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Working with the youth on ecology: An interview with Tarumitra coordinator Devopriya Dutta

20 December 2019
Devopriya sharing ecology stories with young schoolchildren during Earth Day 2019

Devopriya sharing ecology stories with young schoolchildren during Earth Day 2019

In 2016, students of the Mount Carmel School for girls and Patna Women’s College found out that 89 trees were cut overnight inside their shared campus in Patna, India. The girls and women mourned – literally- for the felled trees. Students and teachers stood in front of their campus, barefooted, holding different posters and performed the Pind Daan, a Hindu ritual for departed souls, as a farewell to the trees they considered their friends.

This peaceful movement led by members of the Tarumitra Club that gathered 100 schoolgirls and around 2,000 college women, gained much media attention and spoke such a powerful message that to this day, not a single tree has been cut in the area. The very same grounds have since served as a space for celebrating World Sparrow Day, and the girls and women would gather around a big oak tree, tie friendship amulets, dance, sing, and perform plays to express their love for the environment.

This is one of the most vivid memories of Ms Devopriya Dutta in her work in Tarumitra, and one perhaps that captures the essence of what she does as the Youth Representative and Campaign Coordinator of the organization.

Dutta has been with Tarumitra– a Hindi word that means “friends of trees” – for four years now. She attributes much of what she knows to Robert Athickal SJ, the founder of the 30-year old organization and who is also her mentor in working with the youth on ecology. She represents Tarumitra alongside Father Athickal in the Ecojesuit team South Asia and brings a fresh energy to the group as the youngest and only woman in the team.

Dutta believes women have a “healing power” that contributes much in the ecological mission. She channels this by taking a more positive and creative approach in tackling the ecological crisis with the youth she works with, the youngest of whom are only in grade school.

“Children are very vulnerable…I have to talk to them in such a manner that I am not scaring them or making them nervous, instead, I am making them hopeful about the future,” she said.

An effective approach that Tarumitra does is to hold festivals that celebrate different seasons. In the summer, for example, they gather and share mangoes that are best tasting during this season, while in the monsoon, they play games and enjoy sugar cane together.

“When the youth understand that every season has its own taste, its own color, they understand the importance and interconnectedness of everything in Creation,” she said.

“They will have a greater motivation to protect the environment when they learn we can find happiness in the small things,” she added.

Dutta keeps the social media channels of Tarumitra well updated with these activities to reach a broader youth audience. This is also one of her important contributions to the South Asian Ecoteam. She notes, however, that it is still most important for adults to lead by example through their lifestyle online and offline, and to be always conscious about how we influence the youth “like we are on CCTV 24/7.”

“Our goal is to empower the youth to take the responsibility, not only of taking care of what we have today, but to be role models for generations who will look up to them in the future,” she said.

At present, Tarumitra has more than 300,000 student volunteers all over India, and is continuously collaborating with schools and colleges in the country. The organization has also been a model for eco-education and eco-spirituality in the South Asian Conference and the world.

“We sow a hundred seeds, and if even one of them germinates, our work is done,” she said.

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