The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Eco does it, so learn and earn
- Strategy of environmental awareness, rather than conservation

A few pieces of wood, handfuls of hay and a creative mind are all it takes to make a difference.

School students demonstrated eco-friendly tools they have developed over a couple of years at an exhibition in the city last weekend. A hay-box — a crude version of the ‘hot-box’ — can effectively cook half-boiled rice, saving energy. A textbook example that hundreds of children in the districts are adopting, encouraged by an NGO, Ecological and Natural Resource Education (ENRE).

Environmental awareness, not conservation, is the agenda for the Calcutta-based organisation. Working with a number of local NGOs who run projects in village schools, ENRE is careful not to impose its views of eco rights and wrongs on the children.

“We are trying to encourage children to ‘do’ science, rather than just read it,” explains Ardhendu S. Chatterjee, director of ENRE. The children’s learning is then compiled in publications, meant for distribution to other schools.

In areas like Midnapore and North and South 24-Parganas, the NGO has taken a “participatory and enjoyable” approach to the school science syllabus. “If the kids are excited by their environment, they will start talking about it. And that may result in environmental benefits,” adds Chatterjee at the two-day exhibition, held at the Nari Seva Sangha, Jodhpur Park.

The strategy is working. The hay-box, the result of efforts by children from the Swanirvar (a partner NGO of ENRE), is being used in the villages, saving wood that would have otherwise been burnt in clay stoves.

“When the rice is half cooked, you can put the whole vessel into the box. In less than two hours, it will be fully cooked,” explains Amalesh Biswas, student of Class XI, who has been part of Swanirvar’s Kishor-Kishori Bahini (youth-action and peer-educator group) for over two years. “It can be used to keep food warm as well,” smiles 14-year-old Menoka.

Herbal medicine was another success in many of the project areas. Kids from Kajla, East Midnapore, put up a presentation of herbal products they have manufactured. “Not only do they learn about the natural resources at their disposal, they now have a way to make some money. Many of the villagers have started buying the herbal products from the kids,” adds Chatterjee.

The children have also been taught how to grow plants in a nursery. The high-quality saplings, too, have been selling.

Eco-diversity projects have led the kids to explore different varieties of paddy that were once predominant in the villages, now abandoned in favour of high-yield strains. A subsidiary of the Developmental Research Communication and Services Centre, a body working with farmers to improve agrarian practices, ENRE has also taken up the cause of teaching kids things like which insects are beneficial to crops. The hope is that this will lead to a more discerning use of pesticides.

Waste-management projects also have witnessed results. Old paper is recycled to create the raw material for greeting cards. Embellished with scraps collected around the village, they make wall hangings as well.

Newspapers are made into paper carry-bags, but the efforts don’t end there. Shop-owners are convinced to switch to them, too. “We want to put an end to the use of plastic,” asserts the young Amalesh. So awareness is, clearly, the only impetus needed to create the protective mood.

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