Rubbish piling up along the river, underneath market stalls and alongside the road is an all-too familiar sight for Siem Reap inhabitants. But one expat has decided actions speak louder than words and has instigated a Clean Up Temple Town campaign, with the first clean-up day scheduled to coincide with environmental campaign Clean Up the World, which runs from September 20-22 worldwide.
Australian expat Richard Crlik says the idea stems from when he first came to Siem Reap and opened a guesthouse along the river.
“To get to it you were wading through rubbish,” he says. “So for the first month I used to get laughed at by all the locals because I’d go out there and start sweeping and cleaning the rubbish. Within two months, suddenly I had half the street coming out every morning picking up, and cleaning.”
Since then, Crlik has become increasingly frustrated with seeing rubbish everywhere, especially along the riverside.
“I walk my dog every day along the river, it’s filthy. In the afternoon I see people sitting on the canals that are putrid where they join the river, with rubbish flowing out,” he says.
While he acknowledges long-term change is a more complex issue, Crlik feels there is nothing stopping people from getting out there and leading by example to spread the green message.
“There’s lots of us doing lots of things in many different ways, but one way we can actually get out and help is to improve their lives in a really easy way, and that’s by cleaning up the town. We need action – and it’s not a hard action.”
Crlik’s hands-on approach has hit home and he now has the support of many of Siem Reap’s major hotels including Shinta Mani, Le Meridien Angkor and Casa Angkor Hotel, as well as various schools. He is also involving some of the Khmer community, helped by expat Michael Foidl and his Khmer wife who have been translating some of the publicity material into Khmer and spreading the word.
Crlik is planning the first clean-up on September 22, the final day of the worldwide campaign. The river seemed the obvious choice as his first location.
“My initial reason for doing the river was because we’re not invading peoples’ homes,” he says, “We’re not invading the tourist area and business area where people are.”
A meeting was held on Wednesday at Shinta Mani Hotel to decide, among other things, the logistics of tackling this task.
Crlik has divided up the river into sections with various groups tackling different areas. Three schools – Sunrise Children's Orphanage, Chea Sim Primary School and ABCs & Rice – will handle the area near the crocodile farm, starting on September 20, while other groups will work their way up.
Local children from Green Gecko will also be involved as will kids from the Husk Foundation and Honour Village Foundation.
Crlik’s team has also managed to enlist the help of private rubbish collection company GAEA, which has agreed to collect all the rubbish bags from designated areas, plus have clean up boats working along the northern sector of the river clearing floating rubbish from the Royal Palace area. The company is also keen to provide ongoing support for future events, he says.
“I’m also trying to contact Apsara, who have the same responsibility for the southern section of the river,” he says. “They tend to only pick up recyclables and not actual rubbish, but I’ll see if I can get them involved.”
Crlik says he has been overwhelmed by community support and is quietly confident he will get a good turnout on the day, with many local businesses promising to provide staff to help out.
“I’m conservatively hoping around 200 people will show up on the day,” he says. “Hopefully people will see that with just a bit of a clean-up there is a difference; there’s less flies, there’s less mosquitoes, there’s less disease – that’s number one - number two, it’s just easier to walk around.”