My Story: “My Love For Wildlife Photography Led Me To Turn A Wasteland Into Lush Green Forest, In Just 3 Yrs”

Image Credits: Shivshankar Banagar

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“I was born and brought up in Kamalapur, Bellary district – Karnataka.  After completing my Diploma in mechanical engineering life has taken me through many paths leading to my current position as a conservator, bird watcher, guide, travel organizer and also allowing me to play my part in the rescue and rehabilitation of various species but mainly snakes.

My inspiration to plant a forest

When I started working with the forest department as a volunteer, I got attracted to tree planting works & the benefits derived from it.

During the same time, I was elected as the President of Kamalapur town Panchayat. I observed that in so many functions and events, the opening ceremony started with tree planting and watering of the trees in well-prepared surroundings. However the very next day on visiting the same places, I would notice that the trees have been uprooted, missing or the trees have died a few days later due to lack of watering and care.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

I was highly concerned about the impact this made, especially in the minds of children when trees planted in their school would vanish the next day.

This is what made me decide that I had to do afforestation by myself to inspire a change.

I was lucky when Mr Ranga Reddy, the then secretary of the Tungabhadra Board asked me to be a birdwatching guide for him and his family. He was impressed by my wildlife photography and took some of my photos for his office and for exhibition at the Fish Aquarium in his park.  Encouraged by his response towards nature and wildlife, I requested him to give me permission to plant and protect a wide variety of native trees in the land adjacent to mine with the assurance and undertaking that I would have no claim over the land or the trees.

When I received the oral permission from him, my work began. I started my work in a wasteland filled with all kinds of debris like boulders, rubbles etc. These were discarded during the construction of the Tungabhadra high-level canal.

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My hurdles and my success

The first challenge was to clear all the debris from the area and selecting the right place and the right tree to plant. This was an impossible task for just one person.  I had to hire some labourers to help me with clearing the debris and planting the trees.

I took the risk of planting the saplings very close to each other as I was not sure of the survival rate in such conditions. I estimated approximately 2 out of 20-25 saplings would survive and grow in that land. I still had to take that chance.

The next challenge was to ensure a good water supply for these saplings. Here in Bellary district, there are just two seasons, summer and extreme summer. The region also falls in the rain shadow area and has an average rainfall of only about 450-500mm. I also faced the problem of safeguarding the young saplings from the nomadic shepherd communities and their herd who used to pass through my land each year and trample the saplings.

For this, I had to put up a local fence first and guarded the area from sunrise to sunset. I had to hire a few labourers to help in watering them from the canal. My friend K. Manjunath then stepped forward to help by supplying water from his borewell.  We laid some pipes and sprinklers and the resulting yield was a success with 90% of the tress growing up to be very healthy.

My visions, dreams and way ahead

To start with it was the very worst barren land. When I started the plantation, I had prayed to God to at least make 4-5% of the trees healthy. I also dreamed to see flycatchers and other birds visiting my land one day.

Now, I am happy to say there are nearly 75 species of birds that are regular visitors to my tiny forest. I’ve also introduced a small water body in this place and added some fishes in this water body.  Now water birds, turtles, water snakes etc. are also regular visitors to this small pond. The best surprise was the visit by an Indian Pitta (a migratory bird that is usually seen only in cooler areas) that decided to stop in my farm in November last year for 11 days during the migration. The flycatchers have become regular visitors to my land now.

Till date, I have never used any chemical fertilisers or pesticides in my tiny forest and it is now becoming a butterfly garden also. Beehives have also started forming here.

Now my next initiative is to try and convince other commercial landowners next to mine to allow me to plant trees in their land too, again with no ownership claim over their land or the trees.

I am also in the process of setting up a small stay and interpretation centre in my land where people can come and stay, learn and explore nature along with understanding the impact a small forest like this can also have overall.

Currently, I am investing more than 50% of my income towards the further improvement of this land and forest. That is the reason that over a short span of 3 years I’ve been able to achieve this kind of a change.  I wish to further make more impact in the future and I am hoping this will encourage others also to do the same.

The planet belongs to all of us and it should be the moral responsibility of each and every one of us to do our bit protect it, particularly now to deal with climate change and global warming.

Apart from work

I am lucky to say that my passions, interests and hobbies are my work too. I am an avid birdwatcher, photographer and a guide as well as a travel organizer. This also helps me to travel to a lot of places and explore nature and introduce them to others.

I am well known as a snake rescuer and this helps me to introduce the students to various species of snakes before releasing the snakes in the wild.  This has inspired many young students to come and work with me as interns after their school and college and I’ve also nominated a few of them to go ahead and pursue the naturalist training program.

My photographs have been exhibited in a lot of places and I’ve won a few awards for my photography as well. These images have also been published in a number of newspapers as well.

I had served as SDMC president in Sri Thoppala Channappa Government Model Higher Primary school where I strived towards the overall development of the school and staff motivation to encourage better education for the students.

I’ve also organised health campaigns, awareness programs for pulse polio, blood donation camps etc. I’ve also been actively involved in educating students in various schools and colleges about our environment, wildlife, birds and snakes through slide shows and presentations. This has been very well received by the schools and the students and I am being invited as guest speaker very often to impart this knowledge to the young minds.

With my experience in afforestation, voluntary work with the forest department, rescue and release of birds and animals and as a keen birdwatcher, I try to encourage as many people as possible to experience nature in the most beautiful way.

I also work as a tourist guide and travel organizer in Hampi and introduce my guests to both the nature aspect and the ruins of Hampi.”

– Pompayya Malemath, Photographer

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

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
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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