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Australian woman keeps close eye on the Phuket environment

PHUKET: While many local expatriates sit around and complain about how the environment is worsening, while also lamenting what one person can do against a tide of indifference, Debra Mierczak, the ‘leafleting lady’ who was featured in the March 29 edition of The Phuket News, has a lot to be proud of.

By Jody Houton

Sunday 5 May 2013, 11:19AM

Instead of composing rhetorical questions behind the safety of a keyboard (you know who you are), Debra poses them in real life – seeking out the people that matter and asking them face-to-face.

As well as having printed up anti-littering leaflets and disseminating them in her neighbourhood,the former teacher from Sydney – who lived and worked in Hong Kong for two decades before moving here full-time six months ago – has done more in the last few months of her retirement than many local groups and environmentalists have done in years.

It all started when she was taking her daily walk around the Bang Wad Dam near her home around eight months ago. “I go walking around the dam most days. One day I noticed more garbage than usual. It always upsets me to see this beautiful, environment trashed. I had to do something!”

So instead of shaking her head and putting it behind her, Debra decided to instead drop by the Rural Irrigation Project Department Office, situated at the front entrance to the Bang Wad Dam.

“I just walked in and asked if anyone could understand English. Fortunately a lovely young lady, Mrs Nid, did,” says Debra.

As the director of the Rural Irrigation Office couldn’t understand English, Mrs Nid asked Debra if she could write her comments down in English, which she would then translate into Thai and give to him.

‘To my amazement, within two days I returned to the dam to find a team of grass cutters, sweepers and road maintenance trucks cleaning the main parking area, the adjacent park and the road around the dam! Naturally, I returned to thank Khun Nid and her boss for their help,” recounts Debra.

A few months later, she attended a SEEK meeting at the Holiday Inn, which is where she first heard about the popular 1990s Thai anti-littering campaign ‘Magic Eyes’.

“I thought it was a fabulous concept and, as it was Thai-devised, such a successful campaign. I wanted it here in Phuket. So I contacted the Magic Eyes Organisation in Bangkok on their Facebook page and asked if they were doing anything in Phuket and if there were any ways I could help. Unfortunately they said not owing to a distinct lack of funds.”

However, instead of being disheartened, Debra decided that she liked the campaign so much that she would print out the images and start handing them out herself.

QSI International School Phuket

“I distributed them around Bang Wad Dam on the toilet blocks, on trees and fences andgave them out to kids.”

In February, Debra decided to go back to the Rural Irrigation office to meet with the new Director of the Phuket Irrigation Project Phuket, Mr Phatcharamuruk.

“I thought,as the problem of dumping rubbish and general littering was still happening, I would make an appointment to meet the new director and seek help once again.”

Again Debra just dropped by, but this time armed with her iPad containing plenty of photos of the dam and the road leading up to it in severe disrepair. She also had printed out anti-littering logos and a picture of an old Magic Eyes sign she’d taken at Saphan Hin Park in Phuket Town.

“When I showed the Director the photos I had taken and he listened to the ways I was trying to help, he called two members of his team into the office. After a lot of discussion between the men, the director’s assistant Mrs Maew assured me that something would be done”

To Debra’s surprise, the Rural Irrigation Project Department Office has, in the last month or so, put up 10 Magic Eyes signs around the Bang Wad Dam, which now has, in English and Thai, ‘Help Keep Bang Wad Dam clean’ written on them.

There are now also four new garbage bins in the area, and cleaners who are responsible for the toilet block, the main parking and grass area of the dam.

Although Debra is clearly pleased with the result of the speedy work by the Rural Irrigation Project Department Office, she is also clearly frustrated by what she sees as the snail’s pace that other changes are brought about on the island.

“I am so determined to improve the environment in Phuket as the state that it is in is just so wrong. I just approach people who I think can and should help with a smile, respect and loads of enthusiasm.

“But I can only do so much, so I have decided to focus on my area, the road that I drive on and the places that I walk around. I focus on the people responsible for my area, but I would like to speak to the Phuket Governor as well.” Watch this space.

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