Inspiration: Young team with a challenge of cleaning a Himalayan village

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As a part of our ‘online interview‘ project, this week we interviewed Atreya and Jubin, who are volunteering for cleaning a Himalayan village- Rakkar, in Himachal Pradesh. We introduced this to you a week or so before, and now here are the conversation notes from the project that we are most excited to share! Below are the excerpts from the interview.

1) We see many young people ‘stumble upon’ social initiatives on Facebook shares or Fail Tweets and then do nothing on the ground. What inspired you to take up such an issue so vigorously?

Atreya: I am a young person myself. I’m 21 years old. I completed high school and finished two years of military service after that. Back when I was in the military, we used to pack food for field training. When packing food, we used disposable containers and also disposable utensils. We used the containers and utensils once and then threw them away. After numerous field exercises, I began to realize just how much waste we generated because of this disposable concept. We could have easily re-used containers and utensils- but for some false sense of convenience we were not.

Over time, I started to think about this issue of waste management on a larger scale. My thoughts soon drifted to the garbage crisis in India, my homeland.When I came back to visit my family in Rakkar, I saw first hand how big the problem actually was. That is when I decided to take action.

I guess one of the main reasons why I took action so vigorously is because I felt that my village (Rakkar) was my home. I felt a deep connection to the land and the people. The last thing I wanted was to see it as polluted as it is. This is what motivated me to take strong action.

cleaning a himalayan village

cleaning a himalayan village

2) There’s very many people who claim things need to be improved and move towards advocacy and yet when it comes to their own behavior, they take the easy way out (e.g. littering because it isn’t their home). Why did you believe in your project?

Atreya: This is certainly true. We have experienced many cases where people commend our project and say with assurance that they will stop littering and start storing their garbage for us to collect. But many a time, we notice that the same people continue their old habits of littering and dumping waste.This has been very frustrating for us. Personally, when I face such disappointments from locals in our village, I feel like giving up.So why do I keep believing in the project? This is going to sound cheesy, but despite the disappointments we face we still do believe in the goodness of people. And this is not just a belief- we have seen people actually changing, with time that is. This is an excerpt from one of our blog posts to explain:

“There have been times when we spent hours explaining our project to a group of households- and yet they would not have any waste stored the first time we would visit. We realized that this was because they didn’t really believe us when we spoke to them. They were impressed with the thought of the project but they didn’t take us too seriously. They thought we were idealists, but when we visited them two to three times, they started seeing our action. When they saw that we were serious in our action, then they would start storing their waste. This was a hard lesson for us. We used to get very disheartened when the households and shops did not have their waste stored the first time. We had to remind ourselves that the only way to convince people is through action!”

We believe in the project because we believe with time and continued effort, the locals will start recognizing our effort and will turn advocacy into action.

Jubin: Waste is a problem. One sees it in the cities all the time and there are efforts and people who are trying to clean that up as well. But in such a  beautiful location where we live, it pinches the heart to see littering. And there are a lot of reasons for this lack of sensitivity. There is no one reason. This project or activity is at least a step forward in moving towards a picture we want to see. We have to believe in it 🙂

3) On a daily basis, how do you inspire yourself? And what tips would you give other young people to not give up and keep at it?

Atreya: As I mentioned earlier, the inspiration to start his project was the vision of seeing a clean and pollution-free village. Bus as with all lofty visions, motivation is lost when one sees the ground reality. Speaking for myself, whenever locals did not co-operate with us- I always felt a loss of motivation.

So how did I maintain this motivation? Well, I found joy and productivity in smaller tasks. For example, I have always been fascinated by maps. I used this interest of mine to develop a comprehensive urban map of our village while running the waste management project. The map helped our project because it gave us a better idea of the geography of Rakkar and also the number of households/shops we were dealing with. It also helped with documentation.

So whenever I felt disappointed on the ground, I told myself that I shall focus my energy on developing the map. That way, even though I lost motivation on the cause- I still had some motivation to keep me going through the day.
I would advise young people to do the same. Know yourself and know what keeps you going. Try to integrate activities that you like within the mundane/difficult routine of work.

cleaning a himalayan village

cleaning a himalayan village

Jubin:  Well, for me, nature is the inspiration. Waking up to see the mountains everyday, is kicking 🙂 Well, tips, there’s one thing I’ve always followed- If you really really strongly about something, do it. Don’t worry about consequences too much before taking a step. As far as possible, whenever one looks back, there shouldn’t be regrets

4) In your mind by way of this project, what’s your greatest achievement so far?

Jubin: More than the external impact, it is what happens within. It is a very humbling experiences and makes you sensitive towards a lot of things you wouldn’t have expected.

Atreya:  During one collection, I was pushing myself along- trying to complete my normal routine. I arrived at a household that previously did not store their garbage. Much to my surprise, I was greeted by the family. They warmly welcomed me and even offered me tea. They praised my effort and also shared their admiration for the project. This was very unexpected. Perhaps it took them some time to see my effort.  After exchanging formalities, I arrived straight to the point- “Do you have your waste stored?” They looked at me and told me no. I was disappointed and it showed evidently on my face. What they did next was truly uncalled for. The family walked down to a water channel nearby and started collecting the garbage around the channel and also inside the channel. They did this for 5 minutes or so and gave me a large amount of garbage. They also apologized for not storing garbage and told me they will definitely do it next time. To see a family that did not previously care, becoming into a family that cared about garbage- that moved me. This, I felt, is my greatest achievement.

More about the effort and initiative:

Organization: Joint effort by NGO Nishtha and Ghoomakad- Nishtha works for healthcare in the village of Rakkar while Ghoomakad is a sustainable tourism company based in the village.

Website: (credited also with all the images for this post)

Just how many of us pack up bags and expend energy cleaning up a Himalayan village many people haven’t even heard of? This team inspires us to no end! What a great initiative. And just goes to say that what we need the most is the willingness to try. All else follows. Please do share conversations of this effort forward and help them succeed!


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