The Other Kapil Sharma: Meet This US-Based IT Professional Who Has Planted 3,00,000+ Trees In India

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It was 10 AM on a bright, sunny Saturday morning in India. Worlds apart in the USA, the clock was ticking way past midnight, prodding many to get immersed in the Friday night frenzy. But like every weekend, Kapil Sharma stayed wide awake, browsing through emails, documents and having his interview with Efforts For Good

Not every person chooses to burn the midnight oil on a Friday unless it’s a work-related emergency. But, Kapil has been doing the same for years sheerly out of his passion. Hard-working would be an understatement for Kapil Sharma, the founder of well-known environmental organisation SayTrees, which has planted millions of trees across India in the past 12 years. 

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

Kapil Sharma Battling Challenges – 10 Years Ago & Now

“The challenges I deal with today are quite different from what I faced at the beginning of my work. For instance, when I started in 2007, finding the right places in Bengaluru to plant saplings and maintaining them used to my pivotal aim. Now, my main concern is how to expand SayTrees as a pioneer organisation catering to all environmental problems in India – from afforestation to water body rejuvenation,” shares Kapil, hinting that the one thing that remained unchanged all throughout is his deep love for nature.

Today, multiple organisations in India are involved in tree plantation programmes. They present their tally in the number of saplings they planted. Whereas, SayTrees ensure to record the number of saplings they have successfully raised to be mature trees. With probably the highest survival rate of planted saplings, SayTrees stand out as a frontrunner in the green scene of India.

The Initial Days As A Sole Crusader

But, to reach its present stature, SayTrees founder Kapil Sharma had to endure a horde of hurdles over the course of the decade. He started as a sole crusader, who devoted his weekends to planting saplings in abandoned spaces in and around Bengaluru. “Mondays to Fridays were for office and weekends were for trees,” he recalls.

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“Around 2006-2007, on way to my office, I daily used to see trees being brutally cut down in broad daylight. It was heartbreaking for me as these trees had only made the city heavenly but they were now being brought down as if they were worthless,” shares Kapil, who hails from Chattisgarh, a place notorious for its soaring mercury in summer.

We created a video to show current conditions of our lakes and how we were able to rejuvenate 2 lakes in no time with support from our corporate partners and with Anand Malligavad – A man of Lake Rejuvenation . And now we wish to join hands with Anand to rejuvenate 45 lakes in next 5 years. it may sound tough but is not if right people come together. So inviting these right people to join hands and make this possible. Inviting all corporates to support rejuvenation of lakes and prevent them from being dead. Water Conservation – A saytree.org initiative

Posted by SayTrees on Sunday, May 12, 2019

He interacted with people asking why they were supporting the large-scale felling of the trees without thinking of the consequences. “Some told me they didn’t like the dry leaves cluttering their courtyards. For some, trees were restricting parking spaces, while for others, trees were simply blocking their view,” he expresses how difficult it was initially to garner support from the public to start his plantation initiative.

The Problems With Funds And Lands

After Kapil started out on his own, he soon realised the importance of community support and funding for continuing such initiatives. Fortunately, his family and friends whole-heartedly supported him, so did nature-lovers across Bengaluru, soon as word about his work started spreading.

“The problems I face today comprise a vicious cycle. Sometimes, we find lots of barren lands to afforest but no substantial funds to back us. At other times, it’s vice versa, with funds available but not enough places to plant trees in,” Kapil compares.

Grow A Forest In The City: SayTrees

This World Forest Day, know about a method of growing dense urban forest faster than ever. #WorldForestDay SayTrees

Posted by Efforts For Good on Wednesday, March 20, 2019

For The Love Of Nature

Kapil’s career required him to move to the USA. But his heart stayed behind in India, with SayTrees. “I made sure tree plantation would continue no matter where I am,” he shows his unflinching dedication.

Needless to say, managing two entirely different job profiles, that too remotely, is no cakewalk. But, Kapil continues to make endless sacrifices to ensure no hindrance ever thwart any project of SayTrees.

Beyond his day job as a software professional at a top USA firm, Kapil makes sure to devote at least four hours for SayTrees, every single day, including weekends and holidays. He borrows extra time for SayTrees by curtailing his sleeping hours. While everyone else is sound asleep, Kapil stays awake, instructing with his ten-membered team in India or interacting with CSR heads of corporates, forest officials, as well as nature lover volunteers.

“If you are truly passionate about something, you always find time for it,” Kapil reiterates.

Gaining Trust Of The Local Community

Once started as a tree plantation initiative, SayTrees has now proliferated towards other activities like assisting farmers, raising urban forests as well as lake rejuvenation. In fact, Kapil has plans to venture into plastic pollution control in the near future.

“This is the need of the hour as our country is facing a huge water crisis and this will only grow if not addressed. If we don’t act now, we will face catastrophic consequences in future. And I cannot just sit and let things ruin for my nation and mother earth. Things I used to fear are coming true now. Extreme heat, drought, cyclone, floods and whatnot. I feel that my efforts have to be exponential if I have to bring even a small change,” he asserts.

Tree Plantation – Bagepalli, Karnataka – 01-09-2018

Employees of L&T Infotech traveled from Bangalore to Bagepalli to be part of 35000 saplings which are being planted in the area. Karnataka has 80% arid land and is next to Rajasthan. We need many more forests in the state and SayTrees is trying to achieve the same with support from our corporate partners under their #CSR initiatives. Thanks L&T Infotech for greening the nation. Thanks @Vinodh Bharadwaj and all who were present for this plantation drive.SayTrees.org

Posted by SayTrees on Sunday, September 2, 2018

Till now, SayTrees has rejuvenated two lakes each in Bengaluru and Tamil Nadu. They also have lakes in Delhi-NCR on their to-do list.

When Kapil first stepped into lake rejuvenation, he singled out a few choked up lakes in the outskirts of Bengaluru. His first tryst with the local residents around the lake has not been quite encouraging, as there happened to be a few individuals who doubted their intentions.

To gain their trust, Kapil took the best yet most painstaking approach – showing them the work of SayTrees in person, till their trust was established. “I made them understand how the project can benefit their community. That is how the people came together to support our initiative,” he narrates.

“The key is to keep them informed and updated about each and every step,” Kapil adds about the basics of community engagement.

Creative Campaigns

While in the USA, Kapil designed the first vertical garden on a flyover pillar. The concept went viral and now this is being executed in multiple cities.

He also started the ‘Silent Tree Protest’ which people from all over the world are diligently circulating all over social media. Nature-lovers from five countries even started the same in their cities.

Recently, he reached out to the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and even funded a drone that will be used to afforest a 3000-acre land with over one crore saplings and seed-balls.

SayTrees Will Always Be His Priority

Despite his relentless efforts, funds still happen to be a roadblock for SayTrees’ upcoming projects. Every day, Kapil receives calls and enquiries from all over India, requesting him to replicate his tree plantation projects in other cities and states.

As of now, though SayTrees is more concentrated in Southern India, Kapil wishes to expand his operations to the North as well. That is, once he secures adequate funding and manpower. He sincerely hopes well-wishers from the USA would come forward to lend their support towards greenifying India through SayTrees.

For Kapil, personal struggles have always taken a backseat when it comes to his firm resolve to save the planet, particularly his beloved garden city – Bengaluru.

“Look at Bengaluru today. My city is suffering from severe water crisis, erratic weather patterns and a brewing concrete jungle.”

“United Nations has given us 12 years to control climate change and I am trying to make sure that there are no loose ends in my efforts. My struggles can never be even slightly close to what nature is suffering. So, I would always put nature as my priority, above and beyond everything else,” shares Kapil.

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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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- Mother Theresa Quote
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