Aka 2020 Cleanup day in Brussels-Schaerbeek by AIESEC Alumni
World Cleanup Day is an annual event where individuals gather every September for one day all over the globe to pick up trash and get rid of unwanted waste in public places.
Last year this one-day-event united around 20 million people in 180 countries. In 2020, we all wonder how the pandemic impacted this great movement.
I asked Jan Peeters, from the board of AIESEC Alumni in Belgium to let us know more about the organiser’s perspective.
Krisztina Kapuvari: What made you start organising this event even though we face a pandemic?
Jan Peeters: It was for me the simple fact that it shall continue. Last year it was someone else who organised this event from AIESEC Alumni Belgium which I only participated in. This year due to Covid, we already downsized our activities and cut events for our association which made our activity level already low. I simply took the opportunity to be active and asked for the contacts.
Krisztina Kapuvari: How did the actual organising look like? What did you need to do?
Jan Peeters: As in 2019, it was a collaboration between JCI – the Heart of Europe and AIESEC Alumni Belgium. We started with a kick off meeting in May, then June went on the site where I was asked to become the Cleanup day event lead in Josaphat park in one of the communes in Brussels Capital Region. Around July we had to write to the council of the commune before they went on holiday to get official agreement on organising this event. From that moment ahead we could make publicity with the council’s partnership. So basically it was quite easy to organise it as everything was already prepared from last year. We just reconfirmed with the commune and JCI in Brussels as they are the national partners for World Cleanup Day organisers in Belgium.
Krisztina Kapuvari: What were the challenges, the benefits and what do you consider as success of this event?
Jan Peeters: Because of Covid, in Belgium the Cleanup Day was less active in general especially outside of the capital. We did not have enough organizers to take the lead of every cleanup event Belgium had last year. The fact I was the only organizer from the AIESEC alumni side we probably had less participants than we would have. It can be seen as less successful from the organisation side but I consider it rewarding because we created visibility and co-organized it with a national partner and the council.
In fact, a week before I had checked the location on a Sunday evening it was crowded, but when Saturday came it seemed quite empty at noon. Even though this, we had 50 participants who came kind of spontaneously. Especially kids found the event in the park attractive when passing by. They saw other families with children, the banners, the tables, drinks and snacks and people picking up things all over the area. Therefore, they managed to get their parents to join us too. So I think it was really cool to have many kids involved. I actually invited other organisations in the neighbourhood too, but only 2 came. So even though the participation from the alumni side was problematic, I call it successful.
KK: What was the key of the success?
JP: Being able to organise it despite the challenges. Show all stakeholders that we are able to make it happen.
KK: How much was the time invested in it? What would you say on average how much time did you spend in each month to prepare it in the last 6 months?
JP: Let’s say 10 hours a month. I mainly sent out emails during the day when I had breaks in my day job. The most time was required for the physical and virtual meetings to coordinate with others. In total it was not that much job; only to think ahead, organise and constantly follow up. There was not much to do from scratch, so I just wrote newsletters and managed social media and publicity.
KK: Personally, what did this event give to you?
JP: For me cleaning up our neighbourhoods is maybe more needed now than ever as we spend so much time locked in in a smaller radius. We should not use the crisis as an excuse to stop doing events like this. It needs to be continued.
KK: What was the key takeaway for participants and what was their feedback?
JP: They said there was a great atmosphere, they felt doing something good for society and having good time and fun together. As organizers we went for an eat together with other park’s organizers. It made the whole experience closed nicely. It is not only giving to others but also giving to yourself. You enjoy it. Gathering the community, working together with like-minded people was for me really important. It was also nice to take the lead in my commune and meet new people.
KK: As you said the main benefit personally is probably to meet with new people in your neighbourhood. Did you have any remarkable encounters?
JP: Yes, for example one of the officials from the commune was a member of AIESEC. We discovered it just at the beginning of the event, she said she was part of AIESEC and went for an internship in Cameroon. It was a nice surprise to discover a fellow alumna.
KK: What a “surprise” to find a fellow alumni in a social impact event.
JP: *laugh together with KK* especially from the council it was great to see that.
KK: About the materials, how did you manage to finance it? Was there anything provided by the international organizer side?
JP: we beforehand decided as organisations – AIESEC Alumni and JCI – to buy the things needed from the association’s budgets. About 50€ was spent on snacks and drinks. Gloves, trash pickers, trash bags and hand sanitizers were provided by the district council. We brought out our own tables, banners as organisations. The only thing provided by the international partner was the World Cleanup Day flag and some T-shirts.
KK: Anything else in advance in terms of knowledge, website, promotion, check list etc?
JP: The website – yes. They have provided that and promoted Brussels Capital Region’s events. We had QR code for the website. We also received general knowledge about how to organise these events and how to start. It is also shared on AAE’s living sustainably page. Any AIESEC Alumni from Europe can contact me regarding this as I am the regional coordinator for this Alumni Theme Programme in AAE’s living sustainably theme.
KK: You mentioned food, drinks and tables. As I have never been part of a cleanup day, I do not know how it works, how it is organised. Do you start with a snack and chat or have speeches, or how does it look like?
JP: What happened was that we planned to start around noon. We arrived and set the tables and staff. As I have already seen the site in advance I knew where the gathering point will be. We did it at the same location as last year. I took some pictures in advance to share it online to coordinate better where to meet. I had some laundry lines with me, so after setting tables I could hang the flags and banners easily.
We provided the drinks and snacks to people who came back with a bag of trash. So it was kind of a reward for people who came back from cleaning. The snack options were twix/snickers and bananas. Drinks were small glass bottles of coke or beer. It was important to me not to have plastic bottles and these were the only options in glass bottles I found for drinks. I just did not want to bring plastic to minimize the waste.
KK: How did you communicate with the participants before the event? Have you communicated with your network in advance or only the people who appeared spontaneously there participated?
JP: We communicated as AIESEC Alumni Belgium with our members in the newsletter through MailChimp 3 times. We did not want to spam them too much. We also used Facebook. We had an Eventbrite page where you could sign up but it was not obligatory. On site due to Covid we had to have the trace log and everyone’s details as it is an obligation for all in Belgium. The trace log is collecting per social bubble/family the data of one member so authorities can trace and contact them in case of a C-19 case. So people need to leave their personal details when they go to restaurants, coffee, shops, bars etc. In case of need, with this we can track back all the people. That is actually the reason we could calculate the number of people really accurately. We did not register the kids though I estimate it was almost half of the participants.
KK: it is really inspiring that kids were voluntarily joining the cleaning activities. You would think kids would be the ones who do not want to be part of a cleaning activity. So why was this attractive to them according to you?
JP: Actually kids were the ones driving their families to join and getting them there. Probably the trash picker tool looked fun which might appear new to them and also the whole process of collecting something or looking for something; it is like tracing Easter eggs. Maybe they subconsciously thought about surprise. When it is Easter holiday we usually have these egg-hunting events and if they find the hidden ones and bring them back they can get a surprise. Which is kind of something we actually also had going on here. They were less conscious about the cleaning needs of the park or the big picture about it, but still I believe it was in the back of their minds.
KK: Did you give any speech about the meaning of cleanup day at location?
JP: Yes, JCI made a presentation about Cleanup day and we used the QR code for those who wanted more information to direct them to the website. We also talked about Covid measures, some cautions and pointers for the better health of the people.
KK: How much trash did you collect in how many hours?
JP: With 50 people in 4 hours we collected 33 trash bags. Last year it was a bit more and it also contained a bigger item from metal which was a used bicycle frame without wheels.
KK: What was the most interesting item this year?
JP: Not many, it was mostly cigarette butts and plastic waste. You have to know that the park is cleaned every morning and evening.
KK: And you still filled 33 bags of trash?
JP: Yes, although impact-wise it was not about the reducing of garbage, it was more about showcasing the interest in a clean environment and that you are worried about waste. It is not really about reducing the trash. Although even though they come 2 times a day, there is still more to be collected.
KK: What was the most memorable moment to you?
JP: Seeing families who came to picnic and their kids moved them to participate. It was nice to see kids being the drivers.
KK: Do you think through this event you changed something in the participants?
JP: I invited my toastmaster club members and one of the participants said it was more about meditation and connecting with nature. It does something more than obligation to clean up. It is more than that. Most people do not realize how good it is to be there, participate, socialize and how nice cleaning up actually is. Most people say “I am not going to do the clean up in my free time” but this is actually a fun and enjoyable activity.
KK: It sounds really inspiring. I actually would like to go next time.
JP: Yes, it is really inspiring. It is just nice to be there. I have shared a few videos on social media. In this particular commune, they have a carriage with two horses which collects the trash in that park so it was also an interesting point of the event people would like to see.
KK: Did you reach a lot of publicity?
JP: The horses collecting the 33 bags was actually in German TV, so it was quite a lot of publicity.
KK: Did anyone reach out to you due to this event or the publicity?
JP: Not really. Regarding publicity, we can do more next time. I was thinking of involving more schools, but now, with Covid it is risky for them. Schools have just started 3 weeks ago and the pandemic is already enough uncertainty for them to deal with, so I eventually did not reach out to them.
KK: Were there any challenges you want to highlight to other alumni, who want to organise it? So you can make them avoid it.
JP: Apart from Covid basics we did not get enough support from the commune. In another part of Belgium, the district council organised and sponsored it financially. It was the other district where we went after the event as organisers for the dinner and drinks. They had more involvement from the commune and did more speech and edifying. So you have to realize that every community does what they can do. It is also Saturday so for employees of the council it is difficult to schedule. Also there are many events or they might not know or do not show any interest at all in partnering up. So keep this in mind when planning.
KK: Do you think next time you can involve more your council?
JP: We might be able to share more about the event in the council’s social media. Even if I tagged them in events, they did not interact with it. They did only one like on Instagram but no reshare or commenting. So next year, I will try to connect with the person managing social media of the commune, so we can coordinate online appearances better.
KK: So what is next to your alumni community about cleanup day?
JP: We plan to keep the flow of this event and organise it next year again. Maybe even more locations. I went to present during JCI general assembly what I was doing in that location as AIESEC Alumni. So next year we can do more as the alumni community. We are quite a lot here in Brussels so we can even have more participants.
If people pass by seeing one flag is a good thing but seeing 3-6 organisations collaborating it is much more powerful. It also makes the event larger when we all gather together. We have the same values and strive for the same goals so we should partner up. So let’s join forces to be much stronger together. Everyone who is willing to join should join. AIESEC is becoming a movement so that is the spirit. We are open to anyone.
KK: You have done a really good job regardless covid with all the risks and difficulties.. I would like to congratulate you. Now talking to you I even got encouraged and inspired to participate next time or even organise it. You broke the stereotype in my mind that “I do enough clean up at home, I do not need to go. It is not my job” but actually it is fun, socializing, doing good and it is more than that even meditating or connecting with nature…
JP: For me, as an organizer, I could not leave the tables but still I could participate and clean up around the meeting location which made me already feel good.
KK: Is there anything you noticed you changed in your everyday life after the event?
JP: I decided to do a cleanup in my own commune. I am more conscious about trash and especially about cigarette butts because it is just too much. I also try to minimize my trash when I purchase things now. I try to be more sustainable.
KK: What did your family, friends and AIESECers think about it?
JP: My family did not participate because they do not live nearby but they saw it online and were very supportive. My friends as well, I got nice feedback for them. Lots of alumni saw it too and reacted online but was not able to make it this time. I am still happy that as AIESEC Alumni we could showcase doing something useful and amazing like this. That we are present as AIESEC Alumni. It was good visibility. Especially that this is the only physical event we had this year. All of our AlumNites are virtual. So finally we have at least something physically on site which is actually for a very good cause.
KK: Well done for this. I wish next year you can get more AIESEC alumni joining and organising in more locations and hopefully through the region can be more activities too.
JP: I know about Greece, Sweden, Slovakia and Germany were planning to do it. It would be amazing to have it as an AIESEC Alumni regional collaboration.
KK: Thank you for sharing.
JP: Thank you for creating awareness about it.
Date of the event: 19th September 2020
Belgium, Brussels-Schaerbeek Cleanup Day
Organizer AIESEC Alumni in Belgium,
Contact for more info: Jan Peeters
Let’s get ready for 18th September 2021.
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