It’s 7 AM on Saturday and the alarm goes off. The alarm is actually a wakeup call with a special tune composed for the purpose and played on a public address system, to summon the entire community to participate in the hour long weekly cleaning exercise.
Within minutes, doors are opened and families – children, women and men pour out of their homes equipped with brooms and other cleaning gear. Nodding to each other, they begin the task, their faces cheerful despite the early start on the chore they were to begin.
Surprisingly no special notices are needed or given; for all the people in Umthli village located in Khatarshnong Laitkroh Block of the East Khasi Hill District in Meghalaya know their duty. The practice of weekly community cleaning has been followed for several months, resulting in spick and span surroundings that everyone is proud to call their own.
Umthli Village is home to about 300 households belonging to the Khasi Scheduled Tribe. The chief livelihood there is farming and vegetation while the non-farming activity is construction work.
People there believe that the village enjoys the distinction of being a clean village, owing to their inborn culture. The practice of keeping one’s own backyards and the surroundings clean is a quality they are born with.
A visit to the village will reveal how active the village is in keeping itself clean. On the roadside and footpaths are litter bins and waste baskets. In addition, side drains and storm water drains are well constructed with proper slopes using funds from MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act).
Today, the village is litter and liquid waste free. The weekly cleaning day ensures it is kept this way. It needs mention that children in particular are motivated to be alert, they do not need to be reminded to pick up litter whenever they find it on the ground, and carry it to their own backyard to dump them into their compost bins.
As for the responsibility of organising and monitoring the cleaning drives, it is entrusted by the Village Durbar to the local women’s organisation.
A recent study conducted on this initiative has revealed that in spite of no hard and fast rule binding the people to take part in the weekly cleaning drive, there are no defaulters or absentees.
There is maximum participation of the people and therein lies the success of the initiative. Hats off also to the Village Durbar, under the dynamic leadership of the village headman, which has been able to command voluntary participation of all.