“Behind our project there used to be a huge cashew plantation, which was cleared some years ago to set up an automobile factory. This has polluted the air as poisonous gases and smoke gush out from the factory’s chimneys every day,” said 17-year-old Ruksana, a student at a Compassion Project based in Odisha, India.
The forest adjoining the project community is a lifeline to the villagers. Most people farm cashew and fruit trees, and others gather firewood to make an income. But the clearing of forest land to aid rapid industrialisation in this region has forced an ecological imbalance.
This imbalance has been triggering droughts and untimely rain in Odisha, damaging harvest-ready crops and affecting many peoples’ livelihoods. Acute water shortage during summer is experienced by the community; the groundwater level has fallen sharply as industries drain large quantities of it to run their factories.
"We can’t stop industries from growing, but we can educate our children to combat the harmful effects of industrialisation by teaching them to preserve and protect their environment,” said Dibakara, the project manager.
In 2013, the project initiated a tree plantation for children aged 9 and older. This initiative aimed to restore a loss of biodiversity in their area and to teach the children how to steward God’s creation.
The saplings planted by children were labeled with their names to give each child ownership of their tree. This has created a healthy competition among them to care for their plants. “We have learnt to care for the saplings just like a mother cares for her baby,” said Sasmita, a 13-year-old student.
“Trees give us fruits but most importantly, trees produce oxygen that we need for survival. We are planting trees because they reduce air pollution and help us breathe freely,” said 18-year-old Sarath.
The project has two bore-wells that it received from a RESPOND initiative some years ago. It now helps to sustain the plants during peak summer. The water from the kitchen and bathroom is also directed to the plants through small canals dug into the earth.
“I am thrilled to see the impact of project’s green initiative; it has not only equipped the children with gardening skills, but this activity has also taught them responsibility and discipline,” said Pawan, a project staff member.
Two years on, many trees and plants have started yielding fruits: mango, guava, papaya, brinjal (aubergine) and tomatoes. Children have joy and pride looking at their plants bearing beautiful flowers and fruits today. Inspired by this, some of them have started kitchen gardens in their homes where they are currently growing different seasonal vegetables.
This activity has increased social bonding; they lend each other a hand in digging the ground, planting the saplings and taking care of the plants together. The activity has also helped children to cultivate an attitude of giving back to their environment.
“Our tree plantation initiative may seem like a drop in the ocean,” Patab said, “but it is a small step toward creating a greener and eco-friendly neighbourhood.”
“We will graduate from the Compassion programme, but our trees will remain here and benefit many,” said 17-year-old Deepak.