If you’re looking for a great story, it’s usually a tale from the past or well, from science fiction. Nobody ever speaks of great stories from today. Stories created every day by ordinary people around us. One such story began on the beaches
of Chennai.

Upset with unending piles of trash on the beaches, one fine morning Virginie Vlaminck decided to be part of the solution. Cleanliness is attained not by cleaning up but by the consciousness of not littering, said Virginie to herself as she picked up remains of plastic bags. Today, her work is known to many as the Namma Beach, Namma Chennai (Our Beach, Our Chennai) Foundation. In the eight years since she started cleaning up the beaches of Chennai, there has been a marked increase in awareness related to cleaning the beaches, not littering, and using recyclable packets instead of generating plastic waste. Originally from Belgium, Virginie shifted to Chennai because of her husband’s employment in the dredging industry. Due to the nature of dredging, the Vlaminck family has always lived near sea ports. Seas have become an integral part of their lives as they have almost always resided on the coast line.

Even though it was never going to be possible for a single person to clean up the vast coastline that we have in Chennai, Virginie found the courage to start. People taking early morning walks were surprised by the sight of a foreigner walking with a sack, collecting litter. News of good deeds spreads slowly, but surely. Locals from all walks of life were inspired to do their bit. And some of them introduced Virginie to IH Sekar the founder of Nature Trust that aims at protecting the environment and various natural resources. The vision of the trust is to increase awareness, knowledge and interest among the public about the different aspects of nature and to motivate people to adopt eco-friendly practices including waste-water recycling, rainwater harvesting and organic farming. Nature Trust promotes tree planting and the conservation of rivers, tanks, lakes and watersheds. The two joined hands and Namma Beach, Namma Chennai was born.

Virginie conducts educational programs targeting community schools in order to encourage and inspire behavioural change and to create awareness for the need to conserve our environment. Namma Beach, Namma Chennai organizes beach cleanup events involving schools and volunteers twice a year. Virginie comments that the number of people who turn out for these events has grown incredibly over the years. She says with pride and satisfaction that the incredible support that she has received in Chennai reassures her of a better tomorrow. “We motivate little ones with a fair exchange — one ice-cream for a sack of garbage from the beaches,” says Virginie.

Just think of it: drinking water — our grandfather had it from the river, our father from a tap, we in a bottle and our children? From a capsule? It is people like Virginie who are making a world of difference at a time when environmental and ecological problems cannot be ignored anymore. As we observe the effects of climate change are no longer a scientific curiosity alone. The recent water scarcity followed by unending deluge in large parts of the India, unending forest fires in Siberia, and melting of glaciers in Greenland are sufficient and significant proofs of climate change.

“We brush our teeth daily, wash the dishes and clothes, clean the house and our car… why can’t we clean a part of our habitat too — the amazing beaches of our city? And it matters to the new generation. I don’t want children to grow and believe that plastic bags and litter are part of the landscape. Let the beach have nothing but our footprints,” says Virginie, and I couldn’t agree with her more.

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