Residents of any city, town, village or community the world over ought to feel a strong sense of belonging that should in turn blossom into a sense of ownership of their particular neighbourhood. Oftentimes, certain groups of like-minded people, driven by the need to make their community a better place, organise themselves into voluntary bodies that work towards achieving that objective.
When placed alongside populations of certain large countries, Antigua & Barbuda, a 108-square mile island with somewhere in the region of 80,000 inhabitants, would be classified as being just a small town or village.
Nevertheless, the problems encountered and the battles being waged to instill a certain amount of civic pride in residents, have been from ever since co-existing in a state of no surrender, no retreat, as some Antiguans and Barbudans derive obvious delight from turning undesignated areas of the country into dump sites.
The saying that your own filth appears to be worse if it is viewed through the eyes of someone else, came home to roost earlier this month when a group of students who happened to be spending a week of their Spring Break on island, were so moved by the amount of litter strewn over a lot adjacent to their hotel, Dove Cove, that they immediately put their time, energy and resources to work to clean up the eyesore.
Now these young people were only visitors who had no stakes in our country; the chances are they might never return here. Now, as one local posited, this group has already moved on to their homeland, and we are the ones who will be enjoying the litter-free scenery for as long as it lasts, which, incidentally, as trends have shown, might not be for very long.
Why hadn’t a group of Antiguans, for that matter, taken the initiative to clean up the unsightly mess?
We highly commend the efforts of groups such as Antigua & Barbuda Independent Tourism Promotion Corporation (ABITPC) and the Antigua & Barbuda Horticultural Society and others that, over the years, have spearheaded several island-wide cleanups, and have mobilised thousands of citizens into civic pride mode to volunteer to join the massive spring cleaning activity in their own community.
On those days, it was heartening to feel, observe and be a part of the unifying force that brought people from all sections of the island society together, including businesses that donated their equipment and goods to the effort. And if the first of the cleaning exercise happened to fall on a Saturday, the Seventh Day Adventists, led by the Pathfinders, would have surely come out to do their part on the Sunday following.
Many expressed wishful thoughts that, in the quest to make the country a better place, the citizens could so wholeheartedly agree to collaborate on a number of other projects born out of ideas that would enhance the nation-building process.
But what is regrettable is that two weeks or less after the cleanup, bits and pieces of paper, plastic, cardboard boxes and even neatly tied bagfuls of garbage would have started to make their way back, marring the natural beauty of pristinely manicured roadsides.
How best as a nation can we begin to address this undesirable habit of the litterbugs – of discarding rubbish along highways and by-ways without a single thought?
Among suggestions are to re-institute the litter warden system that was enforced several years ago. Although it did not prove effective as no one was apparently prosecuted for littering, and the wardens were reportedly objects of verbal abuse whenever they tried to enforce the rules, this system can be revisited again, but should be given more teeth with clearly defined penalties to suit the offence.
There were also quite a few community-based competitions that had been organised and served the double-barrel purpose of developing national pride while keeping the various communities clean and beautiful. Contests such as the Home and Garden and the Christmas Lighting competitions brought out the best in each villager, for example, as they tried to keep their immediate surroundings clean and win the top prize.
Competitions to include “best kept community” could be organised to bring pack the pride that was evident in times past. This could be run along the lines of how well buildings, to include shops, stores, etc, are maintained.
In addition to improving the property value of premises, one added value would be that as young children and adults in each family unit or community group work together on any project to outdo their competitors, valuable lessons to develop national and civic pride are being passed along to future generations.