Our Planet, Our Life: Cleaning Up Versova Beach

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Text: Shreya Acharya

Instead of revelling in a much sought-after public holiday by having breakfast in bed or catching up on daytime TV, about 4800 Indians gathered at Versova Beach on Wednesday, 2 October 2019 to pick up trash.

On Gandhi Jayanti this year, Mahatma Gandhi’s Swachh Bharat (“Clean India”) campaign was reignited and swarms of people – rich and poor, young and old, students and professionals – came together to bring Bapu’s vision to life.

Led by Adv. Afroz Shah, an Indian lawyer, and leader of the world’s largest beach clean-up which subsequently gave him the title of United Nations “Champion of the Earth”, the beach clean-up started at 8.30AM and ran all the way through to 10.30AM. This was his 207th week of his regular routine, and plastic bags, cement sacks, shard of glass, cloth seeped in water and sand were uncovered by the hands of these people that stood by him, then swept up by trucks and strategically recycled by collaborative efforts through a circular economy.

Afroz works with more than 100 schools to educate students on the importance of marine health and ocean plastic pollution, and makes it clear that passion is his driving force. These beach clean-ups have also expanded to Shillong, Manipur, and Kolkata.

Heading the event, Afroz’s team of volunteers gave safety briefings and instructions, mended booths that gave out masks and gloves for hygiene purposes, and got down and dirty to complete their intended mission: Doing a small bit to create a large impact.

Prime Minister Nahendra Modi, who had also been named “Champion of the Earth” after Afroz, had also announced the ban of single-use plastics in Mumbai today. PM Modi had also tweeted a year before, “My friend Afroz and his team have been diligently working towards cleanliness for a long time. We are proud of your efforts and hope you will continue to play a vital role in fulfilling Bapu’s dream of a Clean India.”Needless to say, Afroz has been performing up to, and beyond, expectations.

Afroz believes that passion and profession to him were important yet separate entities, and he ran the beach clean-ups solely because of his love for, and dedication to, the environment. He is excited and hopeful about the new policies put into place, and believes that law needs to extend beyond written documents. “After all,” he says, “a skeleton should be given flesh and blood.”

After the activities, Afroz, although drained from the heat and exertion, welcomed volunteers into his home, and treated his guests with utmost hospitability.

In his Japanese-themed abode, he shared his experiences and thoughts, and chatted to his visitors about their morning over fresh mugs of chaiand piping hot vadas. He spoke about his next mission: Learning how to dive, and extending his reach and efforts to the depths of the sea itself. In his apartment overlooking Versova Beach, it was apparent: The shoreline and its adjacent water body may have once been dirty, but the clean, pure hearts of Afroz and his team volunteers shined across the landscape and beyond the sea.

Afroz will be leading a second beach clean-up on Saturday, 5 October 2019 from 8.30AM-10.30AM. Interested parties can register at https://adex.asia/india/beach-clean-up/.

Please report at the entrance of Versova Beach. Gloves will be provided. We, alongside Afroz, look forward to your participation!

In collaboration with Adv. Afroz Shah, we, Ocean Citizen, are fusing two synergies together to promote sustainable ocean management, habits, reducing single-use plastic usage, and enforce the mission of ADEX: To love and protect our oceans.

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