Cleanaway’s Administration Officer Ma Vilma Ortega is the go-to person in her team, always smiling and helping others through any challenge. Earlier in 2021, Ma Vilma embarked on a remarkable initiative that made an amazing contribution to vulnerable communities, by recycling through the NSW container deposit scheme, Return and Earn.

Originally from the Philippines, Ma Vilma joined Cleanaway in 2018 and eventually took a role at the Glendenning depot in NSW, led by Branch Manager Daniel Saliba.

“In the Philippines, I saw people struggling and I promised myself that if I was ever fortunate enough to get a chance, I would help them in whatever way I can,” said Ma Vilma. “I had been sending help and doing charity work in the Philippines, like providing school supplies to children, food relief and food vouchers to people affected by typhoons and COVID-19 lockdowns, care packages for my former schoolmates and friends, and financial assistance to some people experiencing sickness and death in their families.”

As a one-income household and with a daughter at university, providing donations was sometimes a struggle financially for Ma Vilma, but she didn’t want this to be a reason to stop her from helping people. In March 2021, Ma Vilma found a solution for raising more funds when she started collecting bottles to recycle through NSW’s container deposit scheme, Return and Earn.

 “I can continue my charity work on a regular basis and devote more time to it – I have generated several hundreds of dollars since I started using the scheme in March. I was able to feed about 270 children in April and May and 150 in June, as well as providing 30 Mother’s Day surprise packs for my friend,” Ma Vilma explained. “The container deposit scheme helps me a lot in augmenting my personal funds to continue my charity and, importantly, I’m also helping to clean up Australia.”

 Finding the funds is not the only challenging aspect of Ma Vilma’s charity work. “Finding the time to do the collection, sorting and trips to the return points is sometimes challenging. Another thing is planning and scheduling the areas and availability of my friends who do the work in the Philippines,” she described. “It all requires time and effort, but it pays off when you see people appreciating what you do. It makes you feel inspired to do more.”

 Ma Vilma’s colleagues at Glendenning and other Cleanaway sites are aiding her charitable work by donating additional containers for Ma Vilma to recycle at return points. She also collects containers that have been littered, which she empties and sorts. “Our yard supervisor, Tim, set up a drum container and labeled it so that Glendenning staff know to put their empty containers in there for me to collect. They are so kind and supportive; I can’t thank them enough for that,” she said.

“Australians are so blessed in everything this country has, but it’s not the case in other countries like the Philippines where some people cannot even afford to have three meals a day. I have seen how families struggle just to have something on their table to eat. With the pandemic and lockdowns, the situation has just gotten worse,” Ma Vilma explained what drives her to continue her fundraising work. “Once COVID restrictions have lifted, I will definitely go back to the Philippines for a week or two to lead the charity work myself.

“I owe the success of my charity work to all the people who are supporting me – from my neighbour to my friends, and most of all to our team here at Glendenning. Thank you for being a part of this journey.”

This article first appeared on the Cleanaway here.

Find out more about fundraising through the TOMRA Cleanaway network for Return and Earn.