It has been two years since James Joseph Kendall arrived in Vietnam and founded Keep Hanoi Clean – an environmental NGO which holds scheduled clean up in the capital and surrounding locales.
With the group growing daily, Kendall now hopes to enlist its younger members to help spread their message.
If you’re in Hanoi on the weekend, chances are you’ll spot a group of volunteers roaming the streets with garbage bags in hand, picking up trash as they go.
That’s Keep Hanoi Clean, founded and managed by Joseph Kendall, and American expat in Hanoi.
When the group first started popping up around the city, many regarded him and his band of foreigners with contempt.
But slowly, their positive example of environmental concern spread through the city.
A decision of goodwill
The fact that Kendall began running an environmental organization in Hanoi is pure coincidence.
When he first traveled to Hanoi in 2016 to visit his brother, then an instructor at a local university, he was immediately taken in by the city’s hospitality, unique cuisine, and of course – its culture aplenty.
The one thing he couldn’t get over, however, was the disregard he felt locals tended to show towards the environment.
Though he didn’t know much Vietnamese, Kendall still attempted to discourage others from littering, but saw his actions had little effect on local behaviors.
That’s when he decided to take matters into his own hands.
Banding together a small group of friends, Kendall and his crew met up and a local canal and spent the day clearing mountains of trash from its waters.
Though his act was originally criticized by locals, the chairman of Hanoi People’s Committee publically thanked Kendall for his contributions to the Vietnamese capital.
Concurrently, Keep Hanoi Clean has established divisions in every district in Hanoi, each with its own agenda.
But the lasting love for the Vietnamese capital, as well as concerns over its environmental handlings and likelihood, remains the mutual aim for the organization.
“Even though he is a foreigner, he cares so much for the local environment. He even cleans up our neighborhood," a local woman remarked after witnessing his cleaning activities.
"Initially I found his actions odd, but eventually I come around and began to admire his selflessness."
For a greener Hanoi
Despite not being a local resident, the "foreign waste collector”, as many call Kendall, seems no less infuriated by the littering problem in Hanoi.
According to Kendall, many are haplessly unaware of their surrounding environment.
They simply think that there are waste collectors out there who are paid to do the job, so it is not their responsibility to safeguard the streets from trash.
Kendall believes otherwise.
As the environment is mutually shared, he refuses to shirk the responsibility.
He also understands that there are those who depend on the trash to make a living.
“Our act potentially takes their job away [scrap collectors], so we have to make up for it somehow”, Kendall explained before sharing that the group sorts the trash into different categories and then provides it to scrap collectors who sell it to make ends meet.
|Kendall poses in front of the recently built Keep Hanoi Clean office. Photo: Supplied|
Kendall also hosts a recurring workshop to help battle the common mindset of abusing plastic-based products and free littering.
His target of interest is the younger generation because of their ability to adapt and the benefits they can gain by learning how to protect the environment at a young age.
He also plans to hosts an “Eco walk” – a widespread litter cleaning day in Hanoi scheduled for July 1.
“Everything is for a greener Hanoi”, Kendall earnestly expressed.
Now that Keep Hanoi Clean has grown to be a steady organization, budgeting and funding are inevitable.
In order to solve the financial need, which is also meant to teach young children to cherish the environment and the know-how of trash classification, Kendall intends to open an English language center.
True to his preserving nature, even the center will be eco-friendly.
Keep Hanoi Clean is hoping to use recycled materials rather than purchasing new items.
A member of the organization said he has sold his motorbike to fund the project.
As Kendall plans to stay in Vietnam at length, he expects the country’s environment to remain his top priority.