November 2, 2010
On October 31, 2010, nearly 600 students and staff volunteers clad in fluorescent orange vests and gloves worked their way around garbage heaps in and around Ukkadam Bus Stand, Ettmadai Junction, the town of Kuniamuthur and the village of Chavady.
Working as part of a larger initiative by the Mata Amritanandamayi Math, aptly named Amala Bharatam Campaign, these volunteers from Amrita’s Coimbatore campus cleaned road sides, removed garbage, leveled stones, washed walls, cleaned public urinals and toilets. In addition, they separated the plastic waste and cleaned the Ukkadam Lake, all in a few hours’ time.
A big contingent that included Amrita’s Pro-Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Deans, Directors, Chairpersons, in addition to students, teaching and non-teaching staff took on the gigantic cleaning task at the Ukkadam Bus Stand.
“There were four big holes right in the middle of the road outside the bus stand,” shared Ms. Usha, a staff member of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “The telecom people had dug these to lay some cables. It took us four hours and 20 sacks to clean out the garbage from just one such hole.”
Seeing them work inspired many other people who joined in. “What the Government should do, these students here are doing,” stated Mohammed Rafiq, an auto driver, who worked alongside the students. “I hope to also join them the next time that they are here.”
Hopefully though, there will not be a next time, at least not, any time soon. The bus stand building, its floors and its boundary walls were washed with five truckloads of water, disinfectants and soap. The area opposite the bus stand that stood on one bank of the Ukkadam Lake was cleaned of animal waste and human feces in addition to the litter of plastic cups and wrappers.
“When people like our Vice-Chancellor were actually out there cleaning, everyone felt inspired to work much harder,” shared Mr. Santhosh, an Estate Office staff member who participated. “The Ukkadam bus stand is spotless now,” he added, with pride.
Meanwhile, Profs. Gangadharan and Aravindakshan were seen accompanying students to Ettimadai Junction and issuing instructions on sorting.
“Put the glass pieces in a separate bag,” they instructed. “Otherwise, people at the recycling unit might hurt themselves.”
As students sorted tons of waste into biodegradable and recyclable items, they reflected on their own patterns of consumption and waste generation. “We will now be careful about how we dispose of plastic,” stated Arjun Menon, a first-year student from the Amrita School of Communication.
Students and other volunteers carted the segregated waste back to the campus waste management unit and also to a solid waste management plant in Vellalore in the city suburbs.
Local authorities including the City Mayor, Collector and Police Commissioner extended full support and helped with the waste disposal.
The next phase is planned for November 13; would these students and staff members do it again?
“It felt really good to engage in this activity and I would love to come for the next phase of cleaning too,” stated Mahalakshmi B. S., a first-year B.Tech. student of Electronics and Communication Engineering.
“I am proud to be a part of this cleanup program,” added Rashmi Ramdas, first-year student of MCA. “Doing this just once or twice is not enough. It should be a continuous process where many people come forward and lend their helping hand to clean the city.”
The next phase may involve students from other educational institutions in Coimbatore who would be willing to join hands to work alongside these Amrita students.
“This cleaning activity has helped students feel the dignity of labor; it has also helped bridge the gap between students and teachers as both are doing the same work side-by-side,” stated Prof. Chinnaswami of Students’ Welfare at Amrita. “This is an excellent initiative from Chancellor Amma and should soon involve other institutions also.”