It takes one to be a gem at heart to stand up and fight for the environment. Team The EarthView recently interviewed Shayan Chaudhuri, an environment activist and President of Global Environmental Movements (G.E.M.) trust. This NGO recently stepped into the (super-cyclone) Amphan-wrecked areas of Sunderban and donated essentials to over 150 families. He also urges everyone to act to save the environment before it is too late.
Without breaking the Government norms of social distancing throughout the process and ensured to leverage eco-friendliness & sustainability through their donation kits, Chaudhuri tells us how! Read on…
How did you help the cyclone-wrecked families of Sunderban?
Shayan: We (G.E.M. Trust) decided to raise funds and do something for the families in Sunderban. They were already poor. The Amphan cyclone has now left them devastated. It’s during these times that we get to extend our hands to the ones in need. We appealed for contribution from our well-wishers and supporters through social media… We’re elated that people contributed in whatever amounts they could. It helped us buy essentials for above 150 people.
What did your donation kits contain?
Shayan: We filled the kits with all essentials. There were 24 items packed in each kit. They included pulses, cereals, salt, food oil, biscuits, baby food, sanitary napkins, emergency medicines, face masks, hand-gloves, fresh clothes, and some other necessary items.
G.E.M. Trust works for the environment. Were you able to keep an eco-friendly approach this time?
Shayan: Yes. We only used biodegradable non-woven polypropylene fabric bags to pack the donation items. These bags prevent water pollution and are a great alternative for plastic bags. We also provided extra biodegradable bags in each donation kit because we want the families to use a good alternative for plastic. We gave away almost 600 of these bags in total.
Was travelling with a team difficult with the social distancing norms up?
Shayan: We were a team of 7 and social distancing could not be given up. Social distancing makes it a little difficult now but we settled ourselves in 2 cars. The seating was arranged to maintain the prescribed distance. The cost increased, but our honest intention and everyone’s support kept us going.
You have set up relief or donation camps before this. What difference has the pandemic brought now?
Shayan: Everything is different now, as it is in every other field of work. Uncertainty is the biggest challenge. There’s the uncertainty of funds, manpower, travel guidelines, and a lot of other things. But I thank the West Bengal Wildlife Department for their unparalleled support. From spreading information about the relief camp in the area to monitoring a contact-free distribution of kits, it would’ve been very difficult without them.
How is G.E.M. Trust working to help the environment?
Shayan: We formed this organization nearly 2 years ago for our love for nature. Our first project was an anti-plastic campaign in south Kolkata.
In 2018, we found that almost 1 lakh plastic bags were being consumed monthly by a small local market. We decided to replace the plastic bag usage with non-woven biodegradable bags. It was difficult convincing the shop owners because plastic bags come extremely cheap. However, our constant requests and awareness programs since the last 2 years have helped us cut down on plastic bag usage by 60% in the local bazaar. This percentage will increase by the end of this year (2020). Our mission is to implement this campaign all over Kolkata, and beyond.We’re also active in reforestation projects. Kolkata and its suburbs have been seeing rapid deforestation due to human activities, catalyzed now by the super-cyclone Amphan. Our latest reforestation campaign aims to plant at least 5,000 trees across Kolkata by the end of December 2020. Plantation will start from June end.
What is your observation about general people’s concern towards the environment?
Shayan: The level of concern and awareness has increased over the past ten years. There is maximum support comes from young people and seniors. These two age-groups reflect utmost concern and work to conserve the environment in their own ways… The senior generation used to carry reusable bags to the markets if you remember. Plastic bags were not prevalent then. It’s the later generation that started using plastic heavily. This old habit of carrying reusable bags for shopping is a model of sustainability. I see considerable environmental awareness amongst the elders.The young generation is already exposed to environmental hazards. They know that the time to act is 'now' or it will be too late. But I’m happy that slowly the mid-aged citizens are also responding to the causes and slowly but surely adopting eco-friendly approaches.
Any message for our readers?
Shayan: We’re all aware of the environmental consequences of human actions. What I’d like to emphasize is, what can be done next. We surely don’t need another pandemic to see the wrath of nature. I appeal to each person to start today. Start now. Try your best to help nature because that’s all we have. Education, awareness, solidarity, and support is all we need to create a better future for the world. I’m optimistic that we’ll achieve it soon.