Lending a hand to make Singapore clean

Lending a hand to make Singapore clean
Denver, 12, occasionally helps his dad, Mr Barry Heng, to pick up litter at their HDB block in Sengkang.

Teacher Tan Ken Jin has the tendency to pick up any litter he sees.

The 37-year-old does it without fuss - he picks up the trash with his bare hands before washing them at the nearest basin.

It all started in 2012 when he was training for a marathon and was frustrated by the litter he saw along his route.

Mr Tan decided to act and began the Singapore Glove Project, a community initiative where people would walk or jog with gloves on and pick up litter along their path at the same time.

"I was moved by all the trash around me to start something larger than myself, as I knew I could not do it alone," he said.

"The aim of the movement is to encourage Singaporeans to stay active by exploring the many corners of our beautiful country, while at the same time helping to beautify it."

Mr Tan said onlookers often get confused when they see members of the Singapore Glove Project at work and assume they are doing a Corrective Work Order.

Civic duty

"We just explain that we are performing a civic duty and encourage them to join us or not litter," he added.

But Mr Tan thinks their biggest challenge is to get naysayers to feel they need to be part of the solution.

"There is sadly a group of people who still point fingers at foreigners, be they tourists or workers, saying that they are the problem.

"While I do not doubt that some foreigners contribute to the problem, there are many foreigners who help out with the Singapore Glove Project as well. On the flip side, we have also seen locals littering and we do our best to educate them."

Mr Tan, who is the head of department of student development at Bartley Secondary School, hopes to inspire his students to do the same. 

Recalling how a friend praised him for being "brave" when he politely told a litterbug to pick up his cigarette butt, Mr Tan wishes that more people would do the same.

"Going up to a fellow countryman to help keep Singapore clean shouldn't be seen as bravery. It should be seen as something natural and I wish all of us would have the motivation to remind one another to keep our country clean," he said.

I wish all of us would have the motivation to remind one another to keep our country clean.

- Mr Tan Ken Jin


Dad, daughter work together to clear litter

There are two rubbish bins next to the letter boxes at the block of flats in Sengkang where Mr Barry Heng lives.

Yet, when he returns home from work in the evening, there are usually flyers scattered all over the floor.

Since he moved in two years ago, Mr Heng would pick up these flyers and dispose of them properly.

The 40-year-old IT consultant said: "I just do it. If I can help, I'll just try my best to help. I think it's about personal responsibility. If everyone thinks it's not their business, there'll always be litter."

While Mr Heng does not think his efforts are a big deal, his eight-year-old daughter, Gladys, is so proud of him that she now helps him pick up the litter when she follows him to collect their mail.

The Primary 3 pupil said: "Singapore's a clean and green country. I'm upset that some people litter."


While her parents are worried about the idea of her approaching litterbugs to pick up their trash, Gladys is unfazed.

The feisty girl said: "If I see someone littering, I'll say: 'Can you pick it up, you are dirtying the environment.'"

Mr Heng's wife, Madam Phoebe Lau, 37, a student-care teacher, said: "I think kids should be taught from a young age that they should pick up after themselves. If they see the adults doing it, they'll follow too."

Mr Heng also makes it a point to pick up litter when he goes to the beach. Once, he managed to fill up two bags of trash within an hour, he recalled.

He admits there were times when he felt discouraged by the repeated scenes of litter at his block.

"The litter just kept coming back. Once, I even stopped picking up litter for a few days," he said.

"But perhaps when others see me picking up the flyers, they will feel bad and think twice about littering."

Very tiring.

That was how a group of energetic Secondary 1 students from Bartley Secondary School described cleaning their school premises.

In half an hour, nine students from Class 1N1 tidied two classrooms and checked the bins of the school canteen for recyclable materials.

Mohammad Shafiq, 12, said at the end of the clean-up: "We had to bend down to sweep the floor and arrange the tables.

"I realise how tiring it must be for the cleaners, so we have to do our part to help them."

Bartley Secondary hires six cleaners.

Its head of department of student development, Mr Tan Ken Jin, said the initiative to involve Secondary 1 students in their school's cleanliness has been ongoing for the past two years.

More responsibilities

Students used to only be responsible for their own classrooms, but Sec 1 students are now also in charge of different parts of the school premises.

Mr Tan said: "The aim is to get the students to develop a sense of responsibility and ownership towards the school.

"After all, many students spend more time in school than at home. It's not just a place for them to learn, it's a second home."

As a result of the programme, students have become more aware of the problem of littering in their surrounding.

Some students have even started their own litter-picking initiatives, added Mr Tan.




This article was first published on Feb 23, 2015.
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