Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Ugly Indian: Cleaning up Bangalore

We helped a social movement called The Ugly Indian in scrubbing and painting a 300-foot wall and sidewalk in Bangalore.
After we stuffed our pockets full of muffins and finished our coffee, we dashed out the door by 7 a.m. into a rarely quiet Bangalore. We followed shortly behind our class directors as they marched onward.

We weren't told much except to wear clothes that can get dirty and be ready to paint. None of us had any clue what to expect.

After getting lost, because what would India be without constant confusion, we found a 300-foot stretch of sidewalk with a high wall. Three Indian men were there with lots of paint and incredible conviction. A man casually dressed in blue sweats and nike hat started briefing us on why we were there.

The Ugly Indian is an anonymous movement that organizes projects throughout the world aimed at making cities cleaner by cleaning up areas that need it. Taking action and then quietly moving on to somewhere else is how they've amassed such a large social movement.

The site we visited was just one of 400 in Bangalore alone. Our leader said when an area like this gets cleaned up, it inspires others to not throw trash or use it as a toilet. This movement is dedicated to spreading environments like this to as many places throughout India as possible.

It was explained to us that the street corner we had just walked through was home to a dump site for 15 years. Just a couple weeks earlier, a team had cleaned it up. Ironically, this land has some wealthy inhabitants and is home to two car dealerships that have contributed directly to the growth of the dump site.


Because people knew the trash pile was there, they started to stray away from the 300-foot walking path that leads to the trash. It was our job to freshen up the area and make it look inviting for people to use.

The sidewalk is met by a large wall, built to enclose a private English club. This area was clearly a wealthy part of Bangalore, but still had a tremendous trash problem. The wall had not been shown any love for many years. So we got to work.


Scrubbing off the dirt and old paint, washing the wall down, and adding a new coat of paint is what our job consisted of that morning. And it was all hands on deck to complete it.

Throughout our three-hour work session, many curious local workers, patrons, and owners, as well as many passing motorists came outside to see what we were doing. Why were these foreigners cleaning our streets? We knew that something as simple as painting a wall on a remote side street was already having an impact on all who passed by.

I know I speak for the rest of the class when I say I was proud to be a part of a movement that is doing something real. We have been exposed to so many problems in the past week, but being able to get our hands (and almost everything else) a little dirty gave me a strong feeling of satisfaction and purpose. There seems to be so much more power in a small group doing a positive, selfless action.

The Ugly Indian organizer for the day took lots of great footage and was kind enough to put together a highlight reel for us, which can be found online here.

All in all, an incredible experience, and we are already trying to think of a way to recreate it back home.