“Many drops make a bucket, many buckets make a pond, many ponds make a lake, and many lakes make an ocean.”
– Percy Ross
Everyone is talking about climate change and global warming, but is everyone doing something about it? All of us love cleanliness, but do we love cleaning? While the world surely needs governments, leaders and policy makers to intervene and make major changes, each one of us can collectively make a significant difference. Schools and teachers have a major role in awakening students to this danger that needs to be fought against in every possible way.
Ananda Foundation carried out a year-long project to clean a lake in Shaikpet in Hyderabad. The lake is in the midst of a residential area. Not only was the lake water polluted, but clean lakes provide us with a number of environmental benefits. They improve air quality and bring more biodiversity into the vicinity by way of flora and fauna. Lakes act as catchment areas and ease the impact of both floods and droughts by storing large amounts of water.
Once upon a time Hyderabad was called the city of lakes having anywhere between 3000 and 7000 lakes till the 1970s. However, as of 2010, merely 500 lakes were under HUDA (Hyderabad Urban Development Authority).
As of May 2018, HUDA records show that they maintain 169 lakes, which occupy an area of more than 10 hectares. As per existing government norms, no construction of any kind, irrespective of the ownership status is allowed on a lake bed. These rules, however, are frequently violated both by government and private agencies.
Kothacheruvu is a lake located in Shaikpet Mandal in the Film Nagar area of Hyderabad city. As with most lakes, the size of this lake today is much smaller than its original size. The lake was cordoned off with a fence in 2007. However, many encroachments were made and part of the fence wall was broken.
After several failed attempts, in the year 2019, Ananda Foundation, along with Kriti Social Initiatives and Udayan Care, embarked on a year long drive to #SaveKothacheruvu. The task at hand was not at all easy. The lake was covered in filth, the walking track around the lake was covered with weeds, it was being used by rowdies, and was strewn with alcohol bottles and unspeakable dirt and mess. Even outside the lake, around the fencing area, the street was filled with human feces, illegally parked vehicles and overflowing garbage bins. The stench emanating from these and the lake were unbearable and caused a major health hazard. Also the contamination from the lake water was seeping into the ground and in the long run would have affected the groundwater quality.
Where to begin was a big question. Though the lake was our target, we decided to begin by cleaning the surrounding area because –
- The approach to the lake needed to be cleaned.
- The residents in the slum adjoining the lake needed to be made aware that it is possible to live in clean surroundings and we needed to enlist their support and participation.
How we did it
# The GHMC authorities.
# Traffic police (to remove vehicles illegally parked around the lake, which were a hindrance to the cleaning measures).
# Local residents from adjoining apartments and gated communities.
We procured thick long gloves, masks and trash bags, made posters and sent out messages all over social media, calling for volunteers to come and join our cleaning drive every Sunday. Anyone who was willing to work for four weeks and more would receive a certificate of participation and appreciation from Ananda Foundation – this was especially to enlist the support of students.
The first two weeks, volunteer turnout to clean the lake was good, but gradually the support declined. A programme to create awareness was organized and there was media coverage too. In the subsequent months, a group of regular and committed volunteers formed, who did much more than clean the filth around. Some of them spoke to nearby vendors who were throwing their garbage around, some made paper bags, some others used their influence to speak to governmental authorities, a local resident contributed to hiring a ‘JCB’ to clean the heavy junk materials dumped there. However, the group that brought some lightness and creative ideas to the entire cleaning process was a few students. They came up with the idea of breaking the glass (alcohol) bottles strewn around and spreading them in the area where vehicles came to illegally dump concrete and other rubbish into the lake and its surroundings! Hopefully flat tyres would keep them out. They also would come up with hilarious statements with regard to the rubbish that we found repulsive to handle. Each of them resolved to reduce the waste they generated in their individual capacity and in their own homes.
When something is no longer useful, it goes to the landfill if it is not upscaled or recycled. A vegetable that is fresh is nutritious and fit to consume, the same thing when it begins rotting can be composted to make enriching manure, but if simply dumped as waste, the rotten vegetable releases harmful gasses and stench. If each of us reduces the waste that is generated from our homes, not only will our streets be cleaner, but our environment will also be healthier. This lake cleaning drive not just taught us the importance of conserving our water bodies but it also showed us how much we can do by reusing, recycling, upcycling and consuming only as much as we need to.
It is heartening to note that at the end of a year-long clean-up, the GHMC intervened and stopped the dumping at the lakeside, they also rebuilt the broken parts of the wall encircling the lake. The garbage around the lake reduced significantly and the entire space is so much cleaner and beautiful.
Here’s what a few teachers and students who were part of the cleaning drive had to say.
Soujanya Obulappu (teacher) – The initial weeks of cleaning were very difficult when we felt nauseous seeing the filth and mess around. But later when each week we took pictures of the before and after scenes, it brought a sense of satisfaction and we would be enthused to clean vigorously. Each of us found our own strategies to clean thoroughly and using sticks and cardboard or other such materials around to aid us. My daughter too joined me in the later weeks and we found a meaningful activity to do on our Sundays. It also made us aware of being responsible while disposing waste at home, it made us think before throwing something out. I would love to be part of any such activity anytime in the future. We have only one Earth and instead of waiting for the authorities in power, each of us has to do our bit.
Sreekala Ganapathy (volunteer)
First few weeks of cleaning were very difficult. But later it became a zealous effort especially since I could see others take part willingly. It was a useful way to spend a Sunday morning. It brought purpose and meaning to the weekend. The result of just one hour collective cleaning brought a thrill I never experienced before. Cleanliness and hygiene should be inculcated from childhood and disorderliness should become unacceptable for everyone.
Ankitha Chebiyam (student)
We always hear about pollution in our water bodies but rarely get a chance to actually see it and much less do anything about it. So I was very excited to sign up for Ananda Foundation’s Lake cleaning drive. At first I was very hopeful and highly underestimated how tiresome the task would be. Eventually it became less of a task and more of a will to keep going. The experience allowed me to truly understand the importance of persistence. Throughout the course of our clearing drive we spoke and engaged with local individuals living in close proximity to the lake. I found it incredibly interesting how circumstances shape thinking and behaviour. I would love to be part of such projects again.”
The author works through Ananda Foundation for holistic and healthy learning and living and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit her website at www.anandafoundationindia.org.