Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cleaning Up Jeddah

I know I've done my fair share of complaining about how dirty, unkempt, full of rubble, and run-down parts of Jeddah can be, so a couple of days ago I decided to put my money where my mouth is and joined in with a group of Jeddah's youth to clean up a beach here. The event was organized by Jeddah's Young Initiative Group (YIG), which evaluates where there are needs in the community and then seeks to help or make improvements.

My husband thought I was nuts for going out in the late afternoon heat (it's still hitting the low 100s here), and I was probably the oldest person there helping, but he did drive me there, since I cannot drive in this country simply because I am a woman. This two-hour clean-up campaign covered a stretch of sandy beach along the Corniche on the Red Sea where there are swings for children and not much of anything else. The beach was littered with soda cans and pop tops, plastic eating utensils, paper, plastic bags, shards of broken glass, cardboard boxes, straws, and other various types of debris. The water's edge was afloat with lots of seaweed, which was also removed by our group.

Participating men and women were divided into small work groups and were assigned to work in separate segregated areas, so that there would be no hanky panky happening while we were all there working and sweating, plus there were several police patrol cars on hand to ensure there was no gender mixing. My group had a couple of female medical students from Batterjee Medical College, a reporter from the Saudi Gazette and her sister who was a teacher, and an adorable 7 year old who had volunteered to help along with her older brother. We were all provided with plastic gloves and large garbage bags. There were also a few rakes on hand for those brave souls who waded into the water to collect the seaweed.

Luckily there was a slight breeze which staved off the heat, but that breeze also caused us all to be lightly dusted in a coating of fine sand which then clung to my sweaty face. Nice and gritty!

As someone who has witnessed firsthand how many of Jeddah's residents litter as if someone else will come along and pick up after them, I think educating the residents, young and old, to this problem is key. When I first moved here three years ago, I was appalled at the filth and litter here. I remember sitting in a car in a parking lot and seeing a young boy get out of the back seat of a huge GMC Yukon. The front window rolled down and the boy's mother handed him a load of garbage (McDonald's fast food), which he then proceeded to just throw on the ground in front of our car! I was shocked and disgusted. And there was a garbage can sitting on the sidewalk about ten feet away! This kid's mother is the problem for not teaching her son about taking pride in his city and keeping our planet clean.

At over 400 members and growing, YIG has been instrumental in filling in the gaps in this community where there may not be social causes or government organizations actively solving the many problems and issues of this city. "Cleaning the Streets of Jeddah" is one of their ongoing programs, along with "Emergency Medical Help Assistance," "Fixing Under-Privileged People's Homes," "Teaching Orphans," and "Distributing Essential Home Appliances."

If you are interested and able to offer your help by volunteering your time or donating equipment or money for any of these worthwhile projects, you can find YIG's contact information on this page.

Here is the link to an Arab News article about the Anti-Litter Clean-Up event I participated in, and here is a link to the Saudi Gazette article about it as well.


  1. A big big big thank u Susie :) from me to you and to all those who participated in this.

    I hope they do more to raise awareness about this issue. I saw once that the beaches in Brazil are also polluted, but at least they have fun, and there is more to see on the beach than in the water over there ;)

    Thanks again

  2. Susie - that's awesome and what a great way to make a difference. I'm curious tho, how was the water? I've been reading about the possibility of it having been recently contaminated...? I agree that role modeling and education are needed for efforts like these to take root here in Kingdom - something this groups seems to be stepping up and doing. Good work!

  3. Hi Qusay - Thank you so much! It was really my pleasure to be a part of this noble effort and inspirational group of role models. There are many more projects in the works for these ambitious and dedicated young people who are making a difference.

    Hi SGIME - Thanks! I was told that there is No Swimming Allowed at this particular beach, possibly because of pollution but I'm really not sure. There are many other beaches where swimming is allowed, but I haven't heard of them being closed lately due to pollution.

  4. SGIME - I keep checking your blog every day to see if you are still blocked - and you are. I'm glad you are continuing to write!

  5. Susie, Amazing piece.
    Thanks for the great words about YIG, and for promoting their work for people to come along and help us :)

    Inshallah there will be more to come and more for you to blog about and hopefully Jeddah is moving towards a better, more civilized and spectacular place for all of us.


  6. Hi Nour - I am so proud to have been a part of this effort, and I look forward to pitching in on future endeavors. Since I moved here, I have felt that my life has been very unfulfilling - but I believe being involved with YIG is going to change that. Thank you!

  7. Susie..
    Thank you so much for cleaning Jeddah and holding the hands of the locals to make our city a best place. Everyday you proof that you are Jeddawyah :).

    God Bless you.

  8. I think it's great, I sometimes think of organizing something like this but feel the problem is so overwhelming, I wouldn't know where to start and it feels hopeless when you know someone's gonna mess it up again right after.

  9. I remember participating in a similar clean up along the dry Salt River bed in Phoenix a few years ago. We had hundreds of gloved volunteers trooping methodically along the river bed and banks. I felt pretty good about the whole endeavor but it was a one-shot deal.

    Will the corniche be back to its old tricks in a month?

    I look at the front door area of the average bakkala and see at least 20 used prepaid phone cards on the ground, dozens of soda can pop tabs...and this is in front of every mini-mart.

    I see dozens of ATM receipts littering the lobby of the Al Rajih Bank ATM lobby...with a nice waste basket a mere 2 feet away in plain sight. (See "Why Saudi Arabia Will Never Produce Any NBA Stars"

    I see student tables in the snack bar area of King Saud University so littered with empty cups, bottles, dead cigarettes, tissues (see that it is literally impossible to find a clean table to sit at after 5pm.

    So by all means keep up the effort and uber-kudos to the clean up gangs. Sign me up for a similar effort in Riyadh.

    But I believe a massive paradigm shift has to take place in the culture before self-cleaning becomes a customary activity. And I can't even begin to imagine what might be the yeast that causes that bread to rise.

  10. Hi Pathfinder - I can't remember ever having been called Jeddawyah - thank you for the honor.

    Hi Mona Z - I feel overwhelmed at all that needs to be done here as well, but YIG is actually doing something about it. You can sign up on their Facebook group and they will notify you of future events you can participate in:
    I'd love to see you there!

    Hi Veeds - I know, I know. It's disheartening when so many people just defeat the efforts of others. I remember the clean-up campaigns in the US when we were kids - it took years to educate and change the mindset of even the most ignorant people, but now America is so much cleaner. I think stiff fines for littering also help!
    Love your post about Saudi and NBA stars - that is such a common site here...

  11. Awesome job! And in that heat, too. That's amazing.

    Here in Hawaii, people do volunteer in large groups to clean the beaches, parks, highway medians, etc. One of these days, when I am not watching my grandson, I might join them.

  12. wow so amazing that you joined the activity oh i missed that event i should know that time :)

  13. Good for you, Susie! Saudi people need to learn to volunteer and help others much more often. I'm disappointed the web site for YIG is only in English as I wanted to send it to some of my Saudi relatives who have waaaaaayyyy too much time on their hands and who could learn a little about helping others not so fortunate as themselves.

  14. Well done Susie!

    Funny that the police come out in strength to make sure the volunteers who came to work for the common good did not have a chance to mingle while I suppose no police gives a second glance at people littering the place up.

    Which behavior is called ''Behaving like pigs'' in Dutch.
    You would think Muslims would not want to act like pigs....

    The photos were really nice too! Bad luck for the women that they had to do the work in Abayas while the men could wear jeans and t-shirts.
    I think the women should get double brownie points for that!

  15. I remember one time I took my kids to the beach near my house. There were lots of people out enjoying the evening weather. However, with them came all their garbage. It seems the average Bahraini makes absolutely no effort to clean up after himself/herself. The beach was literally covered in every sort of refuse...and the families just sat between all the garbage.

    Well, I started cleaning up "our" little area just so we could spread a blanket and sit down in a reasonably clean place. For some reason I just kept going, accumulating piles of refuse and expanding my circle. Eventually the kids and I were hauling garbage out of the water simply because each time the waves crashed in, you would get bombarded with planks of wood, fishing items, bottles we started hauling that stuff in and putting it in piles well away from the incoming tide.

    The entire time we were doing this Bahraini's just looked at us as if they were watching an interesting tv show. It was rather comical. I was sort of hoping someone would join us but nobody ever did. I was also hoping that the many cleaners I could see up near the roads and by the cold stores would come and haul some of the garbage we had made in nice little piles away...after all we had did the hard part for them. However, a few days later when we returned again to the beach...the piles were still there but now were getting scattered once again. *sigh*

    This attitude among Bahrainis (and I would assume Arabs in general having read posts like this one and others in Egypt etc along the same exact lines) that they dont have to clean up after themselves is just something I cannot understand. This is YOUR country...and its not a very big one. A little garbage quickly piles up into a lot of garbage. In no time at all your nice little neighborhood, park, beach looks like a slum. Why is that ok with you (any you)?

  16. Are the Saudi family originally of Jewish Origin???
    maybe you should check this out, would love to find out if theres any truth behind this....

    Keep up the great work,

  17. It's a good cause. it's wonderful so many people helped.

  18. Nice piece! Great way to help!

    I remember trying to bus my tray at a fast food restaurant in Panama the first time I visited (my husband's country) and he told me, "No, just leave that there! You don't do that here." He said I was doing someone else's job, but every time I went to a fast food place, there was nowhere clean to sit.

    You could say my mom trained us well when it came to cleaning up after ourselves.

  19. How awesome to see this. I'm glad that you have found something to make your life more fulfilling while you are there.

  20. It is heartening to know there are idealistic youngsters and older folks helping right along with them.

  21. As more and more realize that the world is as we create it, change will come.

    I remember reading about a similar incident in the States; it took some time before the cleaner-uppers were recognized as valuable and even more for the others to stop littering.

  22. Just popping in to say nice site.