In 2007 He Planted Just One Tree, Now Every Year His Organisation Plants More Than 1,00,000 Trees

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In 2001, when Kapil Sharma first arrived in Bengaluru as a young collegegoer, the charm of the ‘Garden City’ captivated him at once. Hailing from a place in North India where summer temperature soars as high as 48℃, the cool, breezy climate was a much welcome change for him. “When I started working, I had to travel from one end of the city to the other every day. The green canopies alongside the roads were so soothing,” Kapil narrates his experience to Efforts For Good. Within a few months, Kapil started noticing rampant deforestation here and there – be it for widening a road or constructing a new highrise. “The streets which I once loved, were now lying barren. I could sense an uncertain future for my beloved city. I felt I have to do something,” he shares.

Kapil Sharma at United Nations summit representing India during World Forestry Congress,2015.

Fast forward today, Kapil Sharma’s foundation Say Trees has planted over 3 lakh trees, determined to make Bengaluru green again. The nine-member team headed by Kapil has also partaken afforestation initiatives in Mumbai, Delhi, and villages of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Recently, they have also started rejuvenating lakes in Bengaluru.

To restore the green glory of Bengaluru

“Every weekend, I used to visit the offices of BBMP or Forest Department seeking their help to save Bengaluru from impending environmental peril. I started looking for places in the city where I can plant trees, with the assurance that they won’t be cut down within a few years for infrastructure projects,” narrates Kapil.

He started with planting one sapling outside his house in 2007. Through his friends and family, the movement amplified to the extent of regular plantation drives in different areas of the city. Contributions started pouring in, so did the help from nature-lovers, who volunteered with Say Trees to plant saplings. “My aim was to bring out the nature-lover in each and every citizen, so together we can restore Bengaluru back to her former green glory,” asserts Kapil.

Say Trees volunteers planting saplings on a lake bund.

1 lakh saplings per year

Kapil, a software professional himself, figured out a unique strategy to involve the booming IT industry of Bengaluru into the plantation initiative. “I approached the top software companies and suggested they involve their employees in our programmes as a team-building activity. Our community soon grew in leaps and bounds, standing today with a staggering 24,000 volunteers,” he informs with pride. In fact, some of their large-scale plantation drives have seen more than 700 volunteers dropping in, in a single day.

Volunteers planting Miyawaki forest.

For the past few years, Say Trees has been planting more than 1 lakh saplings every year, with a survival rate of over 80%. Inside Bengaluru’s community parks, around 23 lakes of the city or in the fallow lands of the suburbs, one can relax in the shade of the trees planted by Say Trees. Their work involves a wholesome approach towards increasing the green cover – starting from planting the sapling in monsoon months, to taking care of them throughout the harsh summers. They have collaborated with Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) to procure a water tanker for themselves, christening it as ‘Wheel Of Hope’. The tanker gets water from the Sewage Treatment Plants and goes around watering the plants across the city.

Hope On Wheels

Miyawaki & agro-forestry: what makes Say Trees stand out?

The foundation has recently adopted the popular Japanese ‘Miyawaki’ technique of planting trees and fostered 11 mini forests in Bengaluru 50,000 saplings. “This is what sets us apart from other environmental organisations. We are constantly upskilling ourselves with global techniques. We are using the power of social media to create community engagement,” remarks Kapil, briefing about the success of Say Trees.

In 2016, United Nations invited Say Trees to participate in World Forestry Congress. Interacting with international foundations there, Kapil came to know about the ‘agro-forestry’ scheme, where saplings of fruit-bearing trees are planted. This has created an additional income source for farmers in many developing countries. He recalls, “That was the year when India saw a huge number of farmer suicides, especially due to droughts and crop failure. I realised that agro-forestry has to be the future for India.”

Say Trees soon started their first agro-forestry venture in Ananthpuram in Andhra Pradesh. So far, 274 farmers have benefitted from the initiative, with over 36,000 fruit-bearing trees being planted.

Agro-Forestry

Almost entirely funded by a number of corporate organisations at present, Say Trees continue to practice innovation in planting trees. In 2018, they joined hands with IISc for adopting the ‘seed-bombing’ method, which involves the launching of seed balls with the help of drones. “With guidance from IISc experts, we have identified a 3000-acre area in Gauribidanur in Karnataka which we plan to afforest using through seed-bombing,” Kapil reveals.

Rejuvenation of lakes

In ten years, Say Trees have branched out beyond the domain of saving trees. The latest addition in their list of objectives includes the rejuvenation of the dying lakes of Bengaluru, once famous as the ‘City Of Lakes’.

“The world was shocked to learn the news of Cape Town nearing Day Zero, with their water supply running completely dry. What shocked me more was that the next city on the list was our Bengaluru. That’s when I started the water conservation projects through Say Trees,” shares Kapil.

Rejuvenation of Vabasandra Lake, Anekal, Bengaluru.

Through a series of steps, the organisation has restored two lakes in South Bengaluru – Vabasandra and Konasandra, additionally creating a nature park and walking trail surrounding the lakes. “We plan to rejuvenate at least three more lakes in the next six months,” says Kapil.

Today, Say Trees is synonymous with a cleaner, greener and better Bengaluru. In the past decade, the organisation has successfully created a strong, integrated community dedicated to saving the city. Efforts For Good urges readers to start similar afforestation initiatives in their own areas. It all starts with a single sapling.

Also Read: Fire & Termite-Resistant Pallets From Coconut Husk That Save 200 Million Trees A Year

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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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It's not how much we give
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