KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 22 — Amidst the hustle and bustle of the Thaipusam celebrations, a group of volunteers were busy making sure everything was kept clean and tidy.
Sixteen volunteers banded together to take on the daunting task of clearing the waste of hundreds of thousands of devotees and visitors who passed through Batu Caves and its surrounding areas to celebrate the festival.
They were led by JK Wicky, a film director who had previously directed a public service announcement video aimed at spreading awareness about littering during Thaipusam.
Rather than gripe about how unkempt things were at Batu Caves, Wicky decided it was better to adopt a proactive approach to the problem this year.
“Every year, we attend Thaipusam and complain about how messy and dirty everything is, so this time we decided to do something about it,” he told Malay Mail.
“We also started surveying the management and their methods of cleaning up. They were not providing enough bins for people to use so we thought we would lend a hand to help.”
Wicky said that previously non-governmental organisations would help clear rubbish during Thaipusam but their numbers dwindled as the years went by.
It was a project that lasted the whole weekend leading up to Thaipusam as the group had gotten together on the Saturday and Sunday before the festival to facilitate clean-up operations as well.
Social media then proved to be a handy tool in recruiting more volunteers for the actual day of the festival when one of Wicky’s posts showing their work was shared more than 2,000 times on Facebook.
Armed with brooms, rakes, gloves, and rubbish bags, the volunteers kicked off their Thaipusam gotong-royong at the riverbanks of Sungai Batu.
They swept up litter, disposed of food waste, and even fished out plastic bottles floating in the river.
The volunteers later braved heavy rain and massive crowds as they moved up the road heading towards the main entrance of the Batu Caves compound, clearing rubbish from drains to prevent blockages.
As they progressed, the group’s cleaning efforts caught the attention of other devotees who volunteered to pitch in and after two hours, their numbers had swelled to more than 20 people.
One volunteer, Harsvini Loganathan was elated at finally having had the chance to lend a helping hand during Thaipusam.
“It has been my long-time dream to come to Batu Caves during Thaipusam to help clean up. Now I finally have the right platform to do it and it feels really great,” said Harsvini, who works in the marketing department at Wicky’s film studio.
The hard labour of cleaning up Batu Caves over the weekend also taught a valuable lesson to one volunteer named Tinesh Vijayan.
“I learned an important lesson to not litter as I now know just how difficult it is to pick up all the rubbish," he said.
“I’ve always wanted a chance to help society, so when my friend invited me to join the clean-up I took up the opportunity. I feel really great as this is something I’ve always wanted to do."
According to the Selayang Municipal Council (MPS), over 100 mobile garbage bins and 10 roll-on roll-off bins were provided for use at Batu Caves during Thaipusam this year.
Thirty contract workers and 10 municipal council are working together to tidy up the area following the festivities and the cost for 10 days of clean-up is expected to reach RM150,000.
The local council also promised to clean up any broken coconuts left on the main road to prevent it from becoming a safety hazard to road users.