Environment education programme for Puvidham School, Tamil Nadu

In September 2012, Puvidham School from Nagarkoodal, a small village in Dharmapuri district, Tamil Nadu, visited the MM hills CCC. The school runs a non-formal education system with a curriculum based on the five elements of the universe: Sun, Earth, Water, Air and Space, taught through the medium of stories, dances and songs. The objective of the visit was to heighten awareness on sustainable livelihood, nature and man conflict, social stratification, local culture and importance of nature and wilderness in life. The happy faces and great comments from the school after the three-day programme, from 23rd – 26th September 2012, speak for its success. The programme included bird watching, nature walk, orientation on the story of waste, cultural night, visit to lantana craft centre, school exchange programme with the Soliga school, community interaction, field visit for wild edible plants, and expressions on nature through art.

Bird watching

Up and early, the children were all excited about the chance of seeing and identifying birds. To initiate them in this activity, they were given a pamphlet on common birds of the nearby forests, and binoculars. The children were asked to be silent as birds are easily startled, and also to better catch the myriad sounds of nature, early in the morning. Most of the children used binoculars for the first time, but were quick to learn and identify birds using the booklet. The birds sighted in the thickets and trees along the trail were red vented bulbul, red whiskered bulbul, purple sunbird, green leafy warblers, white – eyes, grey tit, magpie robin, Indian mynah, babblers, crimson barbet, spotted dove, drongo, black kite, kingfisher.

At the top of the trail, the children made a circle in a small clearing near a ficus tree, held hands and closed their eyes for five minutes to hear the sounds of nature. The children enjoyed the session immensely and some keen ears even picked up a distant sound coming from a school far away. They picked out natural sounds such as the rustling of the leaves in the wind, the changing wind direction, the local dog’s constant bark, the sound of a piece of tin in the wind. It was an insightful experience, as it made us realize how aware children are to their surroundings. The ficus also provided them with more bird watching opportunities and helped them understand the importance of such a keystone species supporting and harbouring diverse creatures in the forest. Besides birds, they also picked out a rat in the thorny scrub and a snake in its hole. After they returned from this trek, they noted bird names, using the pamphlet, and drew some of the birds. All in all, they had a good feast for the eyes, watching the local birds, which was followed by a feast for the stomach – breakfast.

Nature walk

The nature walk was designed in two parts. The first was to explore local flora and fauna and understand its links to local tribe sustenance and livelihood. The second part required the children to pick up inorganic waste on the way, and later, compose a ‘Story of Synthetic Waste in Nature’. The purpose was to find out the child’s perspective towards biodegradable and non-biodegradable garbage produced by humans.

The trail was on rocky terrain towards a hillock from where the Gopinatham valley was visible. The children noted the vast spread of lantana (Lantana camara L.) along the trail, identifying it as the plant used as firewood in their school. The ATREE team flagged Cloroxylon sweitenia, belonging to Meliaceae family, as a firewood species that should not be used since very few of these plants remain in the landscape. Albizia amara L. belonging to Mimosoideae family and Solanum torvum L. from Solanaceae family, were also introduced with their local names and uses.

Gopinatham Valley afforded a view of Cauvery wildlife sanctuary. The kids learnt about the flora and fauna of the valley interwoven with the story about the notorious Veerappan—how he shifted from sandalwood to wildlife trafficking in this landscape—which made the conversation all the more thrilling.

Story of waste

The collected waste was assembled at end of day, and children were asked to pick any one item and imagine how it might have come to litter their trek that day. Children were free to select their mode of expression – stories in any language, drawings, etc. One of the stories that impressed the idea of the thoughtlessness that goes with littering talked of negligence while conserving nature. The story goes like this, “A person got a sapling with a black plastic cover, but threw the cover there itself, after the planting. Today it grew into a tree but the plastic remains and may have affected the growth of many small plants in that area, including grasses.” This piece warns the well-intentioned also to be watchful towards their activities.

School exchange programme with tribal school
Day two was planned around a visit to the local tribal residential school at MM Hills run by the Tribal Welfare Department, Government of Karnataka. The idea was for the children and teachers of both schools to interact and learn about the different methods of teaching and learning adopted by the two schools. Towards the end of the interaction, the children exchanged origami art. As a parting gift, the visitors presented the local school with a set of wooden puzzle and jigsaw boards and other teaching aids, all made at the Puvidham School.

Lantana Craft Centre visit

Puvidham school kids visited the LCC in Anehola, which is 3 km away from the MM Hills temple. After their interaction with the craftsmen, children were keen to create new products themselves, out of leftover lantana. One boy dressed himself with the ornaments made of lantana. Kids learned how to process the sticks, smoothening, bending technique, nailing, finishing etc. by interaction, observation and trials.

Local interactions
While interacting with the temple employees and shopkeepers, the children learnt that the majority of the business community had migrated from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu and some of them were permanent employees in the temple since 1985. They learnt that most of the goods come from Salem town, while vegetables and other consumables come from Kollegal town. The temple town has educational facilities from nursery to college level, through various institutions with residential facilities for the Soliga tribe. It also has other facilities like post office, bank, forest office, revenue office, Panchayat office, primary health centre, PWD office and a temple office with more than 10 guest house complexes.

Later, they also managed to get a book on History of MM Hills temple, published in Tamil.

Field visit for wild edible plants (WEPs) and medicinal plants
Puvidham school kids were shown the CCC grounds where more than 60 wild edible and medicinal plants are grown to create a species gene pool. The children tried to identify plant species by touching, tasting, smelling, observation of leaf patterns, stem characteristics, etc.

Mrs. Dundi, the local wild edible plant expert talked to the children about collection, processing and preparation of a meal from wild plants. One recipe for greens, which she said she like to collect from the field early in the morning, required a tablespoon of oil to fry the leaves along with cloves of garlic, dry red chilly, tamarind and salt. It is then ready to eat with ragi ball or rice or sometimes with ragi roti. She explained that she used green leafy vegetables on alternate days for 10 months a year.

Mr. Madesha, Sr. Field Assistant with ATREE, has been working on the documentation of knowledge on wild edible and medicinal plants use since 2010. He introduced the children to fifteen such valuable plants. The children were surprised to find that what they thought were weeds were actually of some use. They expressed their willingness to use wild edible plants once they went back home. They also showed interest in listing common wild edible and medicinal plants available at home, and documenting the local knowledge on their usage.

Artistic expressions on nature

We have eleven drawings with versatile views reflecting the children’s intense involvement in all the activities.
The team
Ramesh Kannan
Harisha R P
Sharada Ramadass
Sutapa Mukherjee