For the last eight years, a group of young Indonesian men have been cleaning up polluted rivers around their home city of Bandung, the Jakarta Post reported. Last year, they started sharing videos of their work on TikTok — and now the Pandawara Group (@pandawaragroup) has gone viral.
According to the Post, the five friends — Gilang Rahma, Muhammad Rifqi, Muhammad Agung, Ikhsan Destian, and Rafly Pasya — enjoy hanging out together at each other’s homes in the southern part of Bandung. That’s what they were doing in 2015 when the area flooded, a common problem in that part of the city.
“The water was so high, it reached the height of an adult’s chest,” Agung said. “In my house, we found a snake swimming in the water.”
The five of them decided to start cleaning out local waterways that were clogged with trash to allow the water to flow clear without getting backed up, the Post explained. The team they formed was called the Pandawara Group, named after the five heroic Pandawa brothers from the ancient Sanskrit classic, The Mahābhārata.
Over the next several years, the group has cleaned 32 rivers together, per the Post. They filled over 2,800 bags with trash, totaling around 30,000 pounds.
However, after working to clean up the environment for so long, the friends realized they needed to do more. No matter how much the five of them cleaned, they couldn’t keep up with the trash from the 2.5 million residents of Bandung that included huge items like a sofa as wide as the waterway it was lodged in, according to the Post.
“We realized that we cannot only blame the government [for] the floods; we [as a society] are also at fault,” Gilang said.
That’s why they decided to show the world what they were doing to try to change people’s attitudes about dumping trash in the river.
Since August 2022, the Pandawara Group has been posting river cleanup videos on a dedicated TikTok channel. Wearing gloves and waders, the team dives fearlessly into trash-choked streams and drains to clear out the blockage. The group has challenged the public to stop throwing trash in the local waters and has invited others to join it in larger cleanup projects, including tackling what it called the dirtiest beach in Indonesia.
Despite their tireless work, the members of the Pandawara Group don’t consider themselves activists. “Sometimes I am still confused as to why we get interviewed or when public figures invite us to talk,” Rifqi said. “I think what we are doing right now is something simple, there’s nothing new or interesting about it!”
The Pandawara Group hopes to have a bigger impact in the future by installing trash barriers on the local waterways as well as finding a way to recycle what it collects.
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