India is the second most populated country in the world, with over one billion people. In a short amount of time, this country became a great economic powerhouse, but the management of the enormous quantities of waste produced by the Asian giant is still a pressing challenge for local politics. If we take into account the fact that India is home to one fifth of the world population, the magnitude of the problem becomes apparent.
Two Ca’ Foscari students came up with the idea of “Waste Force”, a waste disposal project that, although with humble intentions and a limited scope of action, managed to raise awareness on the importance of reducing, recycling and disposing waste correctly, in a small community living in the northwestern mountains of India.
In 2017, Diletta Cola and Filippo Spaliviero spent a few months in India with Ruchi NGO, thanks to the “Ca’ Foscari for the World” initiative.
These two proactive students with a love for environment and sustainability, soon realized that they had a lot more energy and time to give, so after the NGO experience they decided to meet with the Waste Warriors volunteers. With the approval of both Ruchi and Ca’ Foscari professor Stefano Beggiora, a spin-off idea changed the fate of their Indian adventure and laid the foundation for a systematic process of waste sorting and collection on the territory.
Together with Ruchi, they rented a van and kicked off the “Waste Force” project, employing Filippo’s project management and business skills and Diletta’s ability to converse with locals in Hindi. They visited schools and shops, to raise awareness on environmental sustainability and on the importance of waste sorting as a way to safeguard the environment, for the wellbeing of present and future generations.
Their idea became a business that allowed them to grow professionally and personally, and later, the topic of both of their Bachelor’s theses. Today, Waste Force is a structured project, continued by the NGO’s volunteers.
“After the first month, we collected 28 plastic and paper bags, after the second, the number raised to 105. The third month, we reached half a tonne” – explains Filippo - “A pick-up truck drove through the villages, with both international and Indian volunteers. Then it would drive back to the headquarters for the sorting operations. Once the waste was sorted, we would take it to a big collection center in the industrial area of Baddhi, which was over an hour away”
“The environmental problem is complex and vast, however, I believe that we managed to spread our desire to leave the world better than we found it, thanks to the cooperation with the locals. We met many children and teens – adds Diletta – Even if only one of them remembered what we tried to build together and worked for the wellbeing of his or her country, our efforts would be totally repaid. I’ve realized that a project can become reality only through positive relationships, and these have been Waste Force’s real strong suit.”
If you’re thinking about going to India to study, for work or on vacation, Diletta has some advice for you:
1. Everything boils down to the place you’re going to visit: the environment of the big city is completely different from the small rural village. Gather as much information as you can on your destination and, if possible, get in contact with someone that has already been there.
2. Indian mentality is very different and it’s likely you’ll need time to fully get it. Don’t rush, take mental notes of everything you see and ask questions when you don’t understand something.
3. Be patient: in India, time goes by at a different speed. Their motto is “dhire dhire”, which basically means “slow, slow”. Many things are carried out with this philosophy in mind, from transportation to ticket purchasing. So don’t feel frustrated if the rhythms are different from what you imagined.
4. Learn a few words in Hindi, even if it’s just a greeting or a thank you. The relationship with the locals will turn out completely different if they can sense your desire to get closer to their world with the intention of being a part of it.
5. If you get the chance to do so, build friendships with Indian girls and boys, and trust them if they ask you to spend time with their families. Those are priceless opportunities to really experience authentic Indian culture and the joy of feeling welcome.