Expat Richard Crlik’s recent call to action to clean downtown Siem Reap, and primarily the riverside, from rubbish has taken root and Sunday week ago 750 people took part in a mass clean-up initiative to tidy up the streets riverbanks.
“We covered thirteen areas specifically around the river and town,” says Crlik. “Also two extra areas behind Angkor High School, one area between the Crocodile Farm and Angkor Beer, Honour Village did a cleanup in their area and Kampuchea House worked along National Road 6, consulting with local officials and stallholders.”
The day was a resounding success, with 856 bags of rubbish filled including 90 bags of recyclables and 16 sacks of glass items. Crlik says he was delighted that the majority of clean-up volunteers were Khmer.
“I think it was a huge success. 700 plus people was amazing,” he says. “The most amazing thing is that it was 90 per cent at least Khmers. They were all from hotels and companies and from what I hear, they were all asked and they all volunteered; nobody was forced – they all wanted to do it. They were just so happy and so enthusiastic.”
Crlik says some locals even apologised for their untidiness.
“We stopped for a coffee and were explaining to a group of tourists what we were doing and the waiter actually came up and said, ‘I’m so sorry my people are not clean.’”
He adds that when he went to collect rubbish from NGO Honour Village Cambodia based out near the airport, he got a welcome reception.
“They’d taken the rubbish into the village to the pagoda and as we were driving through a lot of the people were smiling and waving and saying thank you. That was really nice.”
Nine NGOs took part in the clean-up as well as five schools, plus individual students from Angkor High School, 10th January High School, Build Bright University and Angkor University. Age was no issue with one helper as young as four, a student from ISSR, happily tidying up alongside his older sister, parents and grandmother.
Hotels got on board too, with eleven participating including Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort, Amansara and Shinta Mani, while numerous restaurants, bars and other businesses took part.
Crlik says some weird and wonderful things were turned up during the course of the morning, including a tortoise which was given a new spruced up home.
“I had half a sack full of bottles collected before I actually found him under there,” he says. “It was really cute, and so lovely to give him a clean home to live in. There was a lot of underwear found, plus bicycle seats and up in Area 1 they found some carvings from the pagoda, quite old apparently they thought.”
Looking to the future, Crlik acknowledges while some locals seem keen to follow the example, for others the reality is not quite so simple. He says on Sunday one of his helpers told off a local for dropping litter, encouraging him to place it in a rubbish bag instead.
“The local said to her, ‘But where else can we put it? It’s not our fault.’ And, looking around, that’s the biggest problem – where do they put their litter? There are bins near the palace and a few around the market but not many, and even the people who try, who bag it up and leave it, it’s not collected. So the message is really to get to the local authorities and the Ministry of Tourism and say we need to push the message of keeping clean, we need more garbage bins.”
Crlik has a meeting scheduled with the Cambodian Hotels Association to drum up more support, with a view to approaching the relevant authorities.
“The next step is to get a committee together and see where we want to take it,” he says. “I’d like to do one-off, smaller clean-up campaigns in different areas, which isn’t as effective but probably more practical for everybody during high season.”