PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Two years ago, Richard Crlik, owner of River Queen Guesthouse, and Khat Nay Hort, the night manager, reached out to friends here to see if anyone would spend a few hours on a Sunday cleaning up trash piled along the riverbanks in town.
Nearly 750 people showed up.
Since that first “trash day,” they have cleaned up Sok San Road, Kampong Khleang village, and Wat Athvea. They have prompted multiple ‘Clean Up Your Neighborhood’ events where participants cleaned up 100 meters of road outside their houses.
The most recent ‘Clean Up Temple Town’ event, in February, drew 1,500. Mr. Crlik estimates that more than 90% were Khmer. All showed up voluntarily. Thanks to support from Siem Reap Provincial Governor H.E. Khim Bun Song and the Tourism Ministry, GAEA, the rubbish collection company, came the same day to collect the bagged garbage.
Mr. Crlik says that ‘Clean Up Temple Town’ has a good relationship with GAEA, a private company with the municipal removal company here. Without the company’s swift action, Mr. Crlik says, bottle hunters and dogs would pick through garbage, spreading around refuse once again.
After Clean Up Temple Town became a regular event, Mr. Crlik gave an interview where he said he needed local government support. Since then, the governor has actively supported and promoted these civic clean up campaigns.
Mr. Crlik credits Governor Khim for the new garbage cans lining the river along town — although he wishes the bins stretched to his house.
‘Clean Up Temple Town’ isn’t just about making the city look nice for visitors. Crlik’s primary incentive for these regular cleanups is the health, safety and wellbeing of his loved ones and the community.
As Clean Up Temple Town events gain momentum, they attract bigger players. What started as a community project two years ago now has the support of the national government.
The Tourism Ministry hopped on board this month, promoting the clean up as Khmer. It took over production of signs and educational ads in Khmer. These explain the benefits that come with keeping trash contained.
Organizations that work with Cambodians, especially young Cambodians, are given these educational materials to stimulate discussion and to start changing attitudes.
On April 3, USA International School participated in a school-wide Litter Pickup Day as part of a ‘Clean School, Clean City Starts with Us’ project. Students were taught about the negative effects of litter. Organizers hope that the students, largely Khmer, learned to dispose of waste safely – and that they will bring this information back to their parents.
Once the dry season weather cools, the next Clean Up Temple Town event will take place, either in May or June on. Small-scale cleanups are organized regularly on the group’s Facebook page. Residents hope they are starting to turn the page to make their city a healthier and more beautiful place.