Club members with Salmon.
This is part four of a four part series looking at deforestation and the state of trees in India. This is Annila Harris’ first-hand account of her time visiting the World Vision special climate change project with technical expert Salmon Jacob, Advisor – Environment (Climate Change), World Vision India. Photos by Annila Harris.
Navigating through the jagged streets, Salmon reaches a courtyard where children patiently await his presence. Starting a dialogue with the children, in order to educate them, he explains the reason why planet earth is unique. “Having life in our planet makes it unique. There are different forms of life like fish, animals, birds and trees because our planet is special we have to protect it,” he says. Simplifying the global warming talk he uses the analogy of salt which is crucial for food but too much of salt ruins the dish, similarly with carbon dioxide, a little amount is needed but if CO2 increases then it is harmful for the atmosphere. We need more oxygen to breathe which is produced by trees but trees are getting cut,” says Salmon. Raising her hand 11-year-old Rashmi makes a wise remark. “If one tree is cut then we have to grow 5 trees to replace them. We have to preserve trees because they give us clean air to breathe and fruit to eat. Because the trees are getting cut there is less rain coming and the earth is getting hotter,” she says. Eager to add more 12-year-old Saroj says, “We have to take care of trees, give them attention by watering them, putting manure for them. We have to grow more trees.”
Taking a hint from her statement, Salmon asks all those children to raise hands who water their plants. Unanimously all children raise their hands. Encouraging them to further care for the samplings he moves on to check the workbooks given to them in the last workshop. Excited to show their workbooks, Rashmi and Saroj dash to get their work reviewed from Salmon.
After the education session, as a reward, along with tree saplings, he presents the children with T-shirts (as part of the project) having environmental message imprinted on them. “It came to light in my discussion with children especially in areas where there used to be forests 25-30 years back and today there isn’t any that children over the generations had lost the understanding about the importance of having forests and trees, which is a big disconnect.
It is very important that we build back these connections. Engaging the children in tree plantation programmes, where tree saplings are distributed and children go through a process of nurturing these plants over a period of three months, that’s the time the plants get roots and gain strength to survive. Children also adopt trees from their immediate surrounding where they live. We have also designed a children’s activity book wherein children are engaged in a process where they learn with fun, they get to know about their immediate environment about the trees and plants in their own village, they get to understand the importance of these trees, their medicinal values and the commercial values, how they add value to the ecosystem, how it enriches the health of the environment in that particular area. This helps children to understand why to protect and conserve the environment,” says Salmon.
World Vision project in Baran has educated 1363 children on environmental issues. 7300 saplings were planted by children, youth and community members, through this project in an attempt to improve the tree cover. Apart from the saplings provided by World Vision, the children have also planted saplings on their own and also adopted growing trees from their area to nurture & protect them. It was learnt from the children and the local staff, that 80% to 90% of the tree saplings have survived and most of them have also started bearing fruits.
Travelling for another 2 hours Salmon reaches the last village on his roll call. Joined by 22-year-old Rajender, he does the rounds of the tree garden cultivated by him. Sharing his life changing decision to nurture plants Rajender says, “My village was lush green once upon a time. It is all gone. The tree saplings, guava and mango, given to me by World Vision inspired me to cultivate my very own tree garden. I chose to plant more trees in the area and even constructed a well within the compound to water the plants.
But the true realisation of their importance came to me when I fell sick and craved for shade. I was diagnosed with blood cancer. Each day was a battle that I had to fight. Like, how my family was beside me and supported me through the recovery process, I also realised that trees need someone to protect them and preserve them. I wanted to do that. Having trees in my community is my legacy I want to leave behind. To get better I need to consume fresh produce, which I get from my fruit trees in the garden.” Confidently answering the question of whether the thought of giving up the task to care for the garden crossed his mind Rajender says, “Plants are like children. In the initial years they need all the attention and care you can give but when they grow up they take care of you. It is like that with trees too. If you care for them now, they will serve you later. Whenever I go for a walk and when I am near trees I can feel the cool breeze coming from them. God saved me so it is my duty to save trees and care for them. I want to see my village green again.”
Presenting his concerns to Salmon, Rajender points out to the pertinent issue of water shortage in their village which hampers the growth of the trees. By adopting painstaking methods Rajender and his family fetch water and carry it a distance to water the garden. Elated about his first yield Rajender says, “This year we got two and a half quintals of guava from the garden. This was the first time the pomegranate bore fruit. To improve my blood level doctors advised me to eat pomegranate. Now I can eat fresh pomegranates from my farm.”
Completing his field observations, Salmon, after a gruelling long day, rides back. Summarising his visit, he opens up about his aspirations for the project. “Multiple benefits can be achieved by implementing low cost techniques and my hope is that there will be intentional focus with dedicated staff to drive such projects. If such projects are taken seriously one day issues of farmer suicides and migrations will no longer exist in these drought prone areas. Those farmers struggling today will no longer have to go through the agony of a failed crop and all one would see is smiles on their faces from having a abundant harvest. That’s my ultimate hope,” says Salmon.