A Hellesdon schoolgirl has defied bullies to make litter-picking cool – around the world.
Nadia Sparkes, 12, used to put up with bottles being thrown at her and sneering shouts of “Trash Girl” and “You’re weird” as she cycled to and from Hellesdon High School picking up rubbish dropped by other people.
But when her story hit the headlines, international praise poured in for her actions and the bullying stopped overnight.
Now Nadia’s “Trash Girl” image is celebrated in a cartoon and pop art drawing and she has a Team Trash Girl Facebook group with nearly 3,500 global members who encourage each other to pick up rubbish and post pictures of their efforts.
Nadia’s litter-picking began when she started at the high school last September and began to notice the amount of discarded rubbish along her route.
She would put it in her cycle basket and bring it home, sparking cruel taunts from some who saw her. Mum Paula Sparkes believes litter-picking has a stigma because rubbish is dirty and people feel embarrassed to bend and pick it up.
The bullying eventually reduced Nadia to a fit of sobbing one day after school. “I sat and talked to her and said what she was doing was admirable but it was up to her to decide whether she wanted to stop because of the bullying, or carry on and own the name ‘Trash Girl’. “She thought about it and said: ‘I’m going to carry on. They can call me ‘Trash Girl’ – but with respect.’
Her story first hit the headlines in Norfolk and then went national and international, with articles in The Daily Mail and Times, as well as in publications as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Sweden and Malta.
“It just went bonkers!” said Paula. “She’s had people asking her about it in the street and adults and children all over the world saying ‘You were right and now I’m picking up litter too, because of you.’ I’m incredibly proud of her, and of her independent thinking.”
Nadia has an older sister and two younger brothers. A statement about Nadia from Tom Rolfe and Mike Earl, the principals of Hellesdon High School, a member of the Wensum Trust, said: “Her determination and commitment to the cause is truly remarkable and we are hoping it will inspire other students to respect the environment with the same dedication.”
Nadia Sparkes. Picture: WIRELOOSE PIX PHOTOGRAPHY
“We created this image for her to say ‘thank you’ and to offer our support for her fantastic work. Go Trash Girl! We think Trash Girl would make a great cartoon and would inspire more young people to do the same fantastic work,” Alex Jeffery, of Suffolk-based company Creative Nation.
“Nadia is doing some excellent work and when I heard that she was bullied, I just wanted to do something for her. I’ve worked with vulnerable young people and children for many years and have done lots of artwork for them. The picture itself was inspired by the artist Jamie Hewlett,” Lynsey Cole (Damsel Dragonfly Art).