Actors: A League of Green Schools
More than half a billion people in more than 175 countries were recently reminded to renew their annual environmental vows as Earth Day celebrated its 42nd birthday. But we at Gobar Times are in a mood to rejoice for other reasons. We are celebrating the success of schools that have skillfully executed environmental wonders.
Why? Because it is time we realise the true potential of schools. Yes, they are educational set-ups responsible for churning out the nation’s future brigade of engineers, doctors, scientists, academicians and their kin. But they are now being asked to play a far far bigger role.
Yes, there has been a very significant shift in the manner in which the education pundits have begun to perceive schools. They must evolve as a resource not only for its own community but for the society as a whole, says Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Ministry of Human Resources Development’s (MHRD) flagship programme.
But are the schools ready to take up the mantle?
We believe they are. And here is what we have as rock solid evidence. Read on.
They branded plastic as their worst enemy and got rid of it. Not only in their school but also the neighbourhood.
Rishabh: Hey Jennie! Even as kids we were so proud of our beautiful school with the lush green lawns, the neat and tidy classrooms, the spic and span corridors and the immaculate premises.
Jenita: Yes, but don’t you remember how shocked we were to know about the amount of waste and the different types of waste generated in our ‘beautiful’ school when we did the waste audit for the first time, way back in 2006!
Karan: Remember when we used to stay back after school to segregate waste and then weigh it?
Manav: And how we realised that plastic waste was our worst enemy?
Jenita: Manav and Rishabh, you were so obsessed with ‘say no to plastic bags campaign’… leave alone the kids, you did not even spare the teachers.
Rishabh: And have you forgotten what you used to do? You used to snatch plastic bags from every one! You wild cat!
Karan: Our campaign was just rocking. And we made our school a ‘no plastic zone’.
Manav: And let me remind you that during those days, the Delhi Government was also trying hard to ban plastic bags.
Jenita: The actual magic happened when Rekha ma’am decided to take this campaign beyond the boundaries of our school to the houses of Ranjinder Nagar and Patel Nagar… to reach out to the community!
Rishabh: We went door to door to spread awareness about ‘say no to plastic bag campaign’ explaining all about it to the residents and distributing pamphlets.
Manav: Yeah! And people just wouldn’t believe that we were actually going to get cloth bags stitched from the old clothes dug up from their own house...
Jenita: That too free of cost!
Rishabh: Their so-called waste plus our efforts would be equal to useful shopping bags.
Rishabh: And we got full-fledged support from the Delhi Government. Ramakant Goswami, legislator, Rajinder Nagar, also got bags stitched from us!
Manav: It was not just bag stitching! Correct me if I am wrong… Didn’t we distribute more than 3000 cloth bags and paper bags from our reserve to the residents who were carrying plastic bags.
Jenita: And we used to collect tetra packs too. Getting bags stitched, collecting and distributing cloth bags and collecting tetra packs – all at the same time.
Rishabh: God! How we went door to door to explain about our campaign to promote composting in the households of Rajinder Nagar.
Jenita: I still remember the confused expression on their faces when we gave them the composting bins, the khambas, for composting their kitchen waste and the tetra pack bins for collecting empty tetra packs for recycling… all free of cost.
Rishabh: Really, it has been such an exciting journey for all of us. And now, the Eco Club has become a part and parcel of our school curriculum and every student in our school wants to join the club.
Manav: What a journey! Germany, Korea, Italy – schools from across the world – have come and done environmental projects with us.
Jenita: From schools to homes… local community to countries far and wide… we are marching forward. We have tried to find innovative solutions to bring about change in our neighbourhood. When we can do it for one area in Delhi, our strategy can definitely be taken up for the entire city! Right? Anyone listening?
The school was built on a severely degraded piece of land. Today, the barren land is a human-made biodiversity spot housing 120 plant species and 50 animal species.
St Stephen’s School, Togan came into being in the year 2004. What was the land like? A disused brick kiln. Surprised? Well, they had 11 acres of barren land and though they already had a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP), a lot of treated water was unused in the first year of its existence.
Then the members of the school’s eco club and the management came together. Full of zeal and zest, they managed to find a solution.
Parul: I have heard that ‘Black’ denotes END.
Diya: Well, in our school we have used this END as a beginning. We started to use ‘black water’ to sustain life and make the campus look greener. Wondering how we did that?
Radhika: We began slowly and today, we boast of having 8000 plants on our school campus.
Diya: Wondering where we get all our water from? Our own STP. Our school has a hostel with people living 24/7 on the campus, so we require a lot of water. And we have successfully balanced our requirement with our usage. How? Again, thanks to our STP! Oh yes, our very own ‘Ginnie’
Parul: Our organic kitchen and fruit garden are also fed with water from our STP. Wondering what about the pesticides? Well, we only use natural products like neem powder, dhatura powder and organic compost.
Radhika: Our Ginnie does not stink at all! And our students can vouch for this. Our STP is so close to our school building yet there is no smell of any kind.
Diya: This makes our school a complete eco-system in itself which can sustain, feed and revive itself without any external support. And let us not forget the migratory birds! It makes our school a biodiversity hot spot! ‘Semper Sursum’ our school motto says always aim higher, so as we go along, we won’t stop to protect our environment.
In 2006, a playground spread over 7600 sq metres of Delhi’s driest land zone in a locality plagued by water scarcity. Today, a lush green ground
Amit: In 2006, we used to cover our lunch boxes in the break time due to the sand that flew on our huge, barren ground. We used to joke saying who needs to go to Rajasthan when we have a desert right here in our school. Who knew one day there would be a lush green park as it is today?
Riddha: The ground has taken a complete 360 degree turn. But how did all this come about? Obviously not overnight, right? Of course not!
Payal: An idea can change your life. But in our case, it was something more than an idea. It was a vision. A desire… A desire to have a green school ground. But it was not all that simple. To deal with the situation, we came up with an audit to analyse our problems, understand how big the obstructions were and of course, came up with the solutions.
Amit: When this audit came up with a report, we were stunned by the figures. We needed so much water on a daily basis. As many of you know, our school is located in Alaknanda in South Delhi, a zone well known for its water scarcity and the residents are paranoid about water. So asking the school authority for gallons of water from the Delhi Jal Board supply would have definitely given us one reaction: ‘Have you gone nuts?’
Riddha: The silver lining of this dark cloud was a partnership. What did we do? We made a 50,000 litres tank under the school ground. Wondering how an empty tank would give us even a single drop of water? We realised we were pouring grey and black water into the drains and started collecting this waste water in the underground tank. This grey water also included water collected from drinking points and wash basins.
Payal: And what about rain water?
Riddha: Oh yes, even the rain water was tapped from the roof and paved area through pipes. But that was stored separately.
Amit: So, what about the scenario now? Friends, we are using the same water for washing vehicles, gardening, cleaning premise and even for paper recycling. But mostly for watering the huge ground which now has a thick green cover. It was in the year 2009-10 that a dream was realized. We had a green play field. While we went green in habits, others went green with envy. And the Delhi Jal Board authorities? Oh, they were scratching their heads, trying to figure out how we manage the water needs in their limited water supply. And you know what… they have in fact changed the metres twice.
Today, we Georgeans walk with great pride on the spectacular lawns in our school. Nobody can go back and start a new beginning but anyone can start today and make a new ending. This is what we did.
The health club in this hilly school got an environment angle. Solid waste management and water efficient toilets became as critical for good health as medicines.
Mohua: Hey girls, remember those initial days when we had just set up the Health Club? It was real tough with just a handful of girls willing to join us. We used to go to each and every class room and how the girls made fun of us..
Sam: Yeah, they used to say: ‘Didi, yeh aap kya kar rahe ho (what on earth are you doing)? Are you a sweeper? Do you come to school for studying or cleaning?’
Mohua: But we never got disheartened. Finally, the Green Schools Programme came to us and gave us the platform to work on various issues such as land and water We were surprised that we could audit these things and work for the betterment of the society. Today, everyone wants to join the club and do something for the environment.
Zian: But yes, we have really worked hard on a lot of issues. Let us talk about rainwater harvesting first. It was our toughest challenge. We had to collect water from rooftops and re-utilise it for gardening, in toilets and bathrooms. And all this helped us to preserve water for drinking.
Sam: And what about vermi-composting? Yes, it was a kind of a messy task for us but so interesting... We had to segregate the waste from our school and use the degradable waste for composting. The entire process reduced the waste generated from our school and we actually converted the messiness into cleanliness. We held campaigns in our school spreading awareness about health and hygiene. We encouraged our juniors to wash hands. Proper waste management made our school cleaner and our students healthier.
Mohua: In our school, the number of tubeculosis deaths have reduced a lot in the last two years. Now, many schools from remote areas of Sikkim come to us to know the secret of keeping our school clean and green. Our formula: Care for the health of the environment and the health of the students equally.
They were a rural residential school running fat electricity bills of up to Rs 75,000 per month and even fatter LPG bills. And then, they transformed. They went solar.
Anmol: Our school is located in a rural area and the source of electricity for our school was also from a rural village named Bijabhat. However, the electricity we were getting was not sufficient for our consumption due to regular power cuts.
Aman: Guarav do you remember how we had to cut short our dance or computer classes due to power cuts?
Gaurav: Yes, we were regularly facing problems. But that was before we decided to do something about it. We formed an audit team and inspected the whole school. After the inspection, we came up with a new green idea. We pesruaded the management to instal solar panels to solve all the power problems.
Anmol: Since childhood, we had been studying about renewable sources of energy in text books. But now, we are putting the knowledge to practice. The solar panles have been installed on the rooftop of the main school building as well as the girls’ and boys’ hostel. This solar energy is used for generating electricity, for cooking food by replacing LPG cylinders and also for heating water in the bathrooms.
Aman: After the audit, we learnt that management was paying up to Rs 1,20,000 per month for electricity and LPG cylinders. And despite paying this hefty amount, our electricity needs were not being met. Earlier, we were using 35 KW- 40 KW of electricity. After the installation, we are now getting 100 KW of energy.
Gaurav: So, even after using 40 KW for electricity, we were left with a surplus amount of energy. Our management then decided to use this surplus in our kitchen, that feeds 1000 people daily, and set up induction heaters run by solar power.
Aman: Now, all our food is cooked using electricity generated from solar energy and the perennial problem of changing LPG cylinders has also vanished
Anmol: Now can we sell the remaining solar energy to rural houses, and recover part of the costs?
Aman: No, we shall not sell till we are completely self sufficient. Wondering if all this is very expensive? No, it entails a one-time installation expenditure and thereafter, there is no cost incurred. And then, this investment promises to take care of all our future energy requirements.
An active school eco club looked beyond trees, animals, plants and seeds. In a state as focussed in micro-hydel projects as Himachal, it introduced rain water harvesting in a remote location.
Greetings! I am Jyoti, a member of the Monal Eco Club.
Jyoti: Sunita, You have been in our school for the past four years. Why don’t you become a member of the Eco Club?
Sunita: But first, tell me what all does this club do?
Jyoti: Monal Eco Club was set up in 2001 as part of the Nation Green Core Programme. The founder member of this club was our sir, Tek Singh Parmar. When it started, the club had only 30 members and today, it has more than 150 members. Our club goes from village to village guiding the locals. In 2005, when the construction for the tunnel for the Uhal hydro-power project started, lot of villages in the region were facing acute drought.
Tek Singh Parmar: Jyoti, you might remember how during that time club members and local residents came together to dig deep ditches in the higher areas of the region and repaired the old springs. This enabled us to collect rain water and eventually supply this water to even the low-lying areas. All this led to higher agricultural yields and after a few months, the local panchayat transformed the springs to huge water storage tanks. One of those tanks has a storage capacity of three lakh litres.
Jyoti: Monal Eco Club has done a lot for the protection of environment. But the Green Schools Programme has given us a new vision and direction. While doing the Programme, we paid special attention to Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) and re-use of this water. But huge amounts of money were needed for us to be able to work on our plans.
Sunita: So where did all this money come from?
Jyoti: The school management, on recommendation by the Eco Club, presented a plan to the local panchayat that two RWH tanks be constructed. After rigorous follow ups, tanks with 18000 and 24000 litres capacity were constructed in our school. Then the school water team defined some water rules for users. These include: No wastage of water; stringent penalty for wasters and rewards for the conservers.
Feeling energised? Is the environment enthusiasm seeping in? Well, CSE’s new manual ‘How Green is my Neighbourhood’ is the perfect platform for you then. Who says environment can only be looked after by the policy makers? These schools have made it their very own business. Come, join them.