November 01, 2011 12:44 AM
By Olivia Alabaster
The Daily Star
The green posters dotted around Hamra say, “Sukleen cleans up after you.”
The green posters dotted around Hamra say, “Sukleen cleans up after you.”

BEIRUT: Every day hundreds of Sukleen staff work to clean the streets of Beirut, emptying rubbish bins and picking up trash from the sidewalks. Most people don’t give them a second thought, but one activist believes they aren’t getting the respect they deserve, and has flyposted invitations for individuals to acknowledge them.

Dotted across Hamra, the green posters suggest that, as Sukleen staff “clean up after you,” one should acknowledge their presence. Other posters invite people to respect, appreciate or support the street cleaners.

The activist behind the campaign, who wishes to remain anonymous, as “this isn’t about me,” was prompted to put the posters up after seeing how many of her fellow Lebanese often treat the street cleaners, the majority of whom are migrant workers.

“People don’t say good morning to street cleaners, they don’t pay any attention to them in fact,” the activist, a designer, says.

For her, the posters are about pushing people to re-evaluate their attitudes to rubbish, and, in turn, to the workers who must clean up after them.

“It’s about raising awareness, about making people realize that throwing trash on the floor is something they should take into consideration, and think carefully about,” she adds.

There is a distinct lack of awareness of the work of street cleaners, she says, blaming Lebanese society for this. “People just expect these street cleaners to tidy up after them so they often do not see anything wrong in throwing rubbish on the ground.”

When a Sukleen truck has to stop in the middle of a narrow street to empty dumpsters, the activist often notices the drivers of cars held up behind the truck beeping their horns, impatiently, eager to get on their way.

“It’s just so disrespectful: It’s as if they don’t realize these staff have to do this to make the city cleaner,” she says. The activist herself makes a point of stopping to say hello when she passes a Sukleen worker picking up rubbish.

Having initially erected around 400 posters in Hamra over two weeks ago, the activist was contacted by Sukleen, who asked her to remove the posters as they allegedly contributed to rubbish levels in the city, and that they used the company’s name without permission.

Acknowledging and apologizing for this latter point, she denies the former – “posters are an important way of communicating with people and it’s not as if I’m handing out flyers which people will drop on the floor” – but nonetheless took their complaint on board and decided not to put up any further posters in other areas of the city.

She is now working on ideas for new ways to develop the campaign, and in the future will include messages in Arabic as well as English.

Partially blaming the government for the lack of awareness of the work of street cleaners – and for a lack of bins – the activist believes there should be a multimedia state-sponsored campaign to discuss the issue, bringing it into the national debate.

“If people drop less rubbish there will be less need for street cleaning services, and this money can therefore be directed into other sectors which need it,” the activist, who includes the email address on the posters, says.

She has received a lot of positive feedback to her email account, and she feels assured that attitudes will slowly change in favor of both the environment and Lebanon’s street cleaners.

“Today We Begin,” is about taking initiative in life: “We always tell ourselves, ‘I want to do this and that.’ But life is short, if we don’t start today we might never do it,” she says. “Time is very valuable … we can change the world if we know how to use it … It’s not an overnight thing … but over time, if one person tells a friend ‘hey, maybe don’t drop that rubbish in the street,’ then attitudes will begin to change.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 01, 2011, on page 3.

Read more:
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::