Tie a Green Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree

Spreading the “be green” trend in Vietnam

“It started with just me and a few students,” says Nhan Nguyen, one of the founders of Vietnam Sach & Xanh (Vietnam Clean & Green), a nonprofit organization working to make the country litter free and environmentally friendly. Of course, this was an enormous responsibility to take on, the need to educate and bring awareness to the benefits of living in a cleaner and greener country had to start at the grassroots level.

“We wanted a way to reach a large number of people quickly,” he explains. The first initiative that Nhan started was the Green Ribbon campaign back in 2013. These small, bright green ribbons could be tied on people’s wrists, motorbikes, backpacks, etc. It may not mean much to others at first glance, but the green ribbons represented a promise to not litter. With limited funding, it was the best idea Nhan could come up with that didn’t cost a fortune. So, how did this low-budget campaign fare?

The campaign distributed over 66,000 green ribbons at 15 different universities throughout Vietnam in the course of only two years. It’s still running strong today—any organization, company or group is welcome to join the cause and pick up green ribbons for their own members.

Shortly after the Green Ribbon campaign picked up traction, Rohan Barks, a resident on Phu Quoc reached out to Nhan. “It was another boost to our cause,” says Nhan. Rohan explained that he would like to organize what would eventually become the next major initiative in the “green” cause. Officially named Community Clean Ups (CCU), they were organized by like-minded individuals coming together to help clean the island.

Oi VietNam - RMIT - Nhan Nguyen - April 2018 - IMG_3065

The CCUs were a big success—the events helped educate people of all ages and backgrounds, while spreading awareness about an issue that has gone under the radar for so many decades. Today, Community Clean Ups are still organized regularly in Phu Quoc, and, unsurprisingly, the island has in recent years become known as one of Vietnam’s cleanest tourist destinations.

Steve Mueller, owner of Vespa Adventures, heard about the CCU events on Phu Quoc. Steve runs a motorbike tour company, which no doubt leaves a negative environmental footprint. Nhan says, “Steve wanted to give something back to the community.”

And that’s what he did. Steve began to organize Community Clean Ups in his own area. He also began to train his Vespa drivers to not litter but instead to pick up trash. Steve’s efforts have had an amazing ripple effect—both tourists and other members of the community have noticed and followed the trend of cleaning up after themselves and others.

Since the start of CCU, many large organizations have taken part. Nhan mentions Intel, KPMG and Samsung have all participated in Community Clean Ups. These events are great for teambuilding. They provide a great opportunity for colleagues to work together in a different atmosphere. This helps build closer relationships, resulting in better cooperation in the workplace.

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Eventually, Nhan, Rohan and Steve saw the need to form Vietnam Sach & Xanh. In 2016, the NGO started their third campaign, organizing annual cleanup days on Earth Day. Earth Day is celebrated worldwide on April 22nd through events that demonstrate support for environmental protection. How successful has Earth Day in Vietnam been?

Nhan answers, “In 2016, there were about 600 people that came; in 2017, about 1,500. This year, we’re going for 2,000!” Everyone is welcomed to join. This year, it’s scheduled for Sunday morning on April 22nd. Registration forms are available on their website and Facebook page.

March Of The Green Turtle Army
Although having community events involving adults is important, more is needed to keep Vietnam clean. This is where their fourth campaign comes in: educating the younger generation. In 2016, Nhan challenged a group of RMIT University students to create a character that would help raise awareness among children on the topic of environmental protection.

As an example, Nhan showed them Woodsy Owl. The owl was an icon used by the United States Forest Service in the 1970s. “Give a hoot—don’t pollute!” was the owl’s motto, and it was an effective way to connect with children and spread the message.

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“Everyone knew Woodsy Owl in the 70s,” Nhan continues. “I wanted the students to come up with something similar.” They came up with the Biet Doi Rua Xanh (Green Turtle Army), complete with a backstory on how the turtles are fighting evil-beings by protecting the environment. “The whole idea is to get the kids to join the Green Turtle Army. We have stickers, handbooks and crafts for the kids. Biet Doi Rua Xanh is like the Special Forces. You know, like the Navy Seals. It’s badass.”

Nhan wants to incorporate the Green Turtle Army into Vietnam’s primary school curriculum. He has researched environmental protection awareness lesson plans from schools around the world, from the US to Canada and Australia. Although the lesson plans are in early stages, Nhan has been talking to schools about it. “There has been some interest from private schools,” he says. Eventually, he hopes to discuss the finished curriculum with primary schools throughout Vietnam.

What’s the best way to help? “Check out our website or Facebook page. We have four campaigns going currently. Of course, we’re not opposed to other ideas as well,” says Nhan. “However, one area we are really lacking in is Vietnamese teachers.” He explains that having Vietnamese teachers in the organization would speed up the development of the curriculum and they are also needed to teach the information to the children.

“We also organize Community Clean Ups once a month, but we can always send the information on how to organize one if someone is interested,” he continues. Moving forward, Nhan says their goal is to lock down more sponsorships to help fund the events. La Vie has been a big sponsor on Earth Day in the past, providing free water bottles for all participants.

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Vietnam Sach & Xanh is spreading awareness and most major cities in Vietnam have active members doing all they can to preserve nature’s beauty in this beautiful country.

For more info, visit Facebook: vnsvx or www.vietnamsachvaxanh.org

Images provided by Vietnam Sach & Xanh

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