Chennai

Meet the sustainability couple and their brainchild Team Green, a hyperlocal greening movement from Chennai

Members of Team Green at work

Members of Team Green at work | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

With all due respect to the owls out there, a thumping majority of tree planters are larks that seize the day by the scruff of its neck when it is just a neonate.

In East Mogappair, every day, Deepa Lakshmi and her husband K Mohanasundaram are first on the scene, having pre-booked two hours of every young day to function as “sapling doctors” within a radius of one kilometre from an apartment on Church Road in Mogappair East. Deepa’s tone suggests that those daily two hours of intense green activity are held sacrosanct, never traded for anything else.

How it sprouted

In 2016, when they settled down at VGN Raksha, an apartment at Church Road in Moggapair East, K Mohanasundaram and Deepa Lakshmi were seized of a desire to see the OSR land there turned into a park. The wish remaining just that, the duo, with the support of other like-minded residents, hunkered down to doing the next best thing: Making it lush green.

They planted saplings, and seeing them reach for the skies only whetted their appetite for more green work. “We realised that if we tended to a tree in the first one or two years of its life, it would do well on its own. Besides, the saplings right outside our community seemed to call us plaintively, ‘Wouldn’t you care for us too?’ Yes, this was real to us. That is how we stepped outside, first just watering the saplings, and then replacing missing saplings, and then finding spaces to plant saplings,” Deepa elaborates.

730 days on the trot

K Mohanasundaram and Deepa Lakshmi started watering the saplings in their neck of the woods in 2019, forgoing their Sunday lie-in and stirring early around their neighbourhood in Mogappair East. During the the pandemic, the extent of the “peregrinations” widened, and gradually the exercise put out more shoots — seven days a week, and around 20 active volunteers. The group came to be known as Team Green.

During a feedback session following a  greening activity organised by Team Green for students of Queen Mary’s College

During a feedback session following a greening activity organised by Team Green for students of Queen Mary’s College | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Team Green was formed on the go, with volunteers getting “initiated” into it on the road. “Seeing us watering the plants in public places, we would be asked curious questions, and some of them would join us as volunteers,” says Deepa.

The pandemic had led Deepa and Mohanasundaram to take up greening activity on a daily basis. “Though there were severe clampdowns on movement in the early months of the pandemic, we could do the greening work every day, as we would engage in it at the first blush of morning. Besides, we would be just four or five of us, moving about in a scattered manner.” At the time of this article being written — May 21 — Team Green was celebrating 730 days on the road planting and tending to saplings. Predictably, the celebration was centred around a tree plantation exercise at the Maduravoyal Taluk Office.

A base camp

Team Green has an operating base: Government Boys High School in Mogappair East. Deepa calls it Team Green’s headquarters — both in a lighter vein and in dead earnest.

Mohanasundaram and Deepa Lakshmi are part of Nallor Vattam, a circle focussed on social and civic development. The couple’s efforts in caring for trees were unexpectedly amplified through this group.

A Miyawaki forest raised by Team Green at Government Boys High School in Mogappair East

A Miyawaki forest raised by Team Green at Government Boys High School in Mogappair East | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“Learning about our work, Vijayakumar, the headmaster of Government Boys High School in Mogappair East, offered us an opportunity

to raise a Miyawaki forest on the school premises,” Deepa says. The 5,000 sq.ft. Miyawaki exercise turned out to be a rabbit hole

that led to greater opportunities. At the school, Team Green is assured of both a physical and mental space that would support its

greening exercises. For example, on its premises, Team Green grows saplings having collected fallen seeds and just-sprouted plants from elsewhere.

The sapling hunters

Team Green seeks to make its greening exercise zero-cost at best and low-cost at worst, as Deepa puts it. An illustration of this is Project Vidiyal, which seems to be a successful attempt at achieving self-sufficiency.

While Team Green receives free saplings from the Forest Department, it also “generates” its own saplings.

“We have employed three women to scour the neighbourhood for saplings that had spouted from seeds fallen from trees. The saplings so collected go into grow bags and are nurtured, at a ‘nursery’ established at the school. Seeds are also collected. Each of the three women put in five hours of work a day, which is recompensed with a wage of ₹300. Twenty members of Team Green have volunteered to pick up the tab, each sparing ₹900 to pay for the wages for one day,” Deepa elaborates.

A social focus

Probably because it is undergirded by the principles driving groups like Nallor Vattam, Team Green brings a markedly social orientation to its volunteering.

A visible sign of this is a small brick-and-mortar shelf attached to the outer surface of a wall at the Government Boys High School, Mogappair East. Called “Anbu Suvar”, it beckons people to leave behind utilitarian items that they no longer need, but others might.

The Wall of Love established by Team Green at the Government Boys High School in Mogappair East

The Wall of Love established by Team Green at the Government Boys High School in Mogappair East | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Team Green also runs a programme called Anbalayam, through which it provides breakfast to 25 people working on the front lines a few days in a month. On certain days, breakfast is made for the Team Green volunteers out in the field on greening work. The effort is sustained by the donation of provisions by Team Green members themselves.


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Printable version | Jun 20, 2022 10:13:46 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/meet-the-sustainability-couple-and-their-brainchild-team-green-a-hyperlocal-greening-movement-from-chennai/article65442820.ece