Doha Environmental Actions Project (DEAP) is known to many for its beach clean-ups and the environmental activism its leader, Jose Saucedo, inspires in young people. Emma Morrell chats with Jose about his passion project, the challenges Covid has brought, and how we can all get involved.
E: To get us started, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
J: I’m an industrial engineer turned environmentalist. I worked in the food industry in the US for over a decade. My job was to save millions of dollars through productivity projects. Many were sustainability projects, looking into things like saving electricity, water, and other resources. They were good for the businesses as well as the environment. That was how I started my sustainability journey.
Almost five years ago, my wife got a job offer in Qatar, and we moved. When we arrived, my plan was to set up a consulting business, but that quickly changed into being an environmental activist!
E: How long have you been involved with DEAP?
J: DEAP started in 2017 with a group of friends who wanted to raise awareness, clean up places in Qatar, discover more about the country, and have fun. I volunteered with DEAP in its early days. Shortly after, I found myself leading the effort, but I quickly realised this was more than a hobby. Luckily, many people with good hearts have joined our efforts, and there was a real need for that.
It’s been a fun journey. I became an environmental activist in Qatar without realising it, and I love it. We’ve reached many people and had a positive impact on the community. I’m happy with what we’ve done, but we still have a long way to go.
E: What does DEAP do?
J: DEAP leads Qatar’s beach clean-up movement and the fight against plastic pollution. We advocate for nature and volunteerism. We’re as grassroots as it gets. We’re scrappy, simple, and humble, but I like it this way because I think it inspires people. Our volunteers are our secret ingredient—without them, there’s no movement. It’s amazing to get people excited and provide an avenue for them to be involved.
Since we started, we’ve mobilised over 12,000 volunteers in 276 clean-ups. Most of our volunteers are students through the partnerships I have built with many schools, from kindergarten to university level. Those 12,000 people have collected over 134 tonnes of trash from Qatar’s beaches, sand dunes, and heritage sites.
E: That’s a lot of people and a lot of trash! Covid must have really affected your operations.
J: Covid changed things a lot. Not so much in the frequency of clean-ups—I’m actually doing more clean-ups than ever—but I can only go with smaller groups. Before Covid, we averaged 100–150 volunteers per clean-up, and since Covid, it has been between zero and 30. In 2019, we mobilised around 4,600 volunteers, and in 2020, I was on track for 6,000–7,000 volunteers.
Covid put a stop to that. Our last pre-pandemic clean-up was on 6th March 2020. After that, we had nothing for five months. We couldn’t even go to the beach, and, like everyone else, we were trying to figure things out. When things started reopening, we went slowly from five people up to 30, and we’ve operated like that for 18 months. In that time, we’ve had around 1,600 volunteers and collected about 18 tonnes of trash which is pretty good, given the circumstances. Between October and December last year, I was busy with school reopenings. I did lots of presentations and took schoolchildren on clean-ups. At one point, I worked for 14 days in a row because I thought we would be shut down again. And we were!
The most recent restrictions took us back to 15 people while schools returned to distance learning. It’s hard because we must be responsible and keep everyone safe, but that means we can’t access as many volunteers.
Another change is that people must now provide their own transportation. Before, I organised car-pooling for all 100–150 volunteers. Now, some people come in groups to save on transportation. I’ve also gone online a lot more.
E: Speaking of school presentations, can you tell us more about your passion for educating the community?
J: We have partnerships with schools and corporate and government entities like the Ministry of Municipality and Environment and with institutions such as Qatar Museums. Many of our clean-ups are at heritage sites, so Qatar Museums naturally became one of our most important partners. Obviously, they love what we do because we clean and preserve the natural environment and the country’s cultural history.
That partnership goes all the way up to their chairperson, Sheikha Al Mayassa [bint Hamad bint Khalifa Al Thani]. She’s very active with us and often comes to clean-ups. She became fully invested not only in our movement and what we do in the fight against plastic pollution but in the green movement in Qatar. She has become a champion for it. People were hungry for a role model, and then she came along! That has been a total game-changer.
E: The news about the environment is getting worse every day. How do you stay so upbeat?
J: I believe we have a moral responsibility to leave this world better than we found it. It’s not what we say but what we do that will bring change.
Four years ago, everyone thought I was crazy. Nobody understood why I was doing this. Now, everybody is on board. Qatar Green Building Council is doing a fantastic job helping to advance the green movement. They organise an annual Qatar Sustainability Week, which gives the megaphone to us, the little people. They work with huge corporations and with the average volunteer like me who needs a space to convey a message and capture people’s minds and hearts. At the most recent Sustainability Week last November, every presenter talked about plastic pollution, which was so encouraging. For us, that’s the key focus because plastic pollution is so pervasive.
In a way, it’s good that Covid pushed us all to step up our game. We have a long way to go, but the changes I’ve seen tell me we’re onto something as a whole movement. I really think things will be better and brighter for everyone.
E: What is the ratio like between local and expat volunteers?
J: It depends on the location and the partner. At first, we struggled to get locals to participate. Later, when I started going into schools, I took 150–180 Qatari kids to a weekday clean-up. That’s how I started to influence sectors of society I couldn’t reach as easily at the beginning.
The Friday clean-ups are our flagship clean-ups. For those, we started creating and building relationships with Qatari businesses and families. Of course, the day you have the sister of the Emir showing up to a beach clean-up, everything changes! Since then, Sheikha Al Mayassa has invited important, influential people to join the green movement, and the word has spread.
At this point, our representation corresponds to that of Qatar’s population, although it varies depending on each clean-up. It’s a good representation, but we need more, especially from people who can be good, visible role models.
E: This is all so awesome! How can we get involved?
J: Follow us on social media to get up-to-date information about our events. We do everything through our pages and our partners.
Our weekly flagship event is on Friday mornings, and you can find details of those online.
E: What advice do you have for people who can’t get to a clean-up?
J: That’s one of the main things I’m asked in presentations. When Covid made us pause the clean-ups, we concentrated on encouraging people to go out with friends and family to do small clean-ups. That’s still the case today.
I always say you don’t have to join an organisation to do the right thing. It doesn’t have to be a big clean-up. It could be as simple as collecting one bag of trash after a day at the beach or in the dunes, or even just five pieces of trash.
Just leave the place better than you found it. Then take a photo and tag us!
E: What would you say to young people and their parents about taking care of the planet and following their passions just like you have?
J: We can all make a difference. It could be starting a recycling programme at school or at home and leading that effort. Schools are also enabling kids to create and lead eco-committees or clubs. They also have things like edible gardens and composting programmes run by students. Often, schools only use me once—I train them, and then they organise their own clean-ups.
It’s not about what so-and-so is doing (or not). It’s about what you are doing to help make a difference. I do what I can with my resources and my limitations because I can, and so can you.
Don’t be afraid! Just do it, and you’ll figure it out. If you want to do the right thing, you can do the right thing.
DEAP considers itself a 100% family-friendly organisation with no age or disability restrictions. Volunteers are encouraged to discuss any accessibility issues with organisers ahead of time, as some locations might be more challenging to reach than others.