided by Characters

After 6 years of operation, Keep Hanoi Clean has more than 5,000 members, most of them between the ages of 17 and 50, 80% are Vietnamese. The group collected hundreds of thousands of tons of waste, organized cleanup at 103 locations and areas in the city. During the two years of the epidemic, the group launched a movement to clean up garbage at the place to volunteers and received a response.

For their contributions to environmental protection, James and the members of Keep Hanoi Clean were honored to be awarded the 9th season “Bui Xuan Phai – For the love of Hanoi” in the category “Work – For love”. love Hanoi” in 2016, along with some notes from the Hanoi People’s Committee.

Along with the job of cleaning garbage on weekends, James is currently an English teacher for elementary students. In addition to imparting knowledge, he often shares with young children the importance of protecting the environment, instructing them on how to clean up trash, collect, sort and reuse old things to avoid waste.

Participating as a volunteer since the end of 2019, currently a project officer of Keep Vietnam Clean Social Enterprise, Vu Thuy Dung, 25 years old, said that leader James’s will and enthusiasm inspired him. inspiration for her and many others.

“After each project, Mr. James always says thank you to the volunteers, but I want to say thank you again. James is a foreigner, but he doesn’t mind rolling into the mountains of stinking garbage, ready to go. spend money to buy cleaning tools, spare no time and effort to change Hanoi more beautiful,” Dung shared.

Having lived near a rotten ditch for many years, Ms. Mai Anh, 40, from Yen Hoa ward, noticed a change since the volunteer group came to clean up the trash. She said, 6 years ago this ditch smelled bad, the surface was covered with enough large and small garbage bags, so few people passed. But since “Mr. West” cleaned up, people living more consciously, this area gradually changed skin.

Looking back on the 6-year journey from changing awareness to action, James expressed his joy and surprise when the places where the group used to clean up are now clean and beautiful, many people form the habit of using recycled products, do not use plastic items, plastic bags, a number of environmental protection groups in many provinces and cities were established.

James Joseph Kendall expressed his joy at seeing the positive change of the environment after 6 years with active volunteers. Photo: Quynh Nguyen

Now, Keep Hanoi Clean has changed its name to Keep Vietnam Clean with a team of enthusiastic staff and volunteers with 6 key programs focusing on waste management, green space development, regenerative agriculture, Sustainable fashion and community education. James takes on the role of a volunteer instead of a team leader, because he wants to spend more time with his family, especially his Vietnamese wife, who just got married in September this year.

“But in any position, I still continue to join hands and contribute to protecting the city and country that I want to stick with for a long time,” said the 42-year-old man.

Some of James’s and volunteers’ garbage cleaning activities.