Learn in the lap of nature

A group of youth on a trek conducted by Bhoomi’s Sharavathi Rainforest Education Centre

When was the last time you touched soil with your hands? Unless you are a gardening enthusiast, this question will leave you reaching into the dark, dusty corners of your mind, trying to fish out a fading memory.

Hand sanitisers, wet tissues, and tissues have become a staple in every handbag, to protect us from the polluted concrete jungles we live in. But in all this obsession with cleanliness, we are slowly losing our connection with soil, nature, and the good kind of dirt.

Bonding much

About 20 km from the heart of Bengaluru city, Bhoomi College and the Prakriya Green Wisdom School, units of the KNA Foundation for Education, are trying to reverse this by helping young, city-bred children reconnect with nature. The vision of the foundation is to “Foster wholesome growth in youngsters and a keenness to develop inner and outer ecological wisdom in communities it engages with.” Both the school and the college focus on the principles of sustainable living and developing a holistic understanding of nature.

This vision is not restricted to their own students. Bhoomi makes an effort to reach out to as many youngsters as they can through various programmes like treks, farm visits, and activities at their Saturday Santhes.

A trek with Bhoomi is nothing like a regular trek. Ananth Somaiah facilitates the outdoor programmes at Bhoomi’s Sharavathi Rainforest Education Centre. Apart from the students of Prakriya, occasionally other schools also bring their students for the trips. The trek and the outdoor programmes are designed to help students get as close to nature as they can. Ananth said that when students are asked to prepare for the trek, they come wearing fancy shoes. “Once they’re ready, we ask them if they really need all this gear to go on a trek. After all, a trek is about being in the wilderness. We urge them to take off their shoes and come barefoot,” Ananth said. At first, the students hesitate. “Some are uncomfortable with the idea of getting their feet dirty. Many ask how they can walk when there are stones everywhere. But once they take off their shoes, they get used to it soon enough,” Ananth said.

 If going barefoot alone is not ‘dirty’ enough, the children are encouraged to get really into it and splatter each other with mud. “In the city, people want everything clean. They are always worried about germs and catching diseases. But in the wild, there is nothing to worry about. We encourage the children to throw each other into the slush. Even us facilitators get really into it,” Ananth laughs.

 But, how does it all help? Adil Basha of Bhoomi Network, says, “The idea is to let the sensory take over the intellectual aspect which is all that gets nurtured in a city. Spending time in nature helps them observe their surroundings and develop a sense of responsibility. They also learn that everything is interconnected.” Gardening, digging the earth, working with their hands — activities like these help children connect with nature. Pushpa has been the head gardener at Prakriya school for several years now, she says, “Initially, the children hesitate. I have to coax and cajole them to touch the soil. Even then, they do it gingerly.”

Natural connect

But once they get over their squeamishness, children love working in the garden. “I love to see the wonder on their face when their plants begin to germinate,” Pushpa says. In the harvest season, the kids become possessive about the fruits of their labour. “I see such a transformation in them. They go back and tell their parents about everything they do. I hope that even when they grow up, they remember the bonds they’ve formed with nature, ” she adds.

Connecting with nature can also just be about spending time in it. On the first and third Saturday of every month, an organic farmer’s market called Bhoomi Santhe is organised at the college. Farmers from around the area set up stalls with organic produce. Organic oils, soaps, bath salts, beauty products, millets, spices — you can get it all. Unlike the city, where everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere, at the Santhe, the mood is relaxed. These Saturday markets also have activities to keep the children engaged. They sit under the large trees on the campus and learn origami. In an activity called ‘Treeveller’s Katte,’ Charumathi Supraja gathers adults and children around trees, to observe them and talk about them. A question she often likes to ask is ‘What tree do you think you are like?’ “When I ask this, I see that people immediately perk up and a smile comes to their face. Adults have a bank of memories associated with trees. But children don’t recognise most trees,’’ she says.

All in all, it is a weekend well spent amongst the greens learning about one’s roots.

For more information, log on to www.prakriyaschool.com.

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Learn in the lap of nature

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