This article was originally published by Earth Day Network – India in its eBook ‘Pathways to Green India: Innovative Ideas From Students, Volume 1′.
The NGO Sankalp Sanskritik Samiti has as its focus state, Chhattisgarh. Its officials are regularly invited to government schools there to teach students about hygiene. Often during their visits, they would notice the detestable conditions around the school’s hand pumps. A floating mess of food and other particles, the result of washing hands and utensils, combined with water that leaked out every time the hand pump was cranked, formed nauseating cesspools around the pump.
The NGO team decided that something had to be done to ensure that the hand pump areas were not slushy, nor infested with flies and mosquitoes. A thought struck them. Could this run off of waste water be diverted to grow things? An out-of-the-box idea but there was no harm in trying it out, the team thought. Students could be taught to grow things on the irrigated plots. They could also learn about the nutritional value of each of these, and, best of all, have the pleasure of enjoying fresh, naturally cultivated fruit, vegetables and herbs. All this, in addition to clean surroundings!
The Sankalp Sanskritik Samiti team approached the administrator of the Rajeshwari Karuna Higher Secondary School at Rajnandgaon, who agreed to give the experiment a try. He invited the team to address the students and explain to them how implementing the idea would have so many benefits. “There would be no filth around the hand pump area, nor would the students have to hold their noses to block out the usual stench. Breeding of disease-carrying vectors would reduce. And imagine, a garden in place of a cesspool, and fresh produce available for free,” the team explained. The students were convinced.
Now came the catch. The NGO and the school’s administration were certain about one thing: the students had to take full responsibility and do everything themselves from start to finish. It would have been easy for the Sankalp Sanskritik Samiti team to provide a little seed capital and do the initial work. But no! The onus would be on the students to work toward raising funds; digging and cementing the flow channels from the pumps to the designated plots; arranging for saplings; learning how to choose healthy plants; understanding when best to plant; working out water, compost, and fertilizer requirements; recognizing the best time to pluck; and studying the nutritional value of each of the produce. It had to be totally their effort.
The collection of funds was the first step and this took time. ₹1 per month was all each student could spare as the majority of them came from lesser-privileged sections of society. Next came the task of procuring saplings. The students took the help of the team from Sankalp Sanskritik Samiti to shortlist government forests and horticultural departments that gave away free saplings during the Van Mahotsav (forest festival). They then began the process of visiting these offices. Often the students had to sacrifice their playtime and instead trudge down to the offices to request for the saplings. Not all saplings came from this source. Some were bought. It was a learning experience for the students to recognize what made for a healthy plant. The students also had to know which species to choose and what was the best time to plant each.
As word spread, parents and neighbors readily came forward to lend the students implements such as spades and rakes. Students happily went about preparing the soil, and then planting and caring for the saplings. For them, it was great to be outdoors instead of being cooped up in their classrooms. Compost pits were also created so natural fertilizer was readily available for use.
By now, the first few harvests have been reaped. Senior students who have been working on the project for a number of years are now instructors for the juniors. The area is transformed today. Fruit trees and vegetables are seen on patches that were once cesspools. Students are now aware of ways to make the best use of waste water to grow things, a knowledge they can put to good use when they go back to their villages. Mosquitoes and flies have been forced to vacate the space. Students from other schools come to see this innovative process of turning a cesspool into a garden and get inspired to do the same in their schools as well. A truly environment-friendly effort that is green and clean simultaneously!