Dang Thi Thom, 18, refuses to let her neighborhood fall victim to the endemic littering, which is also prevalent in other areas of Vietnam.

Dang Thi Thom, the founder of Gen Xanh. Photo: Cong Trieu / Tuoi Tre
Dang Thi Thom, the founder of Gen Xanh. Photo: Cong Trieu / Tuoi Tre

Thom, a resident of Cu Chi District, Ho Chi Minh City, hopes that by launching small-scale clean-up projects within her own community, she’ll inspire youth across the country to care for their own neighborhoods.

Dang Thi Thom’s first clean-up project was launched in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 in June 2020. Since then, Thom’s Gen Xanh (Green Gene) program has hosted dozens of events where local residents can exchange paper and electronic waste for reusable bamboo straws and glass jars.

Thom and her team use the waste they collect to make bricks. The waste they’re not able to use is recycled or taken to specialized waste treatment centers.

When she does not recycle, Thom does her best to seek out support for her projects, either by writing articles that promote a green lifestyle or attempting to solicit donations from local companies, the latter of which has yielded little success.

“They may be afraid that what I’m doing just a short-term project. Maybe they think because I’m a student I don’t have enough time and will eventually give up,” said Thom.

‘Many people who see me collect recyclables on the side of the road think I’m crazy, but some stop by and ask me what I’m doing. I try and teach them about recycling and they often say they plan to try it themselves at home.”  

Dang Thi Thom

The art of persuasion

Despite having difficulty securing funds from corporate donors, Thom has succeeded in capturing the attention of companies that produce eco-friendly straws. With their support, Thom and her team have been able to hold dozens of events promoting sustainability.  

After holding some projects successfully in her hometown in Cu Chi District, Thom decided to expand the project to the downtown of Ho Chi Minh City.

Thom isn’t shy in admitting that she may have had to tell a few white lies to get Gen Xanh off the ground. In the program’s early days, for example, she recruited new volunteers by telling them they would be joining her ‘existing team.’ What she didn’t tell them, however, was that she was the only member of that team.

“It is fortunate that we all share the same ideals, so every just thought it was funny when they realized I lied,” she said.  

While finding peers to join Gen Xanh wasn’t too difficult for Thom, getting her teachers and parents on board was an entirely different story. 

“I had to explain everything I was doing to my parents and teachers. They weren’t too supportive at first, but they let me continue with Gen Xanh when they saw that I could be both dedicated to the project and to my studies,” Thom explained.

Thom believes that everyone, in their hearts, truly cares for the environment, but isn’t able to back up that care with action due to the burdens of daily life.

Her long-term vision is to foster a mindset in the local community of environmental protection and improvement that can be passed on from one generation to the next, just like a ‘green gene.’ 

Broken Glass

In the last six months, Gen Xanh has held ten events focused on collecting recyclables, exchanging waste for gifts. They’ve also run several stalls where they sell reusable products for just VND1,000. In its short history, the group has collected over 7.5 tons of used clothes, batteries, electronic waste, and nylon bags.

At the beginning of this year, Gen Xanh successfully organized a program to collect fragments of glass.

“Broken glass has always been a headache for both households and public janitors. We’ve collected nearly 200 kilograms of glass to donate to a company that specializes in glass recycling. We hope to have similar events in the future,” Thom said.  

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