Schoolchildren from flood-hit districts in Kerala made a presentation of their experience at the event, listing reasons they think have caused more damage.

Another Kerala Green Congress concludes a history of the student-driven Green Army
news Environment Tuesday, December 04, 2018 - 13:49

At 7 pm, the last of the guests have left. What remains at Putharikkandam Maidan are newly-vacated chairs and a nearly empty stage. Clearing the place is a bunch of mostly young people who put together the second Green Congress in Thiruvananthapuram.

In short, Green Congress is an annual environmental gathering of schoolchildren from Thiruvananthapuram. It is a two-day programme ‘organised jointly by the Green Army International and Thiruvananthapuram Corporation to showcase the initiatives, innovation and creativity of schoolchildren on environment and climate’.

It can be broken down – into what is Green Army, how it got formed, and what the kids do. Shibu, who works for the NGO with zero waste campaign, Thanal, is most helpful in doing this. Possibly exhausted from a two-day exercise of giving many directions, he sweats, standing away from the speakers, and putting together a short history for this reporter. “It is an independent initiative, not that of the government. But you could say the brainchild is Thomas Isaac’s (Kerala Finance Minister).”

There was a campaign cell in place for waste management then – more than two years ago, that is – and Shibu and Krishnakumar, a KSSP activist, were part of it.

‘Ente Nagaram Sundara Nagaram’ (My City, Beautiful City), the campaign said. Isaac told them, we should bring children into it. That was a bright idea, but Shibu and Krishnakumar thought perhaps it won’t work that well if they – 40 plus something – went and spoke to little kids about plastic waste and environment. Kids could connect more to new adults, chettans and chechis closer to their age. That’s how the Green Army gets formed.

From the Green Congress

“Every evening after 5, we would meet at the Corporation office. The staff would have left then and it would be just us. It didn’t really begin as a permanent idea. At first, it was a small group that was formed for making the Pongala celebrations of that year green,” Shibu says.

Young volunteers from NSS and NCC and other college-level groups became part of the little campaign. They walked around with steel plates to replace the plastic cups that would be used much on Pongala day. They brought drinking water to the thousands sitting under the sun and cooking their offerings.

When Pongala got over, they knew they had to go on – this little army they had become, without realising it.

“So we met again. After Pongala, it was time for the summer vacation and we planned camps in four schools for four days.” The young volunteers became mentors to the school children. They became known as the Green Army mentors and members.

“The vibe was encouraging. The kids adored their young mentors. And the young mentors brought in new ways. Like the prizes that we gave away at the end of a Green Congress – if it were left to us oldies, we would have brought some heavy books. But they brought Kindles and sports watches and cycles, kits of steel water bottles and eco-friendly bags,” Shibu says.

The young mentors came from several NGOs and charity groups like Thanal, Sahrudaya, H2O, CO2, MAD, Chumaduthangi (a music band), KSSP and so on. A hundred of them had joined the Mayor when he went with a team for flood relief work in Pathanamthitta. Ten of them were also offered jobs at the Corporation as Green City coordinators.

Chumaduthangi performs at the Green Congress

Senior members like Shibu would always be there for guidance. And so would the Mayor, Shibu says. “Mayor VK Prasanth would always have time for us when we say it is something about the Green Army.”

The idea was not to end it with an awareness camp but to take it forward from schools to homes and from homes to neighbourhoods. “The kids did that. They went from door to door to talk about source-level segregation of waste. And when it’s kids, people can’t accuse them of any baggage like political interests. They end up listening. It’s working,” Shibu says.

The next step was connecting what the kids learnt to academics. Schools welcomed the idea. There’s going to be a Green Action Plan in schools, that would not only be about waste management but climate, farming, water and so on.

Then, of course, the first Green Congress happened where students from all the schools in Thiruvananthapuram came together at Carmel School and made their presentations. This year’s event was held at SMV School and the conclusion at Putharikandam Maidan.

From the last Green Congress

A presentation on flood experience and rebuilding

It’s over, this year’s event. Schoolchildren came, competed, won prizes. Their young mentors have stayed back on Sunday evening, putting everything back. On Saturday, there were more children from the flood-affected parts of the state. Surprising the adult crowd, they came up with a presentation of their experience and perception of the flood, and the reasons for the damage. There is also a section on how to rebuild that they got as a response from a panel of experts.

“Our place, Kuttanad was the first to get hit by the floods and last to get drained off. Kuttanad is like a plate and there is no place for water to flow once it’s flooded, it has to be pumped out. For two months (July and August) we had no classes,” begins the presentation written by students from Alappuzha.

Thrissur follows next with “August 14th the rain was normal and we all got prepared for the Independence day, but on 15th morning the Collector declared an emergency. From now on Aug 15th will mean more than Independence for us.”

A student shares his experience during the floods

They make purely logical observations: “The elders were adamant in leaving the house, as their commitment towards home made them stay and believe water levels will fall. This blind faith has actually increased the damage in many areas. Even the alerts were taken lightly and we decided to stay home. We had the opportunity to escape the flood in the very first day but the attitude of elders made us stay. At last neither our faiths nor our beliefs saved us, but what did was our will to fight and survive together.”

Students from Wayanad and Idukki wrote that landslides caused more issues for them than flooding since they come from the high ranges. School children from Pathanamthitta remember something horrific: “When we saw a floating dead body in water that too in a bad shape. The body had remained in the water without anyone taking responsibility for it, rather they pushed it away from them as it passed through. We children will never forget that incident in our life.”

A student in Ernakulam remembers, “The most unforgettable situation would be the news of the kid who died in our camp due to hunger and later we found many camps waste food due to oversupply.”

They then list the reasons that created or increased the damage they faced: harming nature, agriculture land usage, illegal constructions, improper plastic disposal, the opening of dam shutters, challenges in the rescue operation, improper awareness and alert mechanisms, infrastructural faults.

The presentation ends with the ‘How to Rebuild’ part which comes from experts of climate change, rural development, agriculture, and disaster management.

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