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Aiming for a garbage-free urban and rural Uttarakhand

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Aiming for a garbage-free urban and rural Uttarakhand

It is a truism that Westerners arrive in India expecting to cut a bold swath through it, and that when after some time they leave, India is exactly the same but they have changed [...]. India flattens you — the lushness, the dizzying dispersal of power, the human suffering. I am surprised, constantly, at how stubbornly hopeful the young Indians I write about are, the way they persist in seeing a way up through the muck of caste and poverty, and the reckless courage they display trying to get there.
— Ellen Barry, New York Times South Asia Bureau Chief

As Ellen Barry left India after 10 years of reporting for the New York Times, she noted "it is painful to cover, and it is painful to leave". Her powerful words capture all too well the contrasted feelings we too experienced. One has no choice but to accept the sheer magnitude of the challenges, most of all environmental, that the country is facing. But one can also choose to focus on the optimism and the energy of the people who are willing to tackle these challenges. This is what we did.

Last December, Slow Motion Projects started its last Asian mission for 2016 in Dehradun, the capital city of the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. The goal of this project: tackle the unprecedented Indian garbage crisis.

This problem is complex but can be traced down to two major causes: the lack of awareness about the health impact of dumping and burning dry waste, and the absence of infrastructure for collecting and managing solid waste. India is among the largest producers and consumers worldwide of plastics for food and goods packaging. The Indian plastic frenzy has dramatic consequences on public health, as toxic substances contained in plastic leak into soil and water before coming back up the food chain… What goes around comes around. In rural areas, plastic ingestion kills hundreds of thousands of cows every year, a huge toll taken on the income of farmers. The volume of unsegregated garbage, in which organic and dry waste are mixed, is increasing alarmingly around popular tourist destinations. Edible matter in garbage constitutes an attractive food resource for wild animals, but when no segregation is done they end up consuming toxic plastic waste.

Based in Dehradun, our partner NGO Nature Science Initiative (NSI) is working to increase awareness and bring solutions to the garbage issue in the rural and urban Uttarakhand. Working together for 3 months, Slow Motion Projects and NSI developed an action plan comprising school programs to sensitise children, awareness campaigns in rural villages, tourist destinations and urban areas of Uttarakhand, and the development of partnerships with other organisations ensuring the collection and management of waste. This action plan will be rolled out in 2017, in 20 villages and 2 major Himalayan tourist spots.

Thanks to the support of our donors, we hired a young and dynamic communication team who will create short movies for social media, posters, flyers, and promotional stickers to be displayed in stores participating in the garbage-free programme. We also supported the work of a skilled education coordinator tasked with enrolling schools into the programme; he already presented and discussed the garbage issue in 3 village schools of Uttarakhand, last December. Interventions in 40 schools are already planned for 2017. In Dehradun, NSI started to organise public walks in different areas of the city where residents can learn about waste, and how to reduce and manage it. With this plan, we expect to see clear steps towards the reduction of garbage pollution in Uttarakhand.

Reducing garbage pollution in Uttarakhand will lay the ground for the development of a responsible and competitive agriculture. It will also help preserve wildlife and nature, thereby allowing for tourism to further develop in a responsible way, and it will give the opportunity for Dehradun to become a pioneering clean city in India. We believe this is possible, because we have observed first-hand the relentless drive and optimism that characterises the local environmental actors. The die is cast; you help it roll. As always, thanks for your support.

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Behind the smog, we saw the light

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Behind the smog, we saw the light

New Delhi on November 5th; the Air Quality Index on that morning was over 750, with anything above 250-300 considered "very unhealthy" to "hazardous". For the 20 million people living in the metropolis, especially the most impoverished ones living on the streets, life must go on just the same.

A few weeks ago, Slow Motion Projects spent a few days in New Delhi; there is no doubt that what we saw there will remain etched in our memories for a very long time. When you hear that Delhi is extremely polluted, and that you see extreme poverty at every street corner, well: this is true. We stayed in Delhi right after Diwali, one of the biggest celebrations in India during which people light crackers in the streets. In addition, during the winter months in India, the farmers in the northern part of the country burn their crop fields to fertilise the soil for the next harvest. These events, combined with the constant traffic, resulted in air pollution levels far above the maximum of any established scale to measure the concentration of toxic particles in the air. The air was so dangerous indeed that schools remained closed for several days. 

Behind the smog cloud, however, we saw rays of sun. Our local partner in Delhi, the NGO Pardarshita, battles to facilitate the implementation of the 25% clause regarding admission of underprivileged children in private schools, according to the Right To Education Act enacted by the Indian parliament in 2009 (more information on our project page). Pardarshita welcomed us in one of their centres for school support, located in a very poor area of the city. The NGO runs several centres, where needy children get free help with their school homework. The kids can also come to the centres anytime to read the books available there. Their mothers are often women facing difficult life situations: they are abused by their husbands, victims of violence (often linked to addiction problems), or when they decide to leave, they become isolated and alone with their children. Pardarshita supports those women through the enrolment process of their children into private schools, providing them access to computers and help with the procedures. 

During those days of extreme pollution, it became clear that Slow Motion Projects needs to play a bigger role in empowering the children to change the future of their city. Those kids face the reality of poverty and poor health linked with air pollution, and we want to allow them to dream of their future life, better and cleaner. For the next step of our action with Pardarshita, Slow Motion Projects will supply the school centres with nature education books. In particular, we will bridge our two current Indian projects by acquiring and distributing in the centres the nature book "The Secret Garden",  and further publications of our partner NGO in Uttarakhand, Nature Science Initiative.

Before we went away, the kids left with us their very special way of saying thank you to all the generous donors who contributed to supporting the project... Keep an eye on your mailbox! We join them in expressing gratitude for your donations, and constant support and attention towards our actions.

 

 

 

 

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Accelerating sustainable tourism in Mongolia

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Accelerating sustainable tourism in Mongolia

Travelling across Ömnögovi, the southernmost province of Mongolia, in the Gobi desert, means experiencing a deep dive into the reality of climate change in the country. Rising temperatures in recent years have made this arid region an even more challenging place for nomads to thrive.

It is almost a surprise then, when walking through the dusty, wind-blown streets of the province's capital Dalanzadgad, one suddenly stumbles upon the entrance to Global Passport, a community-based social enterprise and state-of-the-art learning centre.

Global Passport is a Bookbridge affiliate, primarily offering local people English classes and practice. Battuul, former tourist guide and English teacher in a secondary school, now the head of the Dalanzadgad’s Bookbridge center, remembers:

"When I was still working in tourism in the region, a few years ago, the land was much more humid. The unpaved roads were softer and one could easily travel. Small rivers would flow across the desert, offering the nomads and travellers numerous oases."

 

Like many Mongolians, Battuul is strongly attached to the nature in her country. She sees in sustainable tourism a unique opportunity to avoid damaging it further.

Travelling around Mongolia after we met Battuul, we could only agree with her. Through a few pictures portraying places and people, we have tried to illustrate the incredible potential of sustainable tourism in Mongolia for preserving the environment, all the while boosting the economy and preserving the strong cultural identity of the country.

Tourism is primarily about the meeting of two cultures willing to benefit from each other.

During daily lunch-time speaking clubs, adult students can train and improve their spoken English skills.

During daily lunch-time speaking clubs, adult students can train and improve their spoken English skills.

This is also what Bookbridge offers: future social entrepreneurs from western countries strengthen their business skills by working together with entrepreneurs from developing countries. The goal is the creation of new independent social entreprises in rural places, such as Global Passport. In Mongolia, the Bookbridge program has already given birth to 11 learning centers, 4 out of them being established as social enterprises.

Places like the Bookbridge centres in Mongolia offer a very interesting setting for nurturing the development of sustainable tourism. Besides providing English education, the centres could offer a curriculum covering the large palette of skills needed for responsible tourists guides: basic environmental sciences and conservation education, sustainable tourism practices applied to transport, housing, eating, etc.

A new Slow Motion Project... Why not?
We are currently exploring the possibility of partnering with Bookbridge Mongolia to combine the high potential of their students, their established network of learning centres, and our love for sustainability and nature education into the perfect balance of responsible social and economic development for all.

Stay tuned!
Your Slow Mo team

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Seeding nature education at the Bayasgalant day care centre

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Seeding nature education at the Bayasgalant day care centre

Driving through the muddy streets leading to the Bayasgalant day care centre, one will see precarious housing, stray dogs and strewn garbage. This vision echoes what Boogii, one of the social workers at the centre, told us: in families of the Ulan Bator ger (yurt) districts, parents are often unemployed or earning too little money to offer their children adequate living conditions and send them to school.
All of a sudden though, as the front door of the centre opens, another world of light, colours, warmth and joy appears. Welcome to Bayasgalant! 

Outside, a group of pre-teenage boys is playing basketball, shouting at each other and laughing loud. Near them, younger kids are leaping across old tyres, the oldest with agility and the youngest imitating them, clumsy and cute at the same time. Meanwhile, Mickey Mouse and his painted friends are watching them from the walls with large smiles. 
At the entrance, each child has his own bag and pair of house shoes. Woe betide the one who will forget to change shoes, the house is kept immaculate!

10am! It is breakfast time: a bowl of warm porridge and milk tea is served to everyone to start the day with energy. The children who are there will start school in the afternoon, while others will come back from classes. 
Upstairs, some children are supervised as they do their homework. Some others are reading books or chatting impishly. In the adjacent house, 20 actors aged 80 between all of them are rehearsing for the theatre play to come, directed by their patient kindergartener. So is the Bayasgalant daycare centre: a place where kids receive what they need to be healthy and happy, in the present and the future.  

Soon, the older kids will be able to grow vegetables and flowers we seeded together. The most patient of them also learned how to take care of small tomato plants. Water fights were the reward for their focussed and dedicated work. To bring nature education to the very little ones too, the kindergarden teachers came up with the brilliant idea of building a whole corner dedicated to environmental biology where the kids will be able to put their hands in soil, rocks, grass, surrounded by poster showing Mongolian landscapes, and even witness how ants build galleries. Ferried about from one DIY store to the next by the energetic team, we have already gathered the equipment to renovate the greenhouse and build the biology corner.

Now though, between the Bayasgalant team, us, you or the kids, who is the most impatient to see all of this finished?

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