Nassau is dirty. Except in rare meticulously maintained areas like Baha Mar Boulevard, the lack of respect for surroundings hits us smack in the face at nearly every turn. Litter-strewn sidewalks. Overgrown vacant lots dotted with abandoned vehicles. Old fridges and used mattresses tossed in bushes. Random snipe signage in the ground, hand-scrawled cardboard signs begging for business nailed to trees.
Utility wires hanging like spaghetti along roadsides. Everywhere, buildings begging for paint and a little tender loving care. Nassau’s street scene is a blight in a land of natural beauty.
Many a well-intentioned Minister of Works, Department of Environmental Health official or a Member of Parliament has taken it upon himself or herself to organize a major clean-up campaign. Huge dumpsters come out. Tow trucks haul away rusted vehicles with weeds growing through the roof. Abandoned appliances find a new home in the city dump.
Such massive clean-up efforts cost the government between $88,000 and $120,000 per exercise. Six months later, there are different abandoned vehicles and fridges and litter and the exercise is repeated because clearing away someone else’s trash and garbage does not attack the problem at its root – the lack of respect for property, a sense of responsibility and pride in community.
At is heart, the filth of the city is not a dirt problem, it is a people problem. And yesterday, for the first time, the government addressed the issue correctly, not on an ad hoc clean-up basis but to change the culture and the mind-set to make the act of littering an embarrassment and the act of taking responsibility the stuff of heroes.
Called #Be A Hero, the campaign was introduced at a press conference attended by environmental groups, corporate sponsors and partners of the Ministry of Environment and Housing. It is aimed at changing the culture by making heroes of those students, classes and schools who show initiative, organizing projects that improve their immediate area. Minister of Environment and Housing Romauld Ferreira called the campaign ‘groundbreaking’. We agree with him and offer our congratulations for a novel approach to a clean Bahamas.
If #Be A Hero works – and we believe it stands a very good chance of doing so -- it can make the difference between a temporary clean-up and a clean country, the contrast between a people who wait for someone else to haul away evidence of their irresponsibility to a people who take pride in maintaining their homes, businesses and neighbourhoods. There are a few features of the campaign that make it especially relevant to the young audience it aims to win over. It relies on heroes which students in primary school and junior high identify with or look up to – Jonquel Jones, Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Chris ‘Fireman’ Brown, Wendy and Dyson, K.B., the 100JAMZ Dynasty crew, Ed Fields and Nancy Kelly along with two children, Sebastian Major, 11, and Avani Sawyer, nine, the cape-wearing superkids of public service announcements.
One of the other features we believe helps to establish a model for a program aimed at changing behaviour is the breadth of involvement of corporate Bahamas, including Atlantis, which hosted the press conference and is a major sponsor. The Tribune has pledged generous support. Others include a plethora of companies, including Commonwealth Brewery, a frequent clean-up campaign partner, and the campaign is being conducted in cooperation with the Ministry of Education which has cleared the way for school visits and participation and the Ministry of Tourism which donated several of its billboards to share the message while avoiding erection of additional signage.
Another distinctive feature of the program is its inclusion of a heavy social media activity. Participating schools post their works and projects on the #Be A Hero Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter sites.
Ten winning projects will be chosen at the end of a six-month period with winning classes seeing their images on the billboards where icons who encouraged them to action like ‘Slam dunk the junk’ started the campaign. Winners will be invited to the House of Assembly and receive other recognition, potentially meeting their sports, music and civic heroes.
Partnerships like that of The Sign Man, which donated all print costs for bench and billboard printing, and Seaside Media which donated bus stop benches and Subway which is making school visits a little more appetizing in addition to its cash donation showed the strength of an idea that can make a lasting difference. #Be A Hero is an original idea and for that alone, plaudits to Mr. Ferreira and the team he gathered.
We encourage all schools to participate. We have the opportunity to eradicate a past that shamed us and appreciate with new pride a country blessed with natural beauty that we share with more than six million visitors a year.