Two popular parks in Surrey have received a makeover this spring, as young people have showed up in droves to clean them.
The teenagers did not have to spend their afternoons picking up the litter that had been slowly accumulating in these public parks. But that is what they chose to do two days a week this March.
Surrey high-school student Dhaiya Bagri, one such volunteer, participated in the city’s Love Where You Live campaign with his younger brother, Sahib Bagri. The duo spent hours filling garbage bags with the trash they found scattered around Holland Park, which stretches over 10 hectares. Known as the Central Park of Surrey City Centre, this urban park has not escaped the litter menace, according to the teen volunteers.
“There’s a lot of garbage. There’s surprisingly a lot of glass, there are some needles, bottles lying around. We come here often and take our dogs here. We wanted to just clean up and make it a brighter place,” said 16-year-old Dhaiya.
Over the past two weeks, hundreds of like-minded teenagers joined the Bagri brothers on Tuesdays and Thursdays in this quest to make Surrey’s prominent parks trash-free. These volunteers pre-registered for the 30 slots available each day to be a part of the socially distanced clean-up campaign organized by the city at the Holland and Unwin parks.
They were provided with gloves, litter pickers and garbage bags. Some, like 16-year-old Jasnoor Sandu, searched through the grass, twigs and trees to find enough litter to fill up multiple bags with litter in a day at Unwin Park at the start of the campaign.
The combined efforts of over 100 teen volunteers helped the city rid its parks of 163 bags of garbage in a span of two weeks.
Environmental activists fighting for better management of the climate crisis in B.C. have lauded the efforts of these youth, pointing out that this youth engagement is the first step towards inspiring change on a global scale.
“What I really love about these kinds of ground initiatives is that the youth are getting involved in doing these local clean-ups,” said Daena Morel, an environmental activist and member of Extinction Rebellion.
“They are certainly important and effective because that expands into the families, expands into the communities, and helps people to open their eyes and see how imperative it is that we tackle this urgently.”
“It’s not just for school credit”
The students were rewarded with volunteer school credits for their participation in the clean-up campaign. However, for many, it was not just about this extra-curricular perk. It struck a much deeper chord with many of them.
“I need volunteer time to graduate, but this is not just for school credit. I see all the garbage around our parks and just really want to help make a difference and clean it up,” said Liam O’Brien, a 17-year-old who volunteered at both Holland and Unwin parks.
O’Brien said he found a visible difference in the level of cleanliness of the Unwin Park in the short span of their cleanliness drive.
“This park was just absolutely filled with garbage last Thursday. I had three full bags at this point and I’ve only got like half a bag right now. So, over the last week we’ve made a huge difference in this park,” he said.
Agreeing with him, Sandu said the amount of waste they collected was proof that it was high time people refrained from littering and cleaned up after themselves.
“Instead of picking up litter, we should all try to prevent littering because that’s much easier,” she said.
While the city is responsible for keeping these parks clean, authorities believe that campaigns like Love Where You Live help motivate teenagers to be proactive and bring the community together to keep the city clean.
Dan Nielsen, the manager of landscape operations and park partnerships, said the city organizes such drives mostly during the spring break to motivate the youth to come out together and volunteer for their community.
“This provides an opportunity for young people to engage with their community. I think it’s really important for other people that are in the park to see the work that the young people are doing as well,” said Nielsen.
This short spring clean-up initiative has already garnered the community’s appreciation.
For Umesh Suryawanshi, the park means some quality time with his son.
“I come here with my son every day. It is really nice to see these youngsters picking up all the plastic and glass so that our children can play in the park safely” said the 38-year-old Surrey resident.
“It is truly inspiring and I hope my son follows in their footsteps.”