Shirgaon – Helping hand from people for the cleanliness drive of school, child volunteers show the way of plastic-free Goa
Helping hand from people for the cleanliness drive of school, child volunteers show the way of plastic-free Goa
The pollution and the damages caused by the indiscriminate use of plastic in our day-to-day life have now begun to assume disastrous proportions. The ever-expanding orbit of plastic garbage is threatening to devour the entire world.
The state of Goa, which attracts tourists from across the world to its beautiful beaches, has also been affected by such pollution. Plastic waste is becoming a monstrous issue. In such a situation, the students of the government primary school at Shirgaon, in Bicholim tehsil, about 25 km from the state capital Panaji, are doing something to revive hope. The women teachers of the school have given a new `mantra’ in environmental protection to the children. As a result, not just the children but also their relatives, hawkers, shopkeepers, office-bearers of the gram panchayat and the entire town have joined the ‘plastic hatao’ mission.
The main feature of the mission is, of course, discarding everything made of polythene. Moreover, it provides an alternative to plastic. The school children and their relatives make thousands of plastic-free bags and packets every year and distribute them free among the people who need them. The mission, that was launched in the school,is thus now showing its impact in homes, shops, temples, and all public places like roads, by-lanes, localities.
The mission has been going on for the past two years. If every government school in Goa adopts the model and emulates it, and if the people support it, Goa will be completely plastic-free before long.
Shirgaon is a small town with a population of about 2,500. Its residents are mostly the families of lower-middle class farmers and labourers. The Marathi-medium school here was established in 1962 and has a total of 29 children from the first to fourth standards. The school has two women teachers, apart from the head mistress.
There is the well-known temple of Goddess Lairai in the close vicinity of the school. Almost a million pilgrims from all over Goa and other states visit the temple during its annual fair in the last week of April. The school head mistress Sphoorti Mandrekar says the entire area of the fair used to be left strewn with a huge amount plastic cups, bottles and polythene bags at the end of the fair, till just about two years back.
Every time she felt that something must be done to reduce this mountain of plastic waste. This made Sphoorti and other school teachers think about launching a huge drive against plastics.
But, in spite of all their intentions and the will, they could not initiate any action. Says Sphoorti, “Initially, we were afraid that people would oppose any such move by us and ask, ‘why have you got into it? Your job is to teach the students. Let the government do its own work. You focus on your work.”
But, a Goa Government order later introduced the Enhancing Civic Engagement (ECE) programme in the school in 2017. The State Government thereby entrusted the schools with the responsibility of sensitising people on proper garbage disposal, cleanliness and traffic safety. The order made the teachers of the Shirgaon school officially responsible for the situation in their town, and they exploited the opportunity to achieve their goal.
In simple words, the Mulyavardhan ECE programme ushers in a change by involving citizens in inculcating values. It works by involving the principal, teachers, students, parents, school management committee, gram panchayat and other institutions.
The Pune- based non-government organization, Shantilal Muttha Foundation, has been associated with the State Government in preparing a syllabus for the programme, as also monitoring and assessing it. The programme is being run in 108 government schools in Goa. Of these, 52 are primary schools and 56 higher secondary schools.
A pledge for a plastic-free fair
The school students and their relatives made nearly 4,000 non-plastic bags for the Goddess Lairai fair in 2019. They distributed them free among the pilgrims and the shop-keepers.
The school has set itself a target of distributing more than 10,000 plastic-free bags (paper bags) for the next year’s fair. Each student has decided to make 365 bags before the start of the fair.
According to Sphoorti, she has appealed to the sarpanch to lead this mission so that the target can be achieved, because the word of a sarpanch will have more influence on the people.
Says sarpanch Sadashiv Gavkar, “The mission has had a positive impact on the people. The demand for non-plastic bags is increasing. So, we will run this mission next year with more vigour.”
‘Act first, talk later’ is the credo
Teacher Yogita Deshpande completed her Mulyavardhan ECE training at SCERT, Parvari in July 2017. She realized then that the programme could involve the entire town in identifying the pressing problems and finding their solutions with the help of the school.
Yogita is of the view that the way a child is brought up influences the child’s actions throughout the life. “The children have now begun to understand that they should not use plastic. We have imbibed in them the credo of ‘Act first, talk later’, because we know that real transformation will be possible only if every person abides by this principle in the life.”
Additionally, the Mulyavardhan-ECE syllabus contains methods of preparing bags of cloth and paper. The teachers, therefore, initially organised class-level activities under the programme to train the students in the making of bags. The activity was then extended to the local community, involving the relatives of the students.
40 kg of plastic from cow’s stomach
This is a factual story that happened in November 2017. The school had taken the students on a visit to a `gaushala’ (protective shelters for cows), about 1.5 km from Shirgaon. The students found that a large volume of plastic material was taken out from the stomachs of four of the gaushala’s 40 cows, after surgeries.
Ashtavi Palani of the std. IV says that as much as 40 kg of plastic was taken out from the stomach of one of the cows. They came to know later that the cow was from Shirgaon itself. In Ashtavi’s own words, “We felt very bad. For the first time, we started thinking as to how did so much of plastic came in use in our town.”
The teachers then explained to the children that all of the plastic came in one form or the other from our homes. Saija Vayangankar of the std. IV tells us that a Mulyavardhan session was organised after this visit. It witnessed a long discussion on the plastic issue.
Gram Panchayat responds to students’ pleas
There used to be huge heaps and heaps of garbage in the vicinity of the school, around March 2018. There was no specific place for proper garbage disposal. As a result, a huge volume of plastic bags used to be strewn all over the road that led to the school and also around the houses.
A private company had set up a shed in the area to collect the garbage. But most people did not use it properly, owing to lack of awareness about it.
According to Yogita, the students presented the sarpanch Sadanand Gaonkar with a petition one day, at the behest of the school. They collected the garbage littered around the school and invited the sarpanch to see it. The sarpanch made arrangementsfor the disposal of the garbage. The gram panchayat also set up a system to collect the garbage from around the school twice a month.
It is usually seen that gram panchayats try to improve schools. But in this case, it was a school that took the first step to change the thinking and the functioning of the gram panchayat on a sensitive issue like the environment.
An optimistic outlook
According to another teacher Sumita Talwar, it was not easy to run such a big environmental mission without the help of the gram panchayat and common people. But the last two years have brought about a positive transformation in everybody’s outlook. “It may take many more years to achieve the goal of a plastic-free environment. But these children convince us that an anti-plastic generation is coming up,” says Sumita.
The school management committee president Varsha Gathval says that the anti-plastic mission has broadened the outlook and changed the habits of not only the children but also the adults. “If a child does not pick up a polythene bag lying on the road and fails to drop it in a dustbin, some adult reminds him about it. Similarly, if an adult does not use a dustbin to throw garbage, a child nearby points it out to him,” says Varsha.
Anju Vayangankar shares her experience on behalf of the parents, “We are noticing a change even in the behavior of the children. For example, they now carry steel water bottles to the school instead of plastic bottles.”
Rupshree Chyari of the IV std informs that whenever she sees a cow eating some plastic material, she seeks the help of an adult and prevents the cow from eating it. “I give something else to the cow to eat,” she says.
And finally, Yogita’s eyes lit up, talking about the annual fair next year. She says, “We had prevented 4000 polythene bags from going into the stomachs of cows in the first year. Next year,the number will go up to 10,000 plastic bags from being eaten up by cows!”
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