The discussion was on garbage bins.
The pleasant spring weather in Rome, complemented by a generous serving of good Toscana wine, had led us into a passionate discussion.
‘Just think of the number of garbage bins you see all over the place here’ pointed out Peter Gonsalves, ‘and compare it, for example, with our own school campuses back in the province. It’s quite a task just locating a bin!’
My mind travelled back to our school campuses, and in particular, to the recess scene. Hundreds of kids, hungrily gorging themselves on chips and biscuits and what have you, and then blissfully flinging the empty packets around. And after the bell has summoned these litter-vending machines back to their books, out comes a battalion of peons, armed with an assortment of clean-up gear... and launch a surgical attach on the grisly garbage. Voilà, says the school management, behold our immaculate campus!
So what are we teaching our students? That they can litter the world as they brashly cruise along and that someone else will come by to clean up their mess? Is this the education we are so proud of? It certainly is time that we begin straightening out our skewed up systems. And for a start, let us ensure that the children are not allowed to enter the classroom until they have personally picked up every bit of litter and carefully consigned it to the bin.
And talking about bins, it is high time we introduced colour-coded bins in our campuses to educate the children on segregation of garbage. Across the world, colour coding of litter bins has been in vogue for years—white for paper, blue for plastic, green for organic matter. Segregating garbage is the first, and easily one of the biggest steps in efficient waste management. We don’t need sophisticated technology to resolve our garbage woes; all we need is simple common sense and discipline.
But relegating garbage to its appropriate bin is not the end of the story. If anything, it is the beginning of a new chapter, especially for the garbage. The big words today in environmental care are ‘Recycle’ and ‘Reuse’. While recycling the Blue bin may need professional help, the Green and White bins can easily be managed by the students. The organic waste can be converted into compost which can then be used in the school gardens. The waste paper can be fashioned into a huge range of products. If these recycling processes appear bewildering, don’t panic: many pages of know-how on garbage recycling are available on the internet. And if further assistance is needed, there are many organizations that would willingly come to the school and train the students in these processes.
And what the children learn at school is not meant to remain confined to the school. Once they have perfected the art of garbage management, recycling and reuse, they can introduce the same in their housing colonies and neighbourhoods.
Insignificant as they may seem, the garbage bins hold the solution to many of our environmental concerns. And so, with the new academic year already here, it’s time we get working on the bins. That will definitely be huge step forward on the road from grey to green.
Michael Fernandes sdb
As Indians, we have a sense of the sacred, a sense of wonder and awe. An openness and surrender before the mystery of creation is a prominent feature of our culture. Reverence for nature is a sacred tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately, the times seem to be changing. We no longer look at the earth with respect; rather, we look at it as yet another commodity to be exploited. This indiscriminate and senseless exploitation of the earth is endangering our very existence and yet we seem oblivious of this alarming fact. As educators, it is our responsibility to turn the tide and restore our respect for nature. At the start of this new academic year, I would like to propose a few practical ways in which we as individuals and institutions can care for the earth in our own settings.
- We can make ecology and eco-spirituality a component of our formation programmes.
- Make use of IGNOU correspondence diploma courses on environmental sciences.
- Study government policies on SEZs (Special Economic Zones) and be vigilant about industrial development plans that may impoverish the earth.
- Promote the use of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind energy.
- Include ecology and ecological concerns in our budgetary preferences.
- Participate in movements to safeguard creation and to fight against environmental pollution.
- Develop herbal gardens.
- Ensure green cover over at least 30 % of our lands.
- Use CFL lamps or LED lights as much as possible.
- Avoid the use of plastic bags, cups, wrappers, etc.
- Introduce and install solar heaters, lights and cookers.
- Display posters on roads and in institutions for building ecological awareness.
- Develop organic vegetable gardens and get students involved.
- Provide environmental thoughts for the day on our notice boards.
- Organize special eco-liturgies and prayers.
- Form eco-cells in our schools and parishes.
- Use nature-friendly decorations.
- Name plants and trees to promote nature education.
- Harvest rain water effectively.
- Set up an ecological park in the province: Karjat could be a good possibility.
- Maintain gardens in each house in the province and set up greenhouses wherever possible.
- Cultivate plants that are beneficial for health, such as tulsi, neem, drumstick, curry patta, karela, pumpkin, etc.
- Participate in the annual celebration of World Environment Day on 5th June.
- Cultivate vermiculture pits in our campuses and avoid the burning of wastes.
- Give saplings instead of garlands to chief guests and dignitaries.
God has created the earth and entrusted it to us, to tend and care for it (Gen 2:15). At the start of this new academic year, let us resolve to take great care of this fragile gift that God has placed in our hands. Protecting nature, sustaining its beauty and respecting its biodiversity are values that must find a prominent place in our educational enterprise.
Isaac Arackaparambil sdb
As a little boy in the seventh standard, I was greatly interested in beautifying the wasteland in front of my house. So I would spend my free time digging, weeding, and levelling the rough and rat-holed terrain of the plot close to my home. It looked very repulsive with weeds and shrubs growing wild, and it had an arrogance that defied my instinct to act. ‘I’ll make a garden’, I thought to myself, and behold, there was me breathing a happy sigh at the splendid transformation of an uninviting jungle to a welcoming flower bed. While I was tending that home-grown beauty, my elation was interrupted one morning by a parcel of garbage that landed right on my head, courtesy a neighbour who lived three floors above. Reflecting on that episode, I say to myself today that my neighbour’s thoughtlessness was not an assault on me but an act of grave disrespect to the very surroundings that enveloped her existence.
Travelling by bus one day, I saw a young mother attending to her two kids, a boy and a little girl. Having bought them some tea she stepped off the bus to get them some wafers. On her return, the little children had finished drinking their tea, and the boy asked her, ‘Mum, what should I do with this empty cup?’ It was a disposable plastic cup, and bang came a spontaneous answer from the educated mother, ‘Throw it out of the window!’ I looked on aghast at her thoughtlessness.
A few years ago as I was being treated to an ice-cream by a friend, I was looking around for a garbage-bin to dispose the paper cover of the ice-cream cone. Finding none, I asked the shop keeper if there was a dustbin around. His answer horrified me. He said in Gujarati: Aare kaie pan nakidejo ne. Akha Bharat kachra peti che!—meaning, ‘Throw it anywhere! The whole of India is a garbage bin’.
Call it callousness, call it insensitivity, call it thoughtlessness; the fact is that even the vast majority of our educated citizens in India today don’t consider environmental cleanliness a virtue. Besides, considering the fact that defecating, urinating, spitting and snorting in the open are acceptable, and that the railway authorities are satisfied with merely providing private space for nature’s call, unconcerned that their toilet outlets open towards the tracks, we have a structural snag when it comes to cleanliness issues.
Nevertheless, there is no use blaming structures until each individual takes personal responsibility for ensuring a clean and green India. The issue is not one of beautifying our earth for beauty’s sake, but one of restoring to her the dignity which God vested in her at creation. Once that dignity is restored as a proactive choice by each one of us, nature will reciprocate and return that respect by ensuring that we live healthy and free of diseases caused by our own gross neglect.
As educationists we have a wonderful opportunity to create a mindset or a spirituality of eco-cleanliness. I would like to propose a few ways in which we could create this mindset and introduce our students to such spirituality.
1. Why not have a different kind of school picnic—a passenger train picnic? Let’s take our students on a train journey by day. Any destination will do, provided we have a whole day at our disposal. What’s important is not the destination; what’s key is the journey itself. And what do we do on this journey? We and our students in uniform become salespersons for environmental cleanliness. Create a factual and attractive script on the theme, make enacted presentations, picture presentations, presentations of scientific and statistical facts on the ills of uncleanliness, presentations on alternatives to the culture of thoughtlessness—approach the theme from all angles and make it as exhaustive and convincing as possible.
Have the students go from compartment to compartment with paper bags, asking passengers to dump their organic and inorganic waste in those bags. At the end of the day, have them give the waste products to recycling agencies or even to our eco-house at Karjat. This would be a good follow up to the noble investment in this hard and humiliating work. Students would see firsthand the wonders of recycled processing. Besides, they would pick up values of cleanliness, responsibility, humility and purposeful action. An indispensable preceding activity to the entire train picnic project is a training programme on eco-cleanliness which could be taken up as a value-education project for the year. Of course we need to ensure the necessary permissions from civic authorities, rope in the media, get the consent of parents et al.
2. Why not accompany certificates and medals at sports day presentations with saplings to the winners? Every sapling, if tended and allowed to grow, adds to the density of oxygen cover in the environment.
3. Why not encourage students to gift saplings to their friends on birthdays instead of buying expensive gifts?
4. Return to cycling or walking—especially when travelling to nearby places—instead of using vehicles, thus reducing carbon emissions.
5. Motivate students from the same localities to form eco-clean up teams and brain-storm how they could influence the cleanliness of their respective areas. They could be trained to set up recycling plants for organic and inorganic waste materials collected from their neighbours.
6. Expose students to NGOs already professional in the field of ecological conservation so as to enthuse them in creating an eco-preserving mindset.
7. Teach them to write letters to civic authorities and exercise their pro-active energies especially in the face of slackness on the part of municipalities with regard to basic hygiene.
8. Encourage them to make a personal commitment to carrying a friendly bag / pouch to dispose off their own sweet or wafer wrappers, instead of littering the surroundings.
9. Train students to conduct eco-cleanliness workshops for people living in slums and get the civic authorities to act in that direction.
10. Make your school the leaven of transformation by being concerned about ecological issues within a suitably demarcated radius. This could involve establishing an eco-club, making an ecological survey, discerning need-based interventions, and generating the civic will to execute these relevant interventions.
The task is daunting, but it is also compelling given the gravity of ecological abuse and thoughtlessness among the educated masses. We need to partner with willing organizations and those already in the know and, if need be, engineer research opportunities by creating a vision for ecological cleanliness and conservation. If we are ready to work beyond the parameters of the stipulated syllabus by allowing tuition classes to do our job, we can boldly spend time on issues that matter for an ownership of character and a celebration of healthy human existence. Tuition classes are here to stay. Our teachers need to be trained in alternative syllabi. We as educationists and institutions have to reinvent ourselves. Are we ready?
Glenford Lowe sdb
The ‘Ecological Mystery’ begins with the breath of God blowing over every void and chaos. Life begins with a sacred breath. Darkness is scattered and light pervades. Creation is more than just an ‘intelligent design’ or the faulty miscalculations of a DNA stand. Life is the greatest of all mysteries and to really understand it, we would first have to love life and the giver of all life!
God is madly in love with the world. The sacred scripture wraps it all up in the profound statement found in Jn 3:16, ‘God so loved the world’. Loving his handiwork that he found very good, God entrusted it to us lesser mortals. He gave us ‘power over the work of his hands’. It is only deep love that allows one to surrender power to one’s subordinates.
Power, if not handled with care, can often enslave, destroy and dominate. Misdirected power cannot love. Misdirected power breeds on greed and de-creates. Misdirected power only leads to more void and chaos…an ‘ecological disaster’ waiting to happen. Power, if not channeled properly, becomes in fact, powerless. The really powerful are the ones who can love and breathe life. Humanity can only become powerful again if we too, as one, can ‘so love the world’. The ‘ecological mystery’ is a deeply divine-human adventure. God and humanity must come together to ‘so love the world’. Grace and human responsibility need to interplay once again to ‘renew the face of the earth’.
Prayer can be a good place to start this renewal. Prayer doesn’t change things; prayer changes people, and people change things. To re-new the world we need this interplay of touching heaven and transforming earth. While we struggle through warmer days and colder nights, drier summers and melting snowcaps, devastating cyclones and shattering quakes, erupting volcanoes and fast depleting springs, extinct flora and fauna and the doom of a world that will fast end…we make a ‘green prayer’.
Yesterday, while sliding my fingers over the rosary beads and with raindrops gently falling, it dawned on me that I could make a ‘green prayer’, a new green rosary that invites me to contemplate the ‘ecological mysteries’ of a God so loving the world and inviting me to responsibly love it in return...
First Ecological Mystery: Contemplate on ‘God CREATING the world and finding it GOOD’ (Gen 1–2:4)
Second Ecological Mystery: God LOVING the World so much, He gifts His son Jesus’ (Jn 3:16)
Third Ecological Mystery: God CALMING the World with His Word (Lk 8: 22–25)
Fourth Ecological Mystery: God PROVIDING for the World, we need have no worry (Lk 12: 22–33)
Fifth Ecological Mystery: God ABIDING in the World with us always (Mt 28: 18–20)
Join hands with me to contemplate this ‘green prayer’. Green prayers make green fingers and many ‘green fingers’ can turn everything ‘grey to green’. Go Green in prayer: it makes you powerful; it will make you responsibly love again ‘the world so much’.