Volunteers work to keep Whitehall clean, beautiful

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Dressed in a suit jacket and button-down shirt, with tennis shoes on his feet, Kuber Uprety was ready to help.

Seeing people in his community throw trash on the ground makes him mad, and he wants to help beautify the neighborhood.

“Not good,” said Uprety, 64, a native of Bhutan who has lived in the United States for four years, about those who toss their trash on the ground.

Many of the more than 30 refugees who gathered to help in Whitehall's Earth Day cleanup effort on Saturday came in their native garb, with long dresses or fashionable wraps around their waist.

They tied bright orange vests around their chests; put on a pair of gloves; and began to pick up bottles, wrappers and other garbage scattered throughout the Wallace Park area.

“I like to volunteer. If we can clean this earth, all of the people will be safe,” said Bandhana Phuyal, 12, a native of Nepal.

Whitehall officials have organized Earth Day cleanup efforts for nearly 30 years, Mayor James Nowalk said.

This was the first year they partnered with leaders from South Hills Interfaith Ministries and the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council to have participation from refugees living in the Whitehall Place, formerly Prospect Park, housing complex.

“This is very inspiring to see so many residents of Whitehall Place participate in the Earth Day celebration,” Nowalk said. “I'm impressed with their enthusiasm.”

Whitehall Councilman Bill Veith came up with the idea to incorporate the refugees living in the borough in the cleanup effort.

“I think this is absolutely special,” said Veith, as he worked alongside a group of youths from Nepal and Thailand. “It's what Earth Day is all about.”

Veith, councilwomen Kathy DePuy and Linda Book, police Chief Donald Dolfi and officer Joseph Budd, and members of the public-works department joined Nowalk in the cleanup effort.

South Hills Interfaith Ministries youth-mentoring coordinator Casey Rich brought members of her after-school mentoring program to the cleanup event, while Jessica Schrader brought English-as-a-second-language students from the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council. All live in the Whitehall Place housing complex.

This helps the refugees to learn the importance of helping others and teaches them how to keep the earth clean, the leaders said.

Growing up in refugee camps, many of them do not understand that wrappers must be placed in trash cans — things most Americans learn as children, Rich said.

“It's always shocking to us because these were things we learned growing up,” she said.

It's a learning process.

“I hope they'll talk to their friends about it,” Rich said.

The youths living in Whitehall Place constantly are learning about the importance of helping others, Rich said. They must translate for their parents or help out at home. That is doing good, she explains to her students.

And they want to make a difference in the world. The participants who gathered to pick up trash in Wallace Park was energized about the opportunity to clean up their neighborhood.

“It's my community. I want it to be safe for everyone. I don't want there to be glass on the ground lying around that could hurt someone. This is my community,” said Mary John, 13, a native of Thailand.

“There's so many things that humans can't control in this world. I just want to help our community to make this environment clean so that people can enjoy it,” said Princess Conteh, 11, a native of Sierra Leone, Africa.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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