Foreigners on Their Own, Mission Swacch Bharat

Meet the expats in India who have been cleaning the country even before Modi’s Swacch Bharat mission was launched.


Much before PM Narendra Modi’s “revolutionary’’ Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan created noise, foreigners were doing their bit to clean India. From a Belgian man cleaning the streets in Chennai to British woman cleaning mountains, quite a few expats have taken up the challenge without any government support.

Here’s a bit about them and why they took the drive.

  1. Jodie Underhill: India’s Garbage Girl

Back in 2008 while on a visit to India, Jodie Underhill came across India’s garbage problem. “I saw garbage everywhere on my entire trip; the train journeys particularly were heart breaking. On a long train journey to North, I asked someone what to do with my trash, and in the blink of an eye he took it from me and flung it out of the window,” Underhill told The Citizen.

It was during that visit that she had found her life’s mission. She went on to form a voluntary organization called ‘The Mountain Cleaners’ which collects waste from a remote garbage infested mountain camp every week.

Underhill co-founded ‘Waste Warriors’ in 2012 and she has become popular as ‘India’s Garbage Girl’ who is fighting to keep India clean. “I didn’t choose garbage, it chose me,” Underhill told Indiatimes.

The Waste Warriors’ environmental educational program has about 100 schools under it. It also regularly conducts clean-up drives, waste management training programs and other general awareness campaigns.

Picture Credit: Better Village Better India Facebook Page

2.  Marta Vanduzer-Snow: Building Low-cost Toilets

 Before the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan started emphasizing on the need for toilets, Marta Vanduzer-Snow, an American native who settled in India built 82 low-cost evapotranspiration toilets in the two villages of Uttar Pradesh, Raebareli and Amethi.

She has also build one of the area’s first permeable road under her project ‘Better Village Better World’, she told The Logical Indian. Till date, she has built 143 cost efficient eco toilets which are self-cleaning and can can be built-up on smaller portions of land. Marta is said to have used her savings to build the toilets.

She along with her team spreads awareness about the necessity of toilets and better roads. For Marta, the cost of building one toilet is Rs 10,639 while a toilet under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan costs around Rs 17,000.

Photo Credit: Flikr

3.  Dana Crider: Maths Teacher Turned Environmentalist

 Born in Pennsylvania, Dana Crider moved to Mussoorie to teach Mathematics at Woodstock School in 1979. India has been his home ever since. There Crider met a fellow mathematics teacher Dick Vector, who was popularly known as the ‘Plastic man’.

Vector had started an NGO called ‘CLEAN’ in 1995 which was focused on banning the use of plastic bags and segregation of garbage.

Interested, Crider joined Vector and got involved with the NGO. After Vector left Woodstock in 2005, Crider took over and renamed it KEEN, reported Times of India. Since then the NGO has been actively involved in collection and segregation of waste from more than 1000 houses and about 50 hotels in Mussoorie.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

 4.  Zsuzsanna Ferrao: Making Beaches Beautiful Again

 If you go by the Rangaon beach near Vasai on a Sunday, you might find a Hungarian woman picking up garbage.  Zsuzsanna Ferrao, has been involved in the beach cleanliness drive since the last four years.

Her husband and her two young children help her out with it. “I consider India as my own country and believe we should make every effort to keep it clean,” Zsuzsanna told PTI.

Ferrao also wishes to have a clean beach where her children can run around. She said, “The beach is full of rubbish. I wanted to find a clean place on the beach where my children could play.”

5Peter Van Geit: Cleaning the Chennai Streets

For this Belgian IT professional, Chennai has been his home since 18 years. The founder of  the ‘Chennai Trekking Club’ Peter Van Geit has been heavily involved in the cleaning of streets in Chennai and making the city livable after the floods.

Till date he has organized 40 cleanups with thousands of volunteers to clean the ever-increasing garbage from rivers, schools and roads.

He along with his friends rescued 130 people during the floods in Chennai and Cuddalore. The backpacker can often be found cleaning the roads with a broom in hand.

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