“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”
― C. S. Lewis
With the introduction of Environmental Studies in the Indian educational syllabus since the early 2000s, many of us have started appreciating the need for environmental education for children in particular. However, many of us are not aware of the good work being done by some organizations in this field for the past many years. One such stellar Non-governmental Organization (NGO) is Paryavaran Dakshata Manch. Started in July 1999, Paryavaran Dakshata Manch, the founders of this NGO recognized the need for continued environmental awareness raising and education much before the Supreme Court needed to step in to make the subject mandatory for school children.
The brainchild of a group of friends in Thane (a north-eastern suburb of Mumbai), the efforts of Paryavaran Dakshata Manch has been educating school children about conservation, biodiversity, and preserving and protecting natural resources such as forests and creeks for many years now. Simple exercises like educating children and citizens about the use of paper flags instead of plastic ones ahead of the Republic and Independence Days strikes a chord with them. Another popular festival with an eco-friendly twist is Rakshabandhan. Paryavaran Dakshata Manch encourages children to celebrate Rakshabandhan by tying rakhiaround their favourite tree. They then take a vow to take care of the tree and protect it, and further the cause of conservation.
The organization’s efforts are particularly notable due to the fact that it caters to a variety of students, including those whose medium of school instruction is Marathi. Since 2003, the NGO has been publishing the Aapale Paryavaran magazine, which is the only Marathi magazine devoted entirely to environmental issues. In a world where information on environmental issues is undoubtedly easy to find online, we forget that it is primarily available in English. Updating this material and presenting it to students in Marathi is of prime importance. Other noteworthy activities conducted by the NGO throughout the year include nature trails and camps, and the annual Nisarg Mela, a workshop-based event. Last year, close to 1,200 students from about 40 schools participated in the Mela, thus attesting to its popularity. Most recently, the organization introduced a scholarship programme called Nisarg to encourage students to conduct research on environmental issues. Under this flagship scheme, five groups of deserving students who have completed the tenth grade (SSC) are given a sum of Rs. 10,000/-. The research proposals are evaluated by a panel of judges and thereafter, the chosen groups receive guidance from experts on the basic principles of research methodology. Projects are to be completed within six months. Paryavaran Dakshata Manch hopes such efforts engender a spirit of inquiry and problem-solving within the younger generation.
Above: School students posing with a rakhi tied to “their tree” on the occasion of Rakshabandhan. By doing so, they promise to nurture the tree.
Paryavaran Dakshata Manch does not concentrate on school-going students alone. Last Diwali, it hosted two stalls, one each at National College (Bandra) and IBM Business Centre (Malad). The stall at IBM was a product stall where volunteers showcased friendly material like vermicompost, the “Magicbucket” specially designed by them to make vermicompost, paper bags, and artefacts made from wooden waste material by Pragati Prathisthan an NGO working in the Adivasi belt of Jawahar (Thane district). The stall at National College was geared towards raising awareness about environmental issues during the college’s Diwali Mela. In 2010, the NGO also conducted Nandanvan Sunder Gharghuti Baug, a competition of home gardens in Thane and Dombivli.
So how does this make Paryavaran Dakshata Manch different from the other NGOs working in the environmental education arena? For one thing, aside from a full-time small and dedicated staff, a large number of volunteers continue to find time to devote towards environmental issues. Professor Vidyadhar Walawalkar, one of the co-founders of Paryavaran Dakshata Manch,is particularly thankful for all the support the organization has received from various quarters, including its wonderful employees and staff, and the volunteers who help run its initiatives. Aside from donations from well-wishers, all its activities are funded through profits made by their common biomedical waste management consultancy located at Thane. Professor Walawalkar, who is also a Senior Lecturer in Chemistry at Thane’s VPM Polytechnic, puts particular importance on the concept of “social entrepreneurship”. A social entrepreneur recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage a venture to achieve social change. While a business entrepreneur typically measures performance in profit and return, a social entrepreneur focuses on creating social capital, particularly to further social and environmental goals. Typically, in such ventures, the management and employees are brought together by a common goal, and themselves become the shareholders at the organization. As a result, there is a greater stake at ensuring goals are met and that the organization continues to prosper.
If only we had more such organizations, we could change the face of India.
This article was contributed by Mahazareen Dastur. Based in Mumbai, she has been associated with environmental issues for over a decade now.