When I started my NGO, Titli Trust, in 2009 we spent a lot of our time doing nature education programmes with urban schools. Over time we realised that while this was important, an equally important but missing element of conservation education programmes was doing similar work in schools and rural communities that lived near forests.
Hence, today, a large part of our focus is working with school children and village youth and getting them to appreciate and understand nature.
Last week we were at a location called Devalsari, which is 80 km from Dehradun in the Himalayas. We have been running a rural schools education programme here for two years, and have just started working with the youth in the villages. On one of our visits a couple of weeks ago, we got 10 young lads together from the surrounding villages and took them on a three-hour nature trail. During the trail, we taught the lads to recognise bird calls, look at butterflies, smell and identify flowers and fruit.
Many of them had already attended a birdwatching camp that we held in the area, and they already had exposure to bird identification. Hence our effort was to get them to notice and see things in nature that they would normally overlook.
We had a fun nature walk together, and the group of youth ended the session by deciding to give their group a name – Devalsari Paryavaran Bachoa Samuh (translating to Devalsari Environment Protection Group).
The group was thrilled to have selected their own name, and we hoped that this was only the first step for their environmental protection and nature conservation.
Proof that we had opened their eyes came once our session ended.
We were walking back to our respective destinations when one of the lads called loudly, “Sir, see what I have found!” Retracing my steps, I walked back to find that the boys had found an exotic cicada, whose scientific name is Polyneura ducalis (sorry, it does not have a common name yet). The beautiful cicada had black wings, and green and yellow veins. The hindwing was a brilliant coppery bronze.
I commended the young boys, as their find meant that they had actually started looking at creatures around them. The cicada was one that I had not seen before. A closer examination of the creature revealed that the insect had just died, apparently of natural causes.
While the youth with us were sad that the cicada was dead, I explained that this was the cycle of life; both the living and the dead have a role to play. The beautiful dead cicada would now become a meal for some other creature; perhaps some ants would savour it. Hopefully having served its role in nature of producing its offspring, even in death it had a role to play – that of food for some other creature.
Waste not, is nature’s mantra!
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