Want to change the world? Pick up the trash!


May 19, 2009 by Rux

It’s always refreshing to find a “feel-good” story in the news these days. Especially one that vividly contrasts the big story in the region: the Taliban taking over the Swat valley!! The group of students featured in the May 18 story of the IHT have decided to take matters into their own hands and fight the Taliban in their own way: by cleaning up the streets. And with good reason too – a small act of good citizenship often has a snowball effect. It can give people hope and help them focus on positive attitude. Leo recently published an article at his ZenHabits blog: The Art of the Small. As soon as I read the Pakistan article I felt that it was a great example of what Leo talks about.

Making a difference in the world does not have to be an all-encompassing feat that unmotivates you just by its imagined magnitude. Making a difference can and should be a small feat – like picking up a piece of trash. Just one, each day. Especially trash that you find in nature. Otherwise we’ll end up with a strat-o-layer of plastic one day, and when they dig deep in the earth to gather information about previous generations they will define ours as the generation of plastic garbage.

“Pakistan is a country plagued by problems — Islamic extremism and poverty. But these young people are another face, a curious new generation that looks skeptically on their parents’ privilege and holds mullahs and military generals in equal contempt.”

“The reason the Taliban is ruling Swat,” he said referring to a valley north of Islamabad, where Islamic extremists took control this year, “is because they are organized. We need to organize, too.”

“The only answer to Pakistan’s problems,” he added, “is a broad-based people’s movement.”

Actually, the problem was deeper. A long-term cycle of corrupt, weak governments interrupted by military coups has caused Pakistan’s political muscles to atrophy, leaving Pakistani society, particularly its poor, hopeless that they will ever receive the services — education, water, electricity, health — that they so desperately need.”

“It’s good,” Mr. Waqas said shyly. When asked why, he said, “Because people care.”

That brought the students to the most serious discussion of the day, one that is arguably Pakistan’s biggest problem: the gap between rich and poor. Generations of poverty and a system of substandard education that keeps people in it have created fertile ground for Islamic militancy, which now poses a serious threat to the stability of the country.

“Here, if you’re poor, you’re not even a human being,” said Pavel Qaiser. “It’s the culture we have — one landlord and the peasants working under him.”

And here was a revelation: the trash picking, which the students had intended as an example for shopkeepers and residents, was actually an exercise for themselves.

“The rich don’t care, the poor can’t do anything, so it’s up to the middle class to make the change,” Mr. Khwaja said, as a group of friends standing near him nodded in agreement. “We have to lead by example. To change it from inside.”

He continued, his voice urgent, as if he were giving a speech: “We want to tell everyone, ‘You have the right. For 60 years everyone has told you that you don’t, but you do!’ ”

Then he bemoaned the small number of friends they were able to gather for the trash cleaning. For those who didn’t come, he had a message. “You want to do something? Pick up a shovel.”

Un-natural garbage

Un-natural garbage


One thought on “Want to change the world? Pick up the trash!

  1. cedricporet says:

    when politics watch their wallet growing, only local and small actions can saves the world !

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