Wed. May 22nd, 2024

Ashamed of discarded noodle packets, these community elders launched a ‘backyard’ cleanup

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May15,2024
Key Points
  • Austin Kim and his friends started to collect trash in 2003.
  • The Korean volunteers, many aged in their 60s, 70s and 80s, gather for cleanups every month.
  • The City of Ryde in Sydney installed a plaque in Kissing Point Park, recognising their efforts.
After retiring, Austin Kim began meeting with his Korean friends to go on hikes together.
One particular trip had a lasting impact.
“While walking in the Blue Mountains, we saw discarded noodle packets. I felt ashamed when I saw a packet with writing in Korean, so I picked it up right away and put it in my pocket,” the 84-year-old told SBS Korean.
As he and his 10 friends walked further, he said they encountered more and more trash, which they began picking up.

This cleanup mission has now been ongoing for 22 years.

Cleaning up their ‘backyard’

Kim and his friends are behind FITA (Fraternity in Truth Association), a non-profit organisation whose members gather to pick up trash from parks, waterfronts and downtown areas on the third weekend of every month.
They have taken part in UNEP’s since 2006 and also participate in Clean Up Australia activities.
According to the , Australians generate more than 70 million tonnes of waste per year.
Kim, who immigrated to Australia in 1977, said, “Australia is my home, and the parks and riverside are like the backyard of my house. I’ve been doing this activity steadily with the idea of starting with small things to protect our environment.”
Choon-Kil So, 84, one of the organisation’s early members, said, “In the beginning, there were a lot of financial difficulties. We had to pay the insurance and prepare meals for volunteers ourselves. So, volunteers pooled money together for our activities. But thankfully the government helped us later, and we have been able to continue this movement for more than 20 years.”

On Saturday, 20 April, around 40 volunteers gathered to collect trash at Kokoda Memorial Park in Concord West, Sydney.

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FITA volunteers collect trash around Kokoda Memorial Park. Credit: SBS Korean

According to Kim, around 50 volunteers mostly in their 60s, 70s and 80s gather every month, but this number swells to more than 100 people, including schoolchildren, for events like Clean Up Australia Day in March and UN Clean Up Day in September.

Hyun Ho Park, 76, a coordinator of FITA, said, “Some of the early members who started this movement have passed away. And we are old. We must let the younger generation know the importance of the environment and pass on the earth cleanly to them. So, we are trying to encourage and cultivate young environmental leaders in the Korean community in Australia.”

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From left to right: Ho Jun Jang, 32, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Sydney, and Esther Oh, the president of the Australian Korean Association of Sydney & NSW. Credit: SBS Korean

Ho Jun Jang, 32, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Sydney, is a regular participant in the cleanups.

Jang came to Australia as an international student in 2010 and is undertaking a PhD in soil science.
“I thought studying and working could solve all environmental problems, but the reality was not. I heard about FITA while looking at what I could contribute, even on a small scale, and I have been attending cleanup events for the past few years to practice environmental protection.

“Recently, young people have also become more interested in and actively participate in FITA’s cleanups. I think it is a meaningful action in our community,” Jang said.

Recognition from the City of Ryde

In 2021, the City of Ryde at Kissing Point Park in Putney in honour of their volunteering efforts over the past two decades.
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The City of Ryde installed a plaque at Kissing Point Park in honour of the group’s volunteering efforts. Credit: SBS Korean

Trenton Brown, the current Mayor of the City of Ryde, jointly presented the motion to install the plaque in 2020.

“We recognise it’s a very significant contribution they have made to our community over more than 20 years. They’ve brought this very sustained long-term commitment to the City of Ryde,” Brown said.

“We want to recognise good citizens and excellent behaviour because they provide a leadership role important to our community.”

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From left to right: Trenton Brown, the Mayor and Daniel Han, the deputy Mayor of the City of Ryde. Credit: SBS Korean

Esther Oh, the president of the Australian Korean Association of Sydney & NSW, who takes part in FITA cleanups, said, “I’m so proud that the Korean community have been serving Australian society for so long. I hope more Korean communities will join forces.”

Daniel Han, the deputy mayor of the City of Ryde, was full of praise for the volunteers.

“The elders of FITA are uplifting the status of Koreans in Australian. Just like Son Heung-min and BTS, they are doing the Korean community proud,” Han said.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “Ashamed of discarded noodle packets, these community elders launched a ‘backyard’ cleanup”
  1. Isn’t it inspiring to see these community elders taking such proactive steps to clean up their environment? How can we support and encourage more initiatives like this in our own communities?

  2. It’s truly inspiring to see the dedication of these community elders in keeping their ‘backyard’ clean. It’s a reminder that small actions can make a big difference in protecting our environment. Kudos to Austin Kim and his friends for their continued efforts!

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