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Get a L.I.F.E

A concern for the environment in the midst of a hectic course schedule may seem daunting to many. But for these students at SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, it’s just a way of LIFE!

How many times do we get motivated to work for a social cause? At least once. And how many times do we actually follow it up with solid practical work? Almost never. The story would’ve been the same at SP Jain Institute of Management & Research (SPJIMR) had it not been for an enthusiastic bunch of students – members of a group called Lasting Initiative For the Environment (LIFE).

In June 2004 Krishna, then a second year student at SPJIMR sent out a mail asking fellow students to form a group for conducting environment related activity. “The great thing Krishna did was get interested people together. Once you make a commitment in front of a group you feel motivated to do the work,” says Gopalkrishnan, a current member of LIFE. The group started discussing what could they, as a team, do for the environment in the near future.

Shri Ganesh
By this time Ganesh Chaturthi, a popular festival in Mumbai, was approaching. Thousands of Ganesha idols are immersed into the sea at the end of the festivity. The idols, typically made of Plaster of Paris, pollute the sea and are a threat to sea creatures.

The group decided to initiate their awareness program during the festival. “We started with an event, which is now the flagship event of our group –Eco-friendly Ganesha making Competition. In the first year we got forty-six entries from four colleges and one school. And subsequently around 100-150 people came to the exhibition. Then we thought we should take this initiative forward at a larger level. So in the second edition we took the competition to all Andheri level and got 225 entries from 15 schools and 3 colleges,” informs a group member.

Back to school
So, which is better schools or colleges? Back comes a candid reply. “School kids are very creative and they stick to the rules. If you say bio-degradable they stick to 100 % bio degradable materials. But college students make it for the competition’s sake and the passion is lacking. Also, repeat participation is very good in schools”, says Shivkumar, another member of LIFE. In fact, the group had focussed mainly on colleges in 2004. But seeing the entries from school they thought of focussing on schools more. Moreover, if people are made aware about environment at a young age, then the effect lasts forever.

When the group visited schools in 2005, last year’s participants were enthusiastic about entering the competition for the second time. They discussed the various environmental friendly materials they were going to use. The group saw that the school kids now had an idea about environment friendly materials.

According to LIFE members at least 10-15 of 225 entries are commercially viable. “The prize winning entry, made of gunny bags, was almost 3 feet tall and scalable to any size. Even we were amazed to see such a big idol from 6th and 7th std. students. And if they can do it why can’t professional idol makers make such idols as well?”, says Gopal.

Other activities
LIFE‘s two year journey has had its share of ups and downs. When the first Ganesha idol making competition got over, LIFE members sat down for some introspection. They quickly realised that before helping the society it was important to educate themselves on matters of environment. Each member decided to take up a topic and prepare a 10 – 15 min lecture for the rest of the group.

The members also tried to set their own house right by replacing the plastic cups in their canteen with paper cups. However, without proper guidance the move soon lost steam, because using paper cups indirectly results in more tree cuttings. This highlighted a need to bring in an expert group who LIFE could consult. And this is where Anirudha Academy of Disaster Management stepped in. LIFE will now send accumulated newspapers at SPJIMR to the academy, which makes Ganesha idols from paper pulp. These can then be used for commercial purposes during the next idol making competition.

LIFE has tied up with Dimdima, a children’s monthly magazine. The group provides articles on topics ranging from Sound Pollution to Deforestation. At the end of every article they mention various things the young readers can do at their own level to help the environment. “For example with our first article on Sound Pollution we asked the readers to stop
bursting crackers that make too much noise,”
says Shiv Kumar.

LIFE is also planning to implement an energy management system in their college. With this they hope to save almost 80 % energy at the campus. Such a model can then be showcased to other colleges and, if required, LIFE’s ready to conduct seminars at other colleges as well.

At the core…
So what’s your core focus areas, I ask. “It’s important to remember that none of us are going to be here for more than two years. A student comes to the institute and based on his interest he’ll try to do lot of things. A certain area of work may be acceptable to this group. but it may not appeal to a student of a later batch. That’s the main reason why we don’t want to restrict ourselves to any specific areas.” LIFE may take a definite direction in future. But at this growing stage none of the members want any sort of restriction.”

Eventually the students hope that LIFE operates on an all-India level. “The students trained here are going to become managers who will conduct events at a national level. So we strongly believe that we are capable of conducting big events”, says Gopalkrishnan.

But many a NGO have failed during such expansion programmes. Will LIFE go the same way? In response Shivkumar explains the dynamics of NGO operation. “A person starts a NGO with an idea. In expanding it, lots of people come in with personal gains in mind. Their agendas are different. It’s here that the dilution happens. See what happens is that the many people joining in start sister concerns under the parent body. Very soon the quality of the sister concern doesn’t match that of the parent body. So the parent body does an audit and whoever doesn’t meet the requirement is sacked. And when you call media attention to this you have a new wave of activities. This time, probably, people with original interests come in. This is how the whole thing works. This is how it is going to work for LIFE as well.”

Finally LIFE members take the onus of ensuring that dilution doesn’t occur. “The ultimate aim is to save the environment and it’s not going to help if we restrict ourselves only to Andheri. Things have to scale up upto the national level to really make a difference.”

Well, we wish them luck … for our environment’s sake … for our own sake.
– R Krishna

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