| Young Explorers Institute members conduct an awareness camp on a city tram
Environmental campaigns, educational programmes, health workshops, saving the Ganges… These are just some of the areas in which The Young Explorers Institute for Social Service is working, to “improve the condition of our society”, and to “build better citizens”.
The target group is youngsters, from Salt Lake to Durgapur. Just spreading the word is not enough, the power of action is what matters at the Salt Lake-based institute.
The inaugural programme in 1995 was a 13-day trip down the Ganges. In the first leg, 190 km was covered, to Maharajpur in Bihar, in five days, on three rejected boats. On the return, they built two rafts from 22 truck tyres and travelled 300 km, from Behrampore, in Murshidabad. They camped in tents on the banks, stopped at big and small towns along the way, conducting talks and training sessions on how to keep the river clean.
“Our aim is to clean-up and preserve surface water,” says Major S.K. Dey of the Institute. “Surface water constitutes a very small percentage of the world’s waterbody and the Ganges is our main source. But it is very poorly looked after and badly misused, mainly due to ignorance.”
The institute conducted two surveys on the dumping of untreated sewage in the river in 1998 and 2000. Both were turned into documentaries, one by Doordarshan and the other by the Films Division. “Industrial waste comprises only 25 per cent of the river’s pollution, and five per cent is agricultural. About 70 per cent is raw sewage, dumped into the Ganges by local municipalities,” explains Dey.
The task is in an up-river one. As Someswar Mukherjee, president of the 60-member group, puts it: “These kinds of awareness programmes need frequent follow-ups, which we are not able to do. Because we are a voluntary body, we do not have enough funds to get the experts to keep coming back. So, while the initial reception is always good, especially among the youth, they eventually forget all about it.”
The focus has now shifted to issues of health and education, or rather the lack of it, among under-privileged children. This covers training sessions in hygiene, first-aid and nursing for youngsters at a boy scouts unit near the Salt Lake centre and in the slum areas. “It not only gives them something to do, but also helps them pick up useful skills,” says Mukherjee.
The institute has been involved in a number of projects with city-based NGOs, like the Indian Association of Blood Cancer and Allied Diseases, and Udbhas, an education project in Rabindra Sarovar.
Youth development through reading is the latest experiment. “In fact, we are about to shift our focus from environmental issues to education. We aim to start about 20 centres, with about 25 students per centre, to impart primary education to under-privileged children between ages six and nine. If all goes well, we should be able to start off in six months. The basic point is, we can’t go forward as a country without educating our youth,” concludes Dey.