“Giving is an act of generosity.” said the Ghanian activist Lailah Gifty Akita.
Vrikshit Foundation is one such massive act of several generosities. Founded and run by students, VF is an initiative to protect what is left of our planet. Named after the Hindi dialect of Tree, their activities go beyond just the environment, providing to people and animals in need— and speaking on taboos like sex-education.
Intending to feed over a million stray animals and push forward a strong campaign for Go Vegan, the founder, Shankar Singh, spoke with Team Storiyaan about their journey and long term goals.
Questions and answers
Vrikshit Foundation is devoted to protecting what is left of our planet. What, according to you, is the most significant environmental threat today?
Unawareness and ignorance of climate change. A collective effort from every corner of the world to combat the situation is the need of the hour. Small changes in our daily lifestyles can prove to be exponentially beneficial in the long run.
Is there a story behind the name you have given your organization?
Many of us can guess this; it comes from the root word – Vriksh, which means Tree, our literal lifelines.
Can you tell us the story behind creating this project? How did you come up with something so important, yet got ignored in the capitalistic world we live in?
I come from an engineering background. And there is always more than engineering to learn in college. I guess that’s when I realized that I’m not doing my bit for the environment. While looking for ideas, I came across Afroz Shah and was inspired by his cleaning the beaches in Mumbai. To start with, I gathered a team and started talking to local authorities, but soon I realized that we had to do everything that we could by ourselves. That’s how Vrikshit began. We began by cleaning the Yamuna and haven’t stopped since then. Today we are operating in 15 states.
How do you manage to overcome the threats that unhygienic environments pose to humans while cleaning them?
We are well aware and informed about it. We ensure and maintain total hygiene by constantly sanitizing, washing hands, wearing protective gear. We make sure to change into new clothes and wash the ones we wear during the process/drive.
What is bio-enzyme, and how does it prove to be helpful to everyone?
Bio-enzymes are cleaners that are organic solutions produced by fermenting fruits, vegetables, sugar, and water. These cleaners use good bacteria to digest wastes, soils, stains, and foul odors. The bacteria do this by producing enzymes specifically designed to break down specific molecules (waste and soils) into smaller pieces. It is simple, and everyone can make it at home. It is best made with citrus peels, but many people use carrot peels, cucumber peels, and lettuce, which end up in the trash. Bio enzymes are organic and fulfill home cleaning needs. With this organic multipurpose solution, one can not only clean their home but also protect their loved ones and the environment.
As you are a student based set up, with your education and assignments, how do you manage to make time for this?
I guess it depends on whether or not you’re passionate about your work. We tend to make time for things that we love to do. All the volunteers think likewise. I haven’t seen anyone suffer because of this. It’s the food to our soul, and we love our work.
While bringing about a change of cleaning a place, have there been any incidents where the people passing by have taken an initiative to help you?
Lots of. And every time it’s overwhelming. I guess everyone wants to do their bit, but due to time constraints or lack of proper direction, they do nothing about it. This is how we have grown as an organization. A lot of our volunteers joined us randomly. And there’s also a small number of people who do not react positively, but then there always will be. We like to see the brighter side.
What are your views on the increased demand for raw materials due to the increasing population? Can the use of reusable materials control it?
Yes. Recycling and reusing materials like plastics, metal cans, and various other things can control the demand of a growing population. On our Instagram page, we organize events where people send us pictures by reusing materials such as wall hangings, pen holders, flower pots, etc. We believe everyone can do this as it is helpful in many aspects.
Your dedication to plant 10k trees is almost accomplished. Which big project are you planning on taking next?
Our ongoing project is to feed 1 million stray animals because they are often ignored. They rely on drains to eat, which is hazardous to health. We have collaborated with three more organizations to complete this project, and we have fed 2,00,000+ stray animals so far. We will not stop and keep the working spirit alive.
What is your take on the Government's role in protecting the environment? Do you think they do enough?
Recent activities of the government, including Deforestation by NHA, permission for coal mining in Dihing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, EIA draft, were much disappointing and demotivating. The government should understand the importance of sustainable development and should work in that direction. The recent steps taken by the Delhi Government to launch the Electric Car Scheme are appreciated, and we need more of these to make our surroundings a better place to live in.
Your work is diverse. It not only focuses on environmental aspects but also focuses on poverty, sex education, go vegan campaign. How far do you think you have achieved success in those aspects?
Honestly, we have not done enough sex education, but we were planning to bring some teachers in the slums and teach the inhabitants about good and bad touch, highlighting the importance of sex education. But we couldn’t due to the lockdown. Our next agenda is the Go Vegan Campaign, which is trending with more than one lakh petition already filled. We will work on these two agendas in the future.
According to you, how important is it that big organizations and countries start accepting responsibility for the damage they are causing to the environment and start to rectify it?
Acknowledging that there is a need to change is the first step towards change. Climate change is real. We all know that. But the need for acknowledgment is essential by these countries and organizations to save the planet they wish to rule.
You recently organized a mass pledge in Sri Venkateswara College. How was the response to that event? How did it feel?
It was a great experience. The youth is aware of climate change and understand the importance of the environment. They are also mindful of the significance of cleanliness, thus maintaining the surroundings clean. The people responded by participating along with the professors. It’s a proud feeling when your mentor takes a pledge with you. It was a great experience altogether.
Having visited many villages and marginalized communities, what are the fundamental problems that you have identified?
The inhabitants of the slums do not dream of buying a car or bungalow. They struggle for basic two meals a day. They want their surroundings clean, and they want their children to do good in life, not stuck in these slums forever as they did. There is a considerable gap between the rich and the poor. The women don’t use sanitary napkins and felt uncomfortable and ashamed to interact with our female volunteers. We aim to make these people aware of the essential things in life and run an awareness campaign in the slums of Delhi.
Do you think that national media does not give enough coverage to topics related to the environment?
Yes, the national media does not give much importance to it unless things reach the peak. I hope the media realize their responsibility and cover environmental issues and pressurize the government to do the same. We have not seen any single media coverage on EIA Draft.
1. Describe your foundation in three words— Impact driven youth
2. Favorite city/state in terms of sustainable development.— Kerala
3. The happiest moment for Vrikshit to date.— When CM Arvind Kejriwal appreciated our work on Instagram and when he invited our team in his oath ceremony.
4. Least developed state in terms of sustainable development.— Assam
5. A new technology that can transform the future— Usage Of Electric car