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
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“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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A Group Of Karnataka Women Pushes Alcoholic, Abusive Husbands & Social Stigma Aside, Earns Through Recycling Workshop

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At thirteen, Neela was married off to a husband much older than her. At sixteen, she became a mother, and at nineteen, she was a widow. Despite having no regular income, she was faced with the daunting task of taking care of her in-laws, her own parents and of course, her little daughter. For young Neela, life has never known a trajectory where her voice is heard and her destiny is not blamed. That was until she came under the ambit of Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation and discovered a new identity for herself. The taste of financial independence was indeed delightful for her, but her zeal to work hard for a newer, better life stood at the helm of it all.

No one has ever become poor by giving – Anne Frank

Founded by Kameshwari from Bengaluru, the foundation works with distressed women in three Karnataka villages, helping them to earn their livelihood by handcrafting a wide range of decorative or daily-use household items. Like Neela, nineteen women with struggles similar or worse, have found a new lease of life at Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation. Every piece of item created at Hosa Belaku is recycled from leftover fabrics, paper, dry waste or scrap metals.

Hosa Belaku – a new dawn

“I have been working in the social sector for the past two decades. Since 2013, I got associated with Belaku Trust, who was working with rural women in Karnataka,” shares Kameshwari, a former legal executive. 

“Most of these women were victims of alcohol abuse and harassment on the domestic front. Some were widowed, single mothers or differently-abled – making life all the more hard for them in a patriarchal society. Unfortunately, circumstances led Belaku Trust to close their operations in 2015. The women were left in a lurch,” she narrates.

Some of these women desperately pleaded with Kameshwari to let them sustain their only source of income and independence. Moved by their plight, Kameshwari resolved to do her best to help as many women as possible. Investing a sizeable proportion of her own savings, she launched the Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation in 2017.

At present, the foundation has active workshops in three villages in the suburbs of Bengaluru, namely, Halasuru, Achalu and Kadahalli. 

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The gritty women of Hosa Belaku

At the prime of her life, Pavithra’s husband left her for another woman. Heartbroken and devastated, she was clueless about how to earn her living. The story is similar for many other women in these villagers, with careless, abusive or estranged husbands, most being alcohol addicts. The pangs of poverty would sometimes become more unbearable than the constant physical abuse by their husbands. Yet, they had no way to have some respite from the ordeal. Few women did work seasonally as agricultural labourers. The backbreaking toil in the sun would take a toll on their health, while the deplorable situation at their homes would haunt them for the rest of the year.

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Kameshwari mortgaged her jewelery for Rs 6 lakh to start Hosa Belaku Artisian's Foundation. Most of the women employed in this foundation face domestic violence in their homes. Kindly donate here : bit.ly/hosabelaku

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Society, with its primitive doctrines, only made it worse for these women. For instance, nobody was willing to marry Shivlingi because she had a facial deformity. After a point, her own brothers abandoned her as if she had become a liability.

If one visits these women now, they would be found basking in their newfound success with Hosa Belaku. But, not only the women, Hosa Belaku’s workforce comprises a 19-year-old young man as well. All his life, Yogi, who is affected by Polio, had accompanied his mother everywhere. She used to work with the foundation until she recently passed away in an accident. Yogi’s father is visually-challenged, so the entire family received a major emotional and financial setback after his mother’s sudden demise. A helpless Yogi would painstakingly drag himself from door to door in search of work. “We took him in and trained him in toy-making. Now you would find him in a corner, making beautiful toys for children,” shares a proud Kameshwari.

Sunshine, Lamp and Dawn – Illuminating lives

The women groups at the three villages are designated with three unique names and assigned with a unique task each. Kirana (Sunshine), the group at Kadahalli is involved with paper products, making notepads, bags and jewellery.

The Halsuru group Deepa (Lamp) has adopted the art of block printing. Vibrant, stylish and beautiful handbags, cushion covers, stoles and notebooks are curated with the utmost care and precision by the women.

At Ushe (Dawn), needle and thread rules. Women who were already skilled in sewing and embroidery now earn by making stuffed toys, patchwork products and embroidered fabrics.

True to their names, the groups have indeed brought new light into the lives of their employees.

Suma and Jayamma are both senior workers at Kirana who have succeeded in constructing small concrete houses for themselves, a huge step up from the dilapidated huts they spent their youth in. Another aged lady in the same group has another compelling achievement to be proud of. Bearing the taunts and trauma from her drunkard husband all her life, she has single-handedly raised a son and a daughter with proper education. Her son, who is currently an aspiring engineer, was supported with a laptop from Hosa Belaku. Honamma, a young widow from the group Deepa is treading a similar path, raising her son all on her own.

The only solace

How much gratitude these women have towards Hosa Belaku is perhaps evident from Shri’s unwavering dedication. Diabetes is taking a toll on her eyesight yet she refuses to give up and continues etching her grit on the ornate block-printed fabrics.

The reason for such gratitude is manifold. For the conscious urban consumers, Hosa Belaku is striving to save the environment with their 100%-recycled policy. But, for the workers, it is the lifeline which not only offers them economic security but also allows them a place to voice, share and resolve the problems plaguing their lives.

“They come here and find a peaceful break from their household obligations. Some still face domestic violence regularly, the workshop is an escape for them. They discuss their issues and try to find feasible solutions. It takes the load off their tired minds. The work here is a breath of fresh air for them,” Kameshwari asserts.

“We have been assisted time and again by established non-profits and retail chains across Bengaluru, who have graciously showcased and marketed products made by our artisans. We would like more people to know about Hosa Belaku and its incredible women, and respect their brilliant spirit by purchasing their crafts,” Kameshwari expresses her wish.

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It's not how much we give
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