People Sowmya and her friends take to the roads to create awareness about a clean environment. Akila Kannadasan joins the band of eco-warriors

I t's almost 10.30 a.m., and the Sunday sandhai in Irugur is buzzing with activity. Dressed in their very best, some little boys and girls on bicycles enter a street next door; some others just dash in with bare feet. Twelve-year-old S.A. Sowmya assembles them in a thinnai and gets right down to business.

These kids are part of ‘Children's Science Circle,' a club Sowmya initiated in order to engage in conservation activities. Formed on September 11, 2010, the Circle's focus so far has been to check the use of plastic and create awareness about its ill-effects. Around 45 children from Kadri Mills Higher Secondary School complete the Circle and Sowmya is its President. Fifteen of them belong to Irugur, the rest function from their respective localities.

Spreading awareness

“Today, we will go around Irugur and survey the amount of plastic used in households and shops,” says Sowmya to her restless audience. “We should advise people that black plastic bags are much worse than the yellow and green ones,” she explains.

Sowmya's father, who sells clothes door-to-door on his cycle watches the proceedings from a distance and so does her mother and a few inquisitive neighbours.

Now, the members are all ears as she lays down the agenda for the coming week. Flanked by the Circle's Secretary A. Nithya and Treasurer D. Dhanya Priya, Sowmya notes every issue addressed in her notebook, down to the last detail. She then readies the kids for a procession along the streets of Irugur.

Leading the way are Sowmya, Nithya and Dhanya Priya, carrying handmade placards with messages promoting conservation. The kids march behind them energetically, unmindful of the afternoon sun, shouting, Vettadhe! Vettadhe! Marangalai vettadhe! (do not chop down the trees).

Passers-by stop and stare; there are some who even snigger, but the kids walk on undaunted, picking plastic wastes along the way. Their first stop is Azhagu's grocery shop. Sowmya and the team record the number of plastic bags used in the shop per day.

They also halt at a few houses and ask the inmates if they are willing to plant saplings if provided. “Not everybody is keen on lending us a ear. Some rebuff us,” says Sowmya. “However, once, a visually-challenged anna spent a full 20 minutes listening to all what we had to say. He also offered his suggestions; it was very encouraging,” she smiles.

Sowmya leads the procession to a teashop where nearly fifty per cent of the customers bring their own steel tumblers, thanks to the awareness these children created. “We still have a lot of work to do. According to our survey, it is the construction workers and daily-wage labourers who use plastic tea-cups the most,” she explains.

The framework for the club was provided by their biology teacher R. Selvi. It all started when Sowmya attended a National Children's Science Congress meeting in Thanjavur in 2010. An expert advised the children at the gathering to form clubs in their neighbourhood to do their bit for the environment.

Sowmya immediately gathered a few of her friends and formed the Children's Science Circle. Apart from plastic reduction campaigns, the Circle has been instrumental in planting over 50 saplings in the area.

The Circle gang is well-known in Irugur. Recently, they made paper-mache bowls with waste paper, painted on them and then sold them at the sandhai. “They sold like hot cakes”, beams Sowmya. “Of the Rs 56, we made, we dropped Rs. 50 into the temple undiyal and bought sweets for the rest,” she smiles. The Circle also organised a Science exhibition for the children of Irugur.

After walking for almost an hour, the kids return to the thinnai with a bag filled with plastic waste. The collection will go in to a sack placed in their school by RAAC (Residents Awareness Association of Coimbatore) as part of its plastic reduction initiative.

“From next week, our focus will be on creating awareness on the goodness of cloth and jute bags. First of all, I suggest that all of you convince your parents to use cloth bags instead of plastic bags at home,” Sowmya instructs her young friends before wrapping up the week's session. The little ones disperse; but not before watering the saplings they planted nearby.

Those interested in joining the Children's Science Circle can call 9865821746.