There are so many characters in Vietnam. You don’t have to have been here for long to know that.
Most blend into the milieu and are soon forgotten, while others stand out, like Scott Alderson. Among the many things he’s done in his colourful life, the environmental scientist from Melbourne, now teacher, bar manager and project manager, once risked his life to be part of the Sea Shepherd boat crew.
If you haven’t heard of them, that’s a team of what he describes as “environmental adrenaline junkies,” closely resembling a cult, who sail out into dangerous waters on a boat now called the Steve Irwin, to interfere with whale and seal fishing operations off Japan and Norway.
Now, after five years in Vietnam, Scott is at it again, but this time he simply wants to clean up. That’s why he’s launching the first edition of Clean Up Vietnam Day on Apr. 17. Motivated to leave a lasting change for the better, and to improve visitors’ first impression of the country, he’s importing a model that’s already been running successfully in Australia for 26 years.
Scott hopes that he can eventually engage a similar percentage of the population in his version. Back home that amounts to 2 percent of 20 million people who get together in local communities, schools, sports clubs, beaches, wherever, and simply do what the name of the day suggests; clean up. We all know it’s a huge problem here, where a culture of “someone else’s problem” prevails, so if he can eventually get the same percentage of Vietnam’s citizens to participate, that’s a lot of people. He'll need them.
Previously a campaigner for the likes of Greenpeace, Australian Conservation Foundation, and Friends of the Earth, as well as Aboriginal advocacy groups, Scott is used to applying his knowledge and contacts to agitate for change. Based on some of those contacts, which back home in Australia included sections of the music industry, he even made a compilation album once to raise money.
Peter Garrett, the former Australian Environment Minister and still frontman of iconic and politically motivated Aussie rock group Midnight Oil, wrote the foreword for Scott on the album’s sleeve notes. It includes the following piece of inspiration: “Making a stand takes a person from passive observer to active participant and speeds the changes in history that are possible when we work together for a common good.”
So, based on that simple principle of coming together for the common good, Scott wants as many people as possible to register on the Clean Up Vietnam website, and get engaged in improving the environment in which we all live, even if it’s only in one alley, one pond, one stretch of beach, anywhere, for two hours on one day.
Each registrant will get a plastic bag, gloves and everything they need to take part. And of course it’s totally free. Spreading the message by speaking to local and international schools, he hopes the effect of his campaign will be to ultimately change behaviour.
“As much as it is about cleaning up the environment, it is also about bringing communities together and raising awareness of the long-term benefits of keeping our urban spaces clear of litter,” says Scott. — Jon Aspin
The inaugural Clean Up Vietnam Day is on Apr. 17, 2016. Register yourself, your school or your club to take part at cleanupvietnam.org. If you’re a business interested in supporting the idea, call the offices on (08) 3551 0430
According to a recent study by Ocean Conservancy, Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia are responsible for as much as 60 percent of the plastic waste dumped into the ocean each year. “That’s why the opportunity to do this here is exciting,” says Scott. “We can make a huge impact.”