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This Man’s Initiative Has Cleaned Up 4,00,000 Kg Of Waste From The Himalayas In Four Years

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Healing Himalayas Foundation organises trekking expeditions to obscure Himalayan summits. However, to join them you have to keep gloves and jute sacks ready – to collect non-biodegradable garbage from these trek routes and protect the mountains. Founder Pradeep Sangwan believes that with Bollywood movies like Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, Highway, 3 Idiots portraying the magical thrill of mountaineering, more and more youngsters are setting out on trekking trails in the Himalayas. Trekking clubs and travel agencies are mushrooming everywhere, luring the enthusiastic explorers with panoramic sunset points or foggy waterfalls.

The reality, however, is a far cry from the calendar photographs, with heaps of plastic waste cluttering the pristine Himalayas.

33-year-old Sangwan narrates how irresponsible tourism is devastating the serenity of the Himalayas, and how he embarked on a  mission to keep the mountains clean from 2014.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

“I had to lose everything to start Healing Himalayas Foundation”

Born and brought up in a strict disciplinarian family, Sangwan was expected to follow his father’s suit and join the army. During his college days, he started trekking as a hobby and before long, he found his calling in the mountains.

After graduating, much to the disapproval of his family, he permanently shifted to Manali to live his passion for trekking. To support himself, he started a homestay business in Manali.

Within the first few years, Sangwan started to notice that with the growing popularity of mountain tourism, plastic waste has also started piling up in the pristine valleys, beside the mountain roads and in the picturesque lakes. “At one point, it became the unsaid norm to indicate the direction of a trekking route by asking one to follow the garbage trail. That deeply affected me,” shares Sangwan. He shares, “If you look at the local shepherds; they are mostly uneducated, but they live in such a sustainable way. They treat the mountains as their God. Unlike us urban people, these villagers lead a life full of immense hardships. They go beyond limits to protect every bit of the environment. I was determined to make their mountains beautiful again.”

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In 2014, Pradeep Sangwan started as a lone crusader on his cleanliness campaign. Whenever he went trekking, he would come back with the garbage he collected on the way. The locals encouraged him by offering some discounts on transporting the waste to recycling plants. But, other than that, he got no exposure or support from the outside world. “In fact, my own family questioned the point of spending on my education if I was going to be a ragpicker in the end,” he recalls.

Pradeep Sangwan has been cleaning the mountains since 2014

For two years he carried on this work entirely on his own which shifted his focus from his business. Dwelling in dilemma for months, he finally made up his mind to completely dedicate his life towards restoring the natural environment of the mountains. He had to sell off his profitable homestay business in Manali, his mountain jeep and pledge his valuable assets to continue his efforts. Yet, he did not shy even an inch from his aim.

In 2016, he launched The Healing Himalayas Foundation, hoping to find like-minded individuals to join hands in his noble endeavour.

Healing Himalayas: collect, recycle and restore

The Healing Himalayas community comprises volunteers who join Pradeep and his core team on their expeditions to Kheerganga, Chandrataal, Manimahesh, Srikhand Mahadev, Jogini Falls, Hampta Pass and other popular trekking and religious routes.

 

Volunteers carrying bags of waste on the Kheerganga trek route

 

In Chandrataal, the team coordinated with the local camp owners, urging them to prohibit environmentally harmful tourist activities. Fast forward two years, strict restrictions have been imposed on making campfires, using diesel generators, playing loud music or fixing more than 15 camps at a particular area. Instead, they use of solar panels is being promoted.

In villages like Nakthan and many others, Healing Himalayas has integrated the women groups (Mahila Mandal) to spread awareness among incoming seasonal tourists as well as the villagers.

Spreading awareness among the villagers

“Now we pay occasional visits to these areas to ensure the regulations are maintained and that the awareness drives are in full swing,” he explains.

Self-sufficiency is the key to cleaner mountains

“Today people are flocking to the mountains in hordes but leaving behind a huge mess. Instead of inhaling the fresh mountain air, they want to drink, smoke and have chicken biriyani while playing loud music around a bonfire,” Sangwan narrates. He added that the popular pilgrimage routes like Kheerganga or Manimahesh are the worst polluted as most of the pilgrims are least eco-sensitive. “Pilgrimage routes demand more serious attention than the trekking routes.”

Amount of waste collected after a single cleaning drive on the Kheerganga pilgrimage route

“In Kheerganga, we highlighted this menace to the authorities. Now the High Court, Forest Department and NGT have come together to ban permanent camps in this route. Now you have to carry your own tent, cook your own food, have the night’s rest and leave the spot clean the next day,” he shares proudly.

He emphasises that unless the tourists learn to love the mountains, they would not understand the importance of cleanliness.

“This year we have started cleanliness drives in Shimla city twice a month. We also continue to educate the villagers about sustainable energy, rainwater harvesting and other eco-friendly measures. We are also planning to come up with two plastic processing units that would electrify more villages and create garments and daily supplies out of recycled plastic,” Pradeep Sangwan enlists the future plans of Healing Himalayas.

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Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
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Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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It's not how much we give
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- Mother Theresa Quote
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