While others might complain about all the garbage littering their city, this woman gets down to cleaning it up. Armed with nothing but her heart and starting out with small teams of volunteers, she gets results that could serve as an example for any urban environment. Just picture yourself dealing with those annoying tax documents on your desk – by clearing them away, you automatically also cleanse your mind. Along those lines, don’t complain: Just get out there and pick up the trash that annoys you!


Amma’s vision is a simple one. In her opinion, “everyone should have a home, a warm meal a day, access to education, and health care.” To this end, the generous “Mother of India” freely shares her love to set an example and make these things happen. Although she received the United Nations’ Gandhi-King Award for Non-Violence she does not consider herself a leader: “(…) everybody wants to become a leader. No one wants to become a servant. In reality, the world is badly in need of servants, not leaders. A real servant is a real leader.”

4th sunday clean sunday

To follow in her laudable footsteps, just switching our perspective from a “what can I get” stance to a “what can I give” approach can make a huge difference to our city and surroundings. After all, there are two distinct forms of poverty: lack of food, clothing, and shelter – or the lack of love and compassion. And lively Amma was one of the first to do something about it all; barely seven years old, she started to hug people in her hometown and now she is touring the world to embrace more than 30,000,000 people around the globe. With her heartfelt love and generosity, she touches people with her mere presence – and a gentle hug from her can make us feel like a cherished baby in our mother’s arms again.

Collected findings

After a long day of mediation, ceremony, and embracing, Amma started to clean up the streets in front of her Calcutta ashram at night, supported by 800 volunteers from all over the world. Once she noticed the huge amounts of roadside trash, she decided that she had to help to clean up this mess. Local people were totally surprised when they noticed the strangers cleaning up their district. Amma’s initiative served as an eye-opener for them all … and sometimes it does not take very much to get the ball rolling. The movement also helped to clean slums in Manila near the Paco Market, improving conditions for hundreds of families. So, join the “Clean City” efforts: Just grab some gloves, a mask, and then “walk your path and clean your way.”

Informing the people

Naturally, not all cities suffer from the same overwhelming littering problem, but most metropolises could use some cleaning up. Recently, Amma started a project in the Pacific Northwest with a focus on ridding parks, mostly in the Washington and Seattle area, of cigarette butts. Although they might look small and innocuous, these butts are poisonous and have been found in the stomachs of birds and other animals who often mistake the stubs for food. Once again, the project started out small, with just 24 members, but keeps growing in leaps and bounds. And a day spend in nature – moving around, having fun with other volunteers, and doing something for your city – is a day well spent. In India, Amma’s Clean City foundation has proclaimed the fourth Sunday of every month a Cleaning Day, hoping that citizens will set aside just one hour for cleaning to get India a little bit closer to becoming litter-free. Who knows: Maybe one day we will follow Amma’s example and incorporate some cleaning fun into our birthday celebrations – her’s included ridding a Tokyo park of trash!

Cleaning India

“The real mistake we commit lies in our inability to differentiate between requirements and luxuries.” Amma.

Text: Katharina Kowalewski
All photos, incl. the header image: M.A. Center