Bin there, done that

The roads were filthy, the trash cans empty. A young boy decided to change things

By Samyukta Maindarkar | TNN

“Earlier, the kids didn’t want to come to school,” says Tayappa Badageri. “It smelled and was dirty.” He points to a small square space outside, opposite the balwadi’s door. “This place used to be chock full of rubbish.”

Having grown up in the slums in Backbay, 19-year-old Tayappa was used to seeing his neighbours dump garbage anywhere, unconcerned with what it did to the community’s hygiene. The streets were gutters carpeted with rubbish and the piles of refuse continued to grow. Fed up of the filth, he decided something had to be done.

With the help of a group of friends, Tayappa cleaned out the trash outside the school. “The spot stayed clean for two days. On the third day, the trash was back.” None of those living in the slums bothered to walk to the bins located on the main road. “They said it was too far, that they didn’t have the time… they always came up with an excuse,” says Santosh, one of Tayappa’s volunteer friends. “If someone did bother to go there, they were mocked at.”

Image credit: Hemant Shirodkar/Times of India

Tayappa tried to educate his neighbours about a proper waste management system, an idea his teacher had always advocated. “My sir did talk about proper waste disposal, but people weren’t interested in listening to serious lectures.” The next step was to organise puppet shows and street plays. “We started two or three years ago,” he says. Now they stage such plays three or four times a year, especially at festivals when there are ready-made crowds to attend.

He relates one of the stories used in a puppet show. “We wrote a story about a community like ours, where people dump garbage on the street and diseases like malaria are rampant,” he says. “One boy falls seriously ill. His uneducated mother has no idea what to do. A drunkard who stays close by tells her to go to a quack. But a young schoolboy tells her that if she wants to save her child’s life, she should take him to a qualified doctor.”

The woman takes his advice and the doctor not only cures the boy but comes back with her and talks to the slum-dwellers about the importance of cleanliness in their surroundings.

The group’s shows struck a chord, but it took time. A teacher working at the school says that the place became less dirty as days went by. “I guess our work paid off—the children gradually came back to school,” says Santosh. Tayappa got the boost he needed when an NGO called Ashoka that helps young people work on social projects chose to fund his Garbage Programme. They used the money to print posters—on how to dispose of household waste properly—which they pasted on every street in the area. “We arranged to have the garbage collected from each house in the slum thrice a day. We went from house to house telling people why it was important to throw trash in the bin and not leave it lying around. We helped clean up the streets as often as possible and charged only ten rupees. This helped us do our own fund-raising as well,” Tayappa says.

Soon, young children were coming forward, offering to help. “I think the involvement of children—especially those who go to school—was one of the best outcomes of this project,” says Tayappa. “Some of them are very intelligent. The story for one of our plays was given by a girl who wrote really well.”

A native of Gulbarga in Karnataka, Tayappa shares his small house with his mother and six siblings. “When we moved to Mumbai, I was just five. My mother didn’t know how to get me into school, but I really wanted to study. I used to watch the children in a school close to where we stayed then. After a few days, the teachers asked me if I wanted to study. I said yes, and they took me in,” says Tayappa, now in his second year of BCom.

“My mother didn’t understand my project at first, but now she does,” he continues. “I think she’s thankful that her son is doing something worthwhile rather than smoking and doing drugs.”

(This is part of an Independence Day series on youngsters who have chosen to light a candle rather than curse the darkness)

*Originally printed in The Times of India’s Mumbai edition on August 16, 2008, in the Times City section