by Karen Laurie
MUMBAI, MAR 5, 2018: Teachers and students representing 48 schools sit on the edge of their seats in the packed Bianchi hall at Don Bosco International School, Matunga on March 3; some crossing their fingers, others whispering a prayer, hoping their labour of love towards conserving the environment earns them the Green School Award.
The staff and students of St. Joseph's High School, Wadala squeal with joy as they are declared winners for 2017-18. Some are visibly disappointed. Still others are heard brainstorming ideas, eyeing the top spot in the following year.
The Green Schools Campaign (GSC) is an initiative of GreenLine, a Don Bosco environmental organisation that started in 2010. Through hands-on learning, students are taught to be responsible towards the environment. The Green School Award for the best performing school and the Green Champ for the greenest student in each school is declared on an annual basis.
"Making eco bricks was a lot of fun. We enjoyed dumping all our dry plastic waste into PET bottles. It then became hard and we taped many such bottles together. We even put a cushion on them and turned them into stools," Anushka Doctor, Green Champ of St. Anne's School, Fort, said.
The theme for the eighth edition of GSC was 'Go Trash-less'. With Mumbai currently generating about 10,000 tonnes of trash daily, waste management is a pressing issue. The Campaign began with an orientation session for 80 teachers, preparing them to lead their army of students through the year. Three sessions were then conducted for students: mapping trash from its beginning to its end; managing trash by reducing waste and correctly disposing it, and minimising trash by working towards trash-less neighbourhoods.
Through workshops like eco brick making and film-making, the little campaigners were taught how to maximise the use of their mobile phones to create awareness on environmental matters like garbage black spots. Outdoor events like the Versova beach clean-up drive, a visit to a gobar gas and sewage management plant provided the young ecologists with first-hand experience.
"Kids clean while adults litter. When you young people come and clean beaches, the message you are giving the adults is that we are green and we want to change the world," Chief Guest Afroze Shah, the UN Champion of the Earth awardee, for conducting the largest beach clean-up drive in the world, said.
The participating schools are finally judged on seven parameters: waste audit, mapping the journey of waste, making eco-bricks, managing waste in schools, filming garbage black spots, litter-day to raise awareness about waste, being the neighbourhood hero by using the Swachhata app.
The winning school, St. Joseph's mobilised the entire institute towards its greening initiatives. During the breaks students including first and second graders, collected all the waste and segregated it. It was then given to NGO's who recycled it and the school got back benches and other stationary for its use.
Waste gathered from every square meter of the school premises was audited, bringing about a realisation of the quantity of waste generated. Designated eco-commandos started keeping a check on fellow students from littering. "Our school is now 100% litter-free. Thermocol and flex are banned in school. When we go to a higher class, we upcycle our text books by passing it to the lower class. Every assembly we are told about going Trash-less and we even hold rallies in the neighbourhood to create awareness on how to segregate dry, wet and e-waste," Melvin Anthony, an eco-commando, said.
The road to victory, for the eco-activists, has been ridden with hurdles. "The problem we have faced is that even though we segregate waste, wet waste is not composted. It is dumped together with dry waste in the dump yard. Garbage trucks do not have a waste management system. It is very disappointing for us. Everyone from citizens to officials need to work together like we teachers and students are working together," Cleopatra Farro, a teacher said.
The winner of last year's Green School award, Auxilium Convent High School, Lonavla, came a close second in the latest edition of the competition. "We worked very hard. We collected 800 tyres from different places in Lonavla, at no cost. We then converted a dump yard in our school premises into a landscape garden. We further adorned it beautifully for the children with their help," Unita Patrao, a teacher of the school, said.
So charged are the nature lovers that they willing wait after school hours and even come on weekends to indulge in eco-activities. They make door mats of waste to set a precedence of how waste can be creatively upcycled. The school makes cloth and news paper bags to distribute to shop keepers and citizens in a bid to promote a green neighbourhood. Through street plays and rallies, they have convinced people through most of Lonavla, to immerse idols in homemade tanks, rather than pollute water bodies.
A consistent winner down the years, Sacred Heart High School, Vashi secured the third place. "We do not stop at the Campaign's annual theme, we continue implementing old themes, while adopting new ones. We are a sustainable school," Nirmala Nair, the head of the school's eco-club that is now in its tenth year, said.
When the GSC theme was Fauna, the school created three habitats: crawly garden, amphibian garden and butterfly garden. For Flora, they made a bio-diversity garden which they continue to maintain, with each tree bearing its name. When water and energy conservation was the focus, the school developed a rain water conservation system. They even began recycling waste water from the staff rooms through bio-purification, where the Canna plant was used to decontaminate water, which was then used in the amphibian garden.
Don Bosco High School, Matunga won the award for the school with Exceptional Improvement. They collected 1000 eco bricks, each of which had to be of a standard weight and condition, making it robust enough for the construction of public toilets.
Of the nearly 50 participating schools, 20 have implemented waste segregation and 25 are following composting, wherein the work is done by the students themselves.
"It is a proud moment for me to say that the Green Schools Campaign is the biggest environmental education programme going on in the city of Mumbai," Father Savio Silveira, Director of GreenLine, said.
Father Edwin D'Souza, Chairperson of Father Maschio Foundation that supports GSC, encouraged the children to keep up the good work, while advising them to be greener within, treading the path of honesty in all their do, thereby reiterating GreenLine's vision: Greener people, Greener World.