Call them climate champs, tree huggers or tiger enthusiasts, these Captain Planets of tomorrow clearly believe that when it comes to saving the earth, the power is yours.
“Are the stripes on a tiger’s face different from those on its body?” Trivia hunter!
“Can we use artificial intelligence to protect the beast?” Futuristic take.
“How are we going to benefit from saving the tiger?” Matter-of-fact.
“What is the government doing about this?” Journalist in the making?
Questions flew thick and fast at Montfort School in Tiruchi, minutes after the screening of wildlife filmmaker Shekar Dattatri’s much acclaimed documentary, “The Truth about Tigers”. Perky fourteen-year-olds, intrigued by the documentary, shot off questions and lingered long after the school bell to discuss ecology and environment.
But this unbridled enthusiasm is what 22-year-old naturalist and wildlife photographer Ramnath Chandrasekhar, a protégé of Dattatri, looks for in the dozens of schools he visits on his mission of building a green brigade.
Ramnath and team are spotting green soldiers in schools across Tamil Nadu to build their new movement, Youth for Conservation. Call them climate champs, tree huggers or tiger enthusiasts, these Captain Planets of tomorrow clearly believe that when it comes to saving the earth, the power is yours.
YFC has been in germination for a couple of years and will officially take off in January 2012 with the launch of its interactive web portal, www.yfc.in. But the movement has already put out roots by connecting with school students all over the state.
YFC’s platform to recruit young blood is an outreach marathon with “The Truth about Tigers” as its soul. It presently focuses on two-tier and three-tier cities and their rural pockets. Reversing the customary order of movements that kick off in a metropolitan city before penetrating to smaller towns, Ramnath says, “The kind of exposure and familiarity with conservation campaigns kids in Chennai have varies starkly from the rest of Tamil Nadu.” The programme started from Pudukottai, Karaikudi and Tirupattur. Phase two reached out to 10,000 students in Tiruchi and Thanjavur, and now the team is all set to move into Madurai, Tirunelveli and Tuticorin. Phase four will touch down on Coimbatore, Erode, Ooty and Pollachi and phase five in Villupuram, Kanchipuram and Chennai. After strengthening its base in Tamil Nadu, YFC plans to go across the country.
The documentary offers many solutions to avert the threat of extinction, apart from encouraging civilians to create watchdog groups, use RTI for handy information and petition the government to save the national animal.
Kids chip in
But as Dinesh, an enthusiastic teenager, wanted to know, “What can we students do to contribute?”
“Information and Inspiration — that is what we feed at the school stage,” answers Ramnath. “Not many are aware of what’s happening to wildlife and environment. What you can do is equip yourself with knowledge and sensitise others around you. You can start with saving 10 units of electricity per month with our tips. It may not be much, but if 1,000 of you do it then you save one megawatt, which makes a difference.”
YFC believes in mobilizing students before they choose their professions. “When an environmental issue comes up, the voices that are heard are dismissed as cries from wildlife photographers and the like. We believe our voices would carry more resonance if people from all walks of life join us,” says this Sanctuary Asia's Young Naturalist 2011 Award winner from Pudukottai. Ramnath envisages tomorrow’s doctors, journalists, architects, lawyers, and engineers doing their bit for the earth.
Apart from student outreach programmes and dissemination of practical conservation guidelines to students through web portals and social networking sites, YFC also plans to address collegians. Workshops and field visits are in the pipeline and volunteers will be encouraged to explore and document the state of the environment in their neighbourhood and create a knowledge bank while enhancing their skills.
The initiative is not restricted to urban scapes. Many rural schools, including government schools, fall under YFC’s ambit. But here the approach is different and though kids may not connect to the bigger picture, they are encouraged to find a local perspective and focus on issues closer to home, like snake-catching and cattle grazing.
As a reminder to students that conservation is not a one-off coffee-break discussion topic, the team leaves behind a framed photograph of the tiger in every school, with a hard-hitting question scrawled beneath, “If we cannot save our national animal, what can we save?”
The YFC Team
Vasanth Asokan, a software engineer in Silicon Valley, has given up his job to serve two years as editor of the web portal.
M. Shivakumar, Manager, Adminstration, has worked with Dattatri for two decades.
Dhilip Kumar, design expert, is the brain behind the campaigns.