Planting the Roots of Change

Anyone even remotely concerned with the environment has heard of Swechha. A 17 year old organisation, it has achieved immeasurable success in its vision of “Education, Environment, and Enterprise”. Run on the philosophy of ‘Be the Change’ Swechha preaches both day-to-day and entrepreneurial activism. The youth of today embody this philosophy and make Swechha what it is.

Fresh out of St. Stephens College, Vimlendhu Jha founded this organisation on youth-led and youth-run hard-hitting activism. What started out as a simple ‘We for Yamuna’ campaign, which battled the growing apathy towards the river’s destruction in the year 2000, has grown massive in size and impact. MASH Profiles is proud to feature: An exclusive interview with the Project Coordinator of Swechha, Mr. Ashim Bery. Week three of this segment brings us up-and-close to one of Swechha’s education initiatives, the ‘Pagdandi Program’, and its biggest environmental campaign, the ‘Monsoon Wooding’.

LET THERE BE EDUCATION

The Pagdandi Summer School is a learning program conducted by Swechha during the summer months. This education initiative began ten years ago in an open-air school on the banks of the Yamuna River at Kudsia Ghat. Currently, it is a regular informal school where Swechha volunteers run sessions for the children of the slum community, Jagdamba Camp, Sheikh Sarai. However, the school never limits itself to the textbook. The team takes the kids out for Yamuna Drives that showcase how the river changes- its colors and smells- as it enters Delhi.  “Sitting in a classroom and just mugging up stuff is not what education is about. Everyone needs some on ground-experience. And that’s what we do.” This trip acts as a lifelong lesson in sanitation and cleanliness as the children get to see the effects of pollution and apathy. In lieu of throwing technical jargon on waste-management and recycling, the children are instead shown films on rag-pickers. This way, the consequences of careless actions are magnified. Mr. Bery says that it’s about: “Understanding what is happening to your waste.” |“Does it go to a landfill?” |“How many landfills are there?” |“Who picks at our waste?” |“How many are making a living out of segregating our waste?”

These are things people simply do not know.”

The volunteers also run sessions that affirm various life skills. The ‘Aage ke liye kya kare’ summer session focused on the adolescent kids of Jagdamba Camp. Swechha helped them decide what subjects to take in 11th and 12th and gave college counselling to give some sort of direction and guidance. Steadily growing, “We had our biggest class size this year, 45. Last year we only had 40 so every year we’re increasing coverage.

Go Green

Swechha also happens to be planning their biggest environmental campaign, the ‘Monsoon Wooding’. This decade long initiative visualises the return of good, dense forest cover, and greenery in urban landscapes. Their success shows in the 30,000 trees planted around New Delhi. As Swechha is native to Delhi, this campaign was targeted especially towards its native flora and fauna. This year, the target is 4975 trees in Delhi. “We are reaching out to companies, corporates, and other organisations like us, to schools- both private and government. With schools, education and environment get merged again too. Like I said, this is our biggest campaign ever.” The entire campaign process started in April where Swechha asked people for funds. This process will end in mid-July as the monsoon season picks up. Right at the heart of the monsoons, the plantations will start. One of their first sites is a plantation at a government school in Moti-Bagh. “The idea is to get as much funding as possible and then do as much work.” The first two months of the plantations will see regular visitation and follow-throughs. In schools, they will set up butterfly gardens, little kitchen gardens, and nurseries. “It’s not just about planting some trees and then forgetting about them. The point is to link to education somewhere.” Interesting workshops are run on issues like ‘ (1) Up-cycling which is reuse of old plastic bottles as planters, (2) Air quality– using air purifying plants, and finally (3) Urban gardening, which is a concept centred around plantations in containers instead of in the ground’.

THE SS ENTERPRISE

The Enterprise aspect of Swechha’s vision commenced in the year 2008. Jha made the now-famous video on the rag-pickers’ community which inspired him to dedicate a part of the organisation solely on waste-management issues. This enterprise, called ‘Green the Map’, focuses on making products out of waste material. There are points all along Delhi where the rag-pickers bring reusable waste material like tubes, metal parts, pieces of leather, etc. The Swechha main office at Khirki Extension even has a terrace area called ‘Upcycled’ consisting of re-purposed waste. “We have some furniture made out of old car-seats, there’s stools made from tires, the butterfly garden has a cooler tank working as a horticultural container, a lot of old waste material is of use to us.”

*END CREDITS SCENE*

Mr. Bery’s love and passion for all Swechha’s countless campaigns is echoed by the entire team, “When there is work, the entire team is involved. Whether it’s cutting bottles or painting or doing a plantation or going for a school visit or conducting workshop, if something needs to be done, it needs to be done.” The friendly and open environment as Swechha, consolidated by a decentralized system, makes even the easiest of works enjoyable because“Everything ultimately is a great learning experience.”

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