In 2013, I took up something I never did before. Though journalism is and always be my first love, there was something that was going on in my mind when it comes to conservation. How can we tell the children the importance of forests and its links to the water we get everyday?
In South India, almost 69 rivers originate from the Western Ghats. The mountains absorbs the rains during monsoon and reserves it. Then it slowly releases the water-drops of water form small rivulets, then a stream flows, and finally the river gushes, giving us our daily supply of water.
The film that portrays this in its best is Save our Sholas by Shekar Dattatri.
A bit about the film:
Titled ‘SOS – Save Our Sholas’, the 24-minute film, narrated by celebrated conservationist, Valmik Thapar, showcases the rich biodiversity of the southern Western Ghats forests and the problems that beset this fragile landscape. The film lays particular emphasis on the immense water harvesting capacity of these forests, and underlines the fact that all the major rivers of peninsular India originate in the Western Ghats.
“We felt that a crisp film on the subject was sorely needed as an educational aid, particularly in schools and colleges, to introduce young people to the immense importance of shola forests. It is very gratifying that Delhi based Centre for Media Studies has selected the film for its ‘Greening Young Minds’ project, and is distributing the film to ten thousand schools across India”.
I was fortunate that I was screening this film across 19 schools reaching to 11,000 students last year in Chennai.
The approach to conservation needs to be linked to human lives in today’s world. If we say, we need to protect the forests, why? We don’t care if forests exist or not? We live in urban areas. Some school principals even raised this question to me when I asked for a time slot for screening. I diligently explained the link and things fell in place.
Children come with such amazing questions. The film not just captures the link between forest and water but also explains the natural behavior of creatures that thrive in these sholas-Travancore Tortoise, King Cobra, weaver ants and even termites, which have a huge role to play in the forest. There was no tiger brouhaha here. It was about smaller creatures of the forest.
Some pictures from my experience with children.
I took this chance to screen the film in most of the government schools than the usual schools. These children seldom get such opportunities. It was a good opportunity for me to know the species of animals and birds in my mother tongue.
Children watching King Cobra in fear and excitement!
That was one such moment! I watched their curious faces.
At Bentick School where I addressed 1000 students. The screening and interaction session with children was done in Tamil.
After repeated screenings (sometimes even 4-6 in a day) with no meal or rest, talking continuously, I never felt tired! I wanted to know what children felt about water and the need to save forests.
A girl at Chennai government school answers my question (Class five)
On the other side, children from BVM Global school were so enthusiastic and excited that I had to spend a lot of energy in raising my voice, despite the mike. They knew Cicadas (the insect that makes noise in the forest) and many other creatures!
They also asked many many questions.
BVM Bollineni Hillside
She was petrified watching King Cobra swallow a rat snake (its favourite meal)
Answering inquisitiveness :)
At Chinmaya Vidyalaya, the most obedient and quiet children I have ever addressed
The largest number of students I addressed was in Holy Angels school (1500 students, class 4 to 9). Many of them wanted to do more than water saving in school and home. They wanted to volunteer and that was inspiring.
The maximum number of questions came from BVM Global (40 questions). I took them all and spent the longest interactive session of almost 90 minutes with them. There were some questions like what is anaconda comes face to face with King cobra, will they fight?
Why are we humans so bad? We know its not right to destroy forest but why do we do it? I smile at them and say you can start making a difference and talk to others about it and together we change.
There was one unforgettable kid in my experience. Himanshu from LM Dadha School. He was phenomenal. A student of class 6, he knew already that 33% forest cover has to be maintained. He explained so many things to me, ants carrying geckos which are larger than their weight, the critical role of termites in decomposition, forest fires. I have an audio recording of his talk which I will post soon on this blog.
Change can happen in different ways, first, through awareness and when children are already aware, bring them to action, tell them what they can do, let them experience nature and rebuild their connection with the natural world. I am sure many of my students are spreading the word and embarking on a change. The experience of answering children (tougher than answering adults because they are so innocent and genuine and they ask the right questions) was amazing. I learned more than what I gave.
I was running this show alone. But it would not have been possible with the support of the National Green Corps Head, Mr Thangaraj, school teachers, principals, helpers, and the lovely children. Kudos to Shekar for making this film. Honoured to be knowing him and sharing my experiences!