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Ho Chi Minh City teens take on street cleaning work to learn compassion

Monday, July 04, 2016, 19:34 GMT+7

High school teens in Binh Thanh District of Ho Chi Minh City have been getting down to the streets at night to experience the work of street cleaners, part of the latest activity organized by the district’s Youth Union to teach youngsters hard work and compassion.

At 8:00 pm one evening the residents of Xo Viet Nghe Tinh Street in Binh Thanh District witnessed the strange sight of teenage cleaners sweeping their streets.

“New recruits eh, sis Ba?” one local asked Pho Thi Ba, a cleaner with 29 years of experience on the job.

“Nah, they are just students trying out the job, but it makes me feel sorry watching them do the work because they’re so small,” Ba replied.

The students are volunteers of the ‘A Day Working As a Cleaner’ program organized by the Youth Union of Binh Thanh District as part of the annual summer volunteering campaign for youths in the city.

As the teens are particularly clumsy, Ba has to teach them everything, from how to hold the long-handled bamboo broomstick properly, to how to sweep garbage onto the dustpan without making a mess.

Pushing a stinky garbage cart, Nguyen Phan Huyen Tran described how she had to use every muscle of her body to keep the cart moving since it was heavy and bulky at the same time.

“I knew the working conditions of cleaners were hard since they have to put up with the weather and all, but I never imagined the job would be so exhausting,” Tran said.

As for Le Cong Thanh, he said he had been inspired to try the job after seeing on television how cleaners had to stay up past midnight to clean up after festival goers on New Year’s Eve.

Though drawn into sweeping and chit-chatting with her new ‘disciples,’ Ba could still be heard occasionally telling the students to “watch out for the motorbikes.”

Ba explained that although cleaners are dressed in reflective jackets, “the streets are filled with drunkards at this time of the day, so you can never be too careful.”

Stopping for a brief water break in a secluded alley, Ba began telling her life and work story to the students.

Ba said her husband Nguyen Van Son, a colleague of hers, had been hit by a drunk motorbike rider while he was sweeping the street six years earlier, an accident she said had damaged his brain and rendered him unable to work for a long time.

Her husband is now back to work, and the couple travel for over half an hour every day to work from the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City.

“We work like a Trojan every night, but it makes me happy to see the streets clear of litter after we’re done,” Ba said.

Saddened by her story, Thanh confessed that he was wrong to have thought that cleaning the streets was not a highly regarded job.

“It’s just as noble as any other job,” Thanh concluded after hearing Ba’s story. “[The cleaners] also have to exchange their sweat and blood for the clean streets that we use.”

Meanwhile, another teen said he would not litter anymore after understanding how hard the cleaners work to keep the city streets clean.

Pham Quang, head of the cleaning team, said that the students’ actions meant much more than simply lending the cleaners a hand.

“Although only a few dozen students took part in cleaning the streets, their actions will echo through to their families and friends, and soon more people will understand the hardship of sanitation workers and stop littering,” Quang said.

Nguyen Ngoc Thao Nguyen, deputy secretary of the Binh Thanh Youth Union and the woman behind the program, said her idea was aimed at improving the awareness of students about their world.

“We will expand this model to offer more students a chance to experience the job in the coming years,” Nguyen said. 

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