Herald: Goa’s youth working as agents of change

Goa’s youth working as agents of change

09 Jun 2019 05:33am IST
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09 Jun 2019 05:33am IST
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The youth have the power to change the status quo in any society and this seems amply evident in Goa with various youth groups coming to the fore to tackle environmental issues; conduct clean up drives, run awareness campaigns and nudge society into creating a better version of itself. DEEPA GEORGE meets the core team of Arannya Environment Research Organisation (AERO) that aims to connect people with nature, help them explore and experience the rich natural heritage of the state and work towards wildlife conservation through research, education, outreach and action

t’s been a year since we formed our NGO,” declares a happy Harshada Gauns - Founder, President of ARANNYA, an NGO formed by ex students of Government College, Sakhali

“We are a group of Zoologists and Botanists who thought it necessary to create a formal enterprise that helped expose students to nature and make them responsible citizens. Besides, having come from middle class backgrounds ourselves, we were keen to counsel other students on job opportunities in this field and create avenues for employment, “she adds.  

With a core team of 6 members and a network of nearly 150 enthusiasts enrolled in their activities, AERO has made an impressive beginning and works with more than 50 schools in the state. 

“We have a series of fun activities to engage all age groups. Through nature trails, summer camping experience, monsoon treks and documentary screenings, we hope to educate people and make ‘nature’ a fun topic. Our camping trips are priced economically since we want more participation. Only when you experience nature in its natural beauty and form, will you want to conserve it. We are blessed to have such rich biodiversity in Goa and have to take onus in protecting it, “shares Harshada.  

Recently, as part of World Environment Day, they initiated the ‘NO SUP’ (Single Use Plastic) campaign in Old Goa and Ponda and want to take it forward to Morjim, Mandrem and Arambol. As part of this campaign, the group surveyed 14 stalls in Old Goa and 18 in Ponda.  

“We targeted local vendors and juice centres in the area and wanted to make these vendors aware of the waste they were generating. In our assessment, we found it shocking to discover that 7,17,000 straws were used, just from these stalls we surveyed!,” she said. 

The thought of this number escalating in multiples if all the stalls across the state are taken into account is mind numbing. While targeting manufacturers is difficult and an onerous task, AERO tries to make a difference at the ground level through small yet impactful methods of placing banners at each stall to educate consumers and encouraging stall owners to break the habit of providing straws with every drink. It is a known fact that old habits die hard and it takes time to change mindsets. “We keep monitoring these stalls and take joy in the fact that some of them have stopped using straws totally. We also want to target temples and places of worship next. From our understanding, on an average there are 10,000 plastic cups being used. This has got to stop, sometime.” sighs Harshada. Their future plan is to tie up with corporate through their Corporate Social Responsibility Wing to take the campaign across Goa and make it more effective. 

While they have conducted clean up drives, they aren’t too convinced of its efficacy and sustainability. “One has to try changing people’s mindsets first,” admits Harshada. “After doing some of these drives, I wasn’t sure what happened to the waste post collection. It has to be taken to the municipality to ensure proper disposal. Just collection isn’t good enough,” she adds.  

Keen on creating a platform to discuss environmental issues and make it engaging for the youth, they also began a series called, ‘Wild Dialogues’ that brings together eminent people in the environment field to a panel discussion. “Last year we had local experts from different backgrounds. This year, we hope to bring in national experts to Goa and are trying to get funding and sponsorship in place to make it a reality,” says Harshada,

The enthusiasm and dedication of this group is visible. With the average age of the group hovering at 23 years, it is commendable that despite having full time jobs, they work on weekends to keep this passion going. 

A professor in the department of Zoology at Ganpat Parsekar College and President of the Goa Bird Conservation Network, Harshada along with her colleagues with similar experience are well qualified to guide students not just at an engagement / awareness level but even with practice-based research methodology. They now offer a certificate course in this aspect, especially designed for students. Harshada hopefully adds, “Chowgule College has recently introduced a MSc degree in Wildlife Biology and we see great scope in providing internships to these students.” 

As they celebrate their first year of formation, they have their eyes set on bigger goals. “We will be targeting funding agencies and want to apply for National Geographic grants and Rufford Grants in research and conservation. This will allow us to employ local students for research purpose. We are also trying to be part of the technical support group of Goa State Biodiversity Board,” reveals Harshada. 

She confidently adds, “Also, post 3 years of operation, we stand a chance to receive funds from the government or to be government aided.”

One can’t fault them on their vision, intent and conviction. As Harshada wisely concludes, “We want to steer away from activism but we can do surveys, authenticate data and help in that domain.” Through critical thinking and logical minds, the youth seems to be our collective hope for a better and more informed future.  

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