When I stepped outside the Children’s home at Shyauli Bazar, a speck of dot in Nepal, I had the pictures clear in my head as to what lecture I wish to disperse to the students regarding maintaining the health of the environment they are circumscribed under. With the nine students from the Children’s Home, I started rambling towards the school early morning as it is an hour of walking distance. I stand at awe at the vigour with which these village children push themselves against all odds of weather and transportation to go to school and come back home.
Out of habit, which over the years has taken shape of muscle memory, I started picking up the plastic wrappers lying along the unfurnished road. Without a question or hesitation, I suddenly noticed the children adapted to their role-play stage and started picking up the waste their eyes met. There is a reason why I hold such faith in children, they are so aloof of the constraints of social norms that for them clean-up is a very natural and fun activity, something their books always advise them to do. By the time we reached Laxmi Primary School, we had already made four bottle bricks. The older kids started shoving the plastics in long bamboo sticks as they could not find empty bottles. Dancing and singing along the way none of us realized we were actually an hour late for school.
I was greeted by the principal and faculty with the utmost respect of Khada and Tika. I gave them an idea about my topic of discussion for the day and here I was resting on the thought that someday in future we would all head towards a community clean up. Right after a strict assembly session, the principal gave me the opportunity to stand against all the available students and speak my mind out. Mixing the Nepali and English language I tried my best to cover as many logical and age-friendly points I could regarding waste management and bottle brick making. The applauds and excitement of the students were a positive end to the whole workshop. (Well, that’s what I thought).
In a few minutes, the Principal came down to me and asked me if I was interested in doing a village clean-up right after, taking all the students from standards 3 to 5 along with few teachers. Now, the deliberation of cleanup is like visiting Disneyland for me. I took no extra thought in giving a huge affirmation to the idea. I have been doing such awareness programs in many schools and colleges across rural and urban areas and to be honest, the rural settings never cease to surprise me. This lady may not be an English Speaking, highly educated principal but she surely knows where to set her priorities. No doubt, Laxmi Primary School has many records for agile community service along with flourishing results.
Forming a line of two, which lasted only for the first few minutes, we marched ahead to clean the whole village till the temple where Shiva Ratri festival was soon to be celebrated. The children from my Children’s Home were already experts in making bottle bricks. I gave them the authority to be teachers and in a few blinks, I could see little feet and hands picking up everything they thought was not meant to be lying on the road. The older students had big bins where they could collect more waste and the younger ones were given as many plastic bottles that could be collected along the way.
It would not be too much of elaboration if I share that I almost had tears in my eyes when I saw the young children of merely a double-digit age actually going up and down the strenuous road to preserve one tiny bit of a chips wrapper. What was their motivation behind doing this? One might say that it was the pressure of the school authorities. But can their smiles and shine in the eyes be that deceptive? I could feel their vibes and hear their laughter. They must be getting such good morals from their teachers for they were not just walking beside the children. They did not mind a bit to dirty their own hands and help the children stuff the bottles really tight. This is what Tagore envisioned when he talked about education. The art of preaching what is practised in its true terms.
After the entire clean-up of more than two hours, the children were not tired enough, their energy had to be channelized in some positive direction. So we came back to the school and stuffed all the half-empty plastic bottles with the plastic waste collected elsewhere and that day we made 37 bottle bricks. The neonates who were not allowed to go for a walk and clean up were given the chance to make bottle bricks within the premises of the school. Those small fingers doing the magic!
Then flowed a series of questions, which I was waiting for. The children took their time to analyze me and my intentions. Why do I do this? Why do people throw waste? What is the whole point of collecting waste? Do I get money for this work? Will I always come and help them make more construction? All these queries must have been bugging the growing minds for so long now. I took my time and patience answering each of their well-preserved curiosity. It is important to realize that no matter how trivial we find a question to be or no matter how long it takes to explain the simplistic terms of taking care of one’s own planet when it comes to children, they deserve to get an explanation. They are that one category of human species who are and will be bearing the consequences of our ill-treatment towards nature for much longer than we ever will. That too at no fault of their own!
This is just the beginning of a movement that I pushed towards these young leaders of tomorrow. For the coming several weeks they have the responsibility of going for a weekly clean up and tap waste in many bottles. Once the target of 500 bottles will be met, I promised to build a small compound circulating their school field so that their rubber balls and footballs do not go overboard any longer. The moment they heard that their sweat and toil for these hours will be rewarded their gratitude doubled up. I still get calls from the Principal and teachers letting me know how eagerly the students are waiting for me to get there and make a wall for them. A wall of bottle bricks, a wall where so many kinds of plastic are trapped inside forever, a wall to protect them from the hazards of indiscriminate waste disposal and insensitivity.
The article was first published on Milaap.org and was written by Moumita Bhattacharjee. Milaap is India’s largest crowdfunding platform for personal and social causes.