5 Hours, 12 People & A Conscious Kid: That’s All It Took To Clean Up A Lake Choking With Plastic Waste

Image Credits: Bivas Gupta/Facebook

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A small, unkempt water body adjoining a bustling railway station failed to catch the attention of the passers-by as well as local residents. The tiny lake next to Sheoraphuli railway station in West Bengal was officially the property of Government Railway Police (GRP), but over the years it had turned into a garbage dump, thanks to negligence from the authorities and localites alike.
It could have stayed like that until plastic completely choked it up, had it not been for a group of local youths, who decided to dedicate only five hours on a Sunday morning to clean it up. Now, the lake is greeting everyone with its newfound grace, adorned with seasonal blooms of water lily and lotus.

That’s what it all took – a group of barely 11-12 people and five hours of a single day.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

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How did the lake turn into a dumping zone

Talking to Efforts For Good, Bivas Gupta, one of the volunteers in the cleaning drive, shares, “Even a year ago, the lake was comparatively cleaner. It would be covered with water lily throughout the year. You could even spot fish playing in the clear water. But, once people started throwing plastic, it did not take long for it to turn into a foul-smelling, dirty eyesore in the middle of the town.”

The rushing crowd of commuters, to and from the railway station, would not mind throwing their share of plastic packets and bottles into the lake. In the evenings, the area around the lake became an adda zone for the local youth, who would unabashedly continue dumping plastic, food packets, cigarette stubs etc. into it.

Nobody seemed bothered about the worsening condition of the lake, as they were accustomed to seeing such clogged up water bodies all around.

Taking responsibility in their own hands

“Our repeated appeals to the authorities went unheard. So, we decided to take the responsibility upon ourselves. My friend Tandril gathered some volunteers from neighbouring areas, and we set to work at around 5 AM on a Sunday morning,” Bivas shares.

The group used some fishing nets and also handpicked the plastic waste from the lake, before disposing it of in the municipal garbage vans. Alongside the grown-ups, 7-year-old Rumjan, who calls the railway platform his home, also lent his helping hand tirelessly for four and a half hours.

By 9:30 AM, the lake was spick and span, with its clean water glistening on the surface. To the delight of the volunteers, within a week, water lilies came back to the lake and fish were spotted again.

To prevent future inaction

The group has also submitted a mass appeal to the concerned railway authorities requesting proper management of the lake henceforth. They have also put up posters all around the lake, prohibiting the public from dumping plastic into it.

“We were astonished by the outcome. We would love to continue our work with other water bodies in our area. If young people everywhere can take some time out of their PUBG matches and sharing memes, we can do so much for our environment,” Bivas asserts with an earnest appeal to everyone.

Efforts For Good take

From Bengaluru to Kolkata, every major Indian city which was once dotted with lakes, ponds and pools is now dealing with the problem of dying water bodies due to human negligence. It begins with a single plastic cup or plate, and it ends with choking up the lifelines of a city.

The volunteers at Sheoraphuli has set a blazing example of how a little bit of effort from a few conscious citizens can do wonders in no time. Efforts For Good urges all their readers to devote just a few hours of their free time and clean up a dying water body near them.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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