Not very long ago, we ushered in an era of digital activism. Social media crusaders saw this as an opportunity to express their outrage over everything wrong with the nation – the garbage problem being at the forefront. But come to think of it, how many of us are actively involved in finding a solution? Jodie Underhill, a young British tourist who arrived in India in 2008, has taken it upon herself to tackle waste woes, one region at a time.
Never quite sure what she wanted to do with her life, Underhill spent her twenties traveling to different countries and living a vagabond life. Naturally, screeching vehicles and incessant honking did not faze the seasoned traveler on her trek to Triund a few years ago. The complacency of the Indians, on the other hand, ticked her off. “The first thing I saw were the beautiful mountains, but when I looked over the edge what I saw was garbage,” Underhill was quoted in Josh Talks.
Keeping this rather unpleasant experience aside, she found comfort in the idea that perhaps ‘home of the Dalai Lama’ Dharamsala would be her salvation. To her dismay, she “got off the tourist bus at 6 am to see a big pile of garbage at her feet.”
The watershed moment that led to the birth of her nonprofit organization Waste Warriors has to be an incident she encountered on one of her train rides. “On a long train journey north, I asked someone where I could dispose my trash, and in the blink of an eye he took it from me and flung it out of the window. I burst into tears. No one in the compartment could understand why I was so upset.” Like several others, Underhill was troubled by massive mounds of stinking trash marring Dharamsala’s pristine beauty. But instead of tweeting about the menace, the iron-willed waste warrior decided to take action against the same.
“I did not choose garbage, it chose me,” declares the Briton. Her first mass clean up in Dharamsala was attended by over hundred people. It proved to her that she wasn’t the only person who wanted a cleaner India. “With every piece of glass, plastic or trash we picked, it felt we were rescuing nature in a small way.” Soon after, Underhill formed the voluntary outfit Mountain Cleaners and started a weekly waste collection from Triund. Volunteers were recruited to segregate waste from chai shops and guest houses and clean the 8 km long popular trekking trail. Thanks to her team’s sincere efforts, Triund is now known as one of the cleanest hiking destinations in India.
In 2012, Underhill moved to Dehradun to start Waste Warriors with funding from Max-India. The organization in a short period of time has successfully initiated waste management projects in Dehradun, Corbett, and McLeodganj. Underhill’s long-term goal is to expand and spread the message of cleanliness in tier-three cities.
Her message is simple and straightforward. “Stopping littering, dumping, burning is equivalent to giving up alcohol or drug addiction. To change mindsets and habits may be slightly difficult, but it is not impossible. It can be done.”
Back in England, her parents think she has lost her mind to be working with garbage in India. But she feels India is home. We clean our homes and maintain our own personal hygiene every day. Why not do the same for our nation?