Save Your Hood is seeking to overcome years of neglect and clean up Cyprus
By Melina Alexandrou
The shift towards greater awareness about environmental change, the overfishing of our oceans and industrial farming, has started to take hold as we wake up to the fact that if we don’t act soon the planet could be set on a course of irreversible damage.
This global shift in responsiveness can be seen in Cyprus too via numerous environmental NGOs. A new movement has now emerged that is determined to help clean up our beaches, forests and streets from the unwanted waste which has accumulated over years of neglect.
Meet Save Your Hood-Cyprus, founded in February this year but already boasting just short of 4,000 online followers. The initiative, which started in Athens in November 2020, is the brainchild of Athenian Vasilis Sfakianopoulos, who Yiannis Pepetsios – one of the Cypriot founders – met while volunteering in Africa for the Greek NGO, Wheeling2Help.
Yiannis, a 31-year-old insurance consultant for CNP Cyprialife, found that his environmental consciousness had been intensified by his volunteering project abroad.
“I completely cut out meat as a personal effort to help the environment,” he explains. “And at that time hadn’t even considered bringing anyone else along on this journey with me. With time though I found I was influencing people: some of my friends became vegetarian, and we felt a shift happening.”
Equally purpose-driven is his CNP Cyprialife co-worker Marios Polymiou, 32, who called it a ‘no brainer’ to support Yiannis when he approached him to initiate Save Your Hood Cyprus.
Along with Yiannis’ sister Elliniki, who also takes an active role, the three of them are carrying out clean-up events across the island and campaigning for a collective shift in the Cypriot mindset and behaviour, against fly-tipping and the littering of beaches, fields and roadsides. It is completely out of hand across the island and something which the municipalities and their inspectors have to crack down on.
Both Yiannis and Marios possess an acute awareness about critical environmental issues and are determined in their efforts to inspire behavioural change. Save Your Hood’s key message is that each individual needs to be accountable for keeping Cyprus clean.
“This change has to come from the government too,” adds Marios, “as clearly any current efforts are not being advertised well enough. Because if they were, we would all know that it’s not okay to dump unwanted items into a field, which is the classic Cypriot solution.”
Yiannis said the focus is on encouraging the public to organise their own clean-up events with friends and normalising the act of picking up litter while out walking.
“The SYH efforts will hopefully produce a chain reaction and contribute towards a nationwide change in environmental attitudes,” he says.
Their roles are fluid, although Marios typically coordinates the volunteers and handles marketing while Yiannis is more on the frontline with the clean-up effort. Remarkably, in the first month of officially starting the initiative, a record 270,000 litres of rubbish were collected, with the split being roughly two-thirds plastic and one-third miscellaneous rubbish.
Marios’ view is that most people do care about the environment, but they want someone else to lead the way.
“We are that ‘someone else’ and have been able to inspire others, because we are genuine and don’t have any hidden motives, other than to do the right thing,” he says.
His declaration has hit a chord: committed volunteers return week on week. SYH has successfully created a community that promotes autonomy – people ‘own’ the cause and connect with others who have a shared purpose, which the friends say will create tomorrow’s leaders who will be mobilised into organising their own events.
“These are the reasons people love being part of SYH,” says Marios, “and now devote some of their free time to cleaning up the island, rather than mostly sit in a coffee shop all morning”.
As for how they see the movement developing, Yiannis emphasises their next objective: “It’s to get into people’s heads regarding reducing single-use plastics. We want people to overcome any embarrassment of carrying a reusable water bottle, thereby incentivising restaurant owners to stop stocking plastic water bottles.
“If I’m not using a plastic bottle in the first place, I won’t have one to throw away. End of story.”
They and others have many other ideas, but the two changemakers are focused on ones that deliver the most impact and are implementable based on the organisation’s current bandwidth. The immediate plan is to find corporate sponsors for Save Your Hood branded reusable water bottles to be donated to their volunteers and underline the significance of ending single-use plastic.
“We get told all the time that we’re crazy and that change won’t happen,” concludes Yiannis. “But only crazy people change the world, so we’re definitely going to keep going.”
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