In mid-May, expat James Joseph Kendall attracted the attention of local media by leading a team of volunteers in cleaning up litter from a canal on Nguyen Khang street in Hanoi’s Cau Giay district. James is the leader of Keep Hanoi Clean, a newly established voluntary group working to clean up polluted locations across the capital.
Landing in Vietnam three years ago, James has been teaching English at Xuan La Primary school in Tay Ho district. Originally, James merely planned to visit Vietnam as a tourist, but the country captured his heart and he decided to stay. “I love the local people here as they tend to be extremely friendly and welcoming. I am addicted to Vietnam’s traditional food such as beef pho, nem, and bun dishes. I love exploring the Old Quarter on my scooter,” he shares.
James has visited many places in Vietnam, including Sapa, Haiphong, Cam Pha, Halong, Cat Ba, and Dalat. He adds that Dalat is where he would like to settle down eventually.
Photo by Quang Minh Nguyen
James says that ever since he was a young boy he has enjoyed working on voluntary projects to protect the environment. He likes planting trees and he and his family usually plant trees around their house at Christmas time. “When I first came to Vietnam, I was surprised to see people throwing trees away on the streets. On several occasions I have collected those trees and planted them in different locations and many of them have thrived,” he says.
Although his story has gone viral on social media, James shares that his intention was not to become famous in Hanoi. “I only want to help the neighbourhood and change people’s mindset toward the environment,” James says. “I had been to the polluted canal several times and decided to do something about it. I told some friends of mine about my idea of cleaning up the canal and they all supported it. At first, my group had only a few members, but later on, people from the neighbourhood came to help. After that I saw some young people wearing blue shirts and I guessed they were from the local Youth Union. They came down to the canal and cleaned up the trash with us.”
Following the cleanup, James has received much praise and gratitude from people living around the area. “They were very respectful towards me and on that day the head of Cau Giay population group invited our team to dinner. Though I offered to pay, he insisted that it was his way of saying thank you to the team. I was touched,” he recalls. James shares that he loves Hanoi for its traditional values and lovely people. He intends to continue taking practical action to protect the environment of the city.
On May 18, the chairman of Hanoi People’s Committee, Nguyen Duc Chung, visited James to express his gratitude. Chung believes James’ actions have had a positive impact on increasing people’s awareness about environmental protection.
“Speaking on behalf of the city’s leaders, we hope James and his team will continue their meaningful work, and are successful in recruiting more people to participate in environmental protection activities,” he said. The chairman presented James with the badge of Hanoi to honour his work.
Keep Hanoi Clean
“One day I saw a post from a friend relating to the dead fish washed up along the central coast area of Vietnam. He posted that it’s time for foreigners to show their ‘endless love’ for the country. That post inspired me and I decided to do something positive, and so I created this group,” James shares.
Photo by Quang Minh Nguyen
At first, Keep Hanoi Clean was just a group of James’ friends but once the group was featured in the media, awareness grew and many people were keen to join. “Our group on Facebook currently has over 6,000 members including 200 active ones.
We are divided into groups based on the district we live in, such as the Ba Dinh team or Dong Da team,” James explains. “Each team has a leader, and these leaders will gather together regularly to draw up a plan. We have members of many nationalities such as Japanese, British, and Danish.”
According to James, the most difficult aspect of running such a large group is the communication between members. “We solve this problem by using chat groups on Facebook. Each team has its own chat group and I have a chat group with all the team leaders. In this way, information can flow smoothly and members can be kept fully informed,” he adds.
Over the next two years, James and his team want to completely clean up Hanoi.
“That’s our first priority. After that, we will address air pollution issues. One solution could be swapping the traditional buses for electric ones,” he says. “I remember when Beijing had buses like those Vietnam has now, and the air was extremely polluted. They have since changed to electric buses and the air quality has improved.”
Photo by Quang Minh Nguyen
This summer, James will cooperate with the CEO of VPBox to deliver lessons on the environment to children in some primary schools in Hanoi. “In some of my English classes, I asked my students what is the Vietnamese word for ‘environment’. They told me ‘moi truong’, but when I asked what is ‘moi truong’, they didn’t know. Most schools here don’t currently teach children about environmental awareness. If they don’t even know what the environment is, they won’t be able to protect it,” James says.
“I think it would be great to make a progressive book about the environment for students in the first, second, or third grade. Children tend to learn from examples. If we throw trash on the ground, they will too. I want to inspire people and change their way of thinking about the environment.”
By Van Nguyen