An outdoor classroom to understand nature

Training Session in progress. Photos by Ulhas Anand and Amith Kumar

Maya Saldahna, 16, has been taking a detour around Richards town in Bengaluru, surveying the trees infected with insects for the past two weeks. An avid nature observer, she always wanted to be involved in activities relating to her immediate environment. During her high school days, she met T S Srinivas and Ulhas Anand, at a birding activity in Lalbagh, Bengaluru. Soon, she started attending other such environment-related activities organised by the duo who runs an initiative called EcoEdu. This initiative aims to create awareness about social and environmental concerns and facilitate youngsters to know their environment better.

In-depth exposure

Maya is doing the tree survey as part of her internship at EcoEdu. Through the internship, she is getting an in-depth exposure to the trees in Bengaluru and how they are responding to the changing climate. 

Maya says, “EcoEdu facilitates our understanding of the intricacies of nature. It’s not remote learning, just listening to lectures, but doing everything practically.”

EcoEdu works with various organisations and departments like the Forest Department, corporates, schools and other institutions, and has helped people have a better understanding of the environment. 

It all started in the 1970s when bird researchers Joseph George and Zafar Fatheli started birding activities for young enthusiasts. Though an organic chemist, Joseph devoted his time to study birds and their habitat. His humility and austerity inspired many young enthusiasts to study birds and their habitat extensively.

Now in honour of Joseph George, EcoEdu organises an event called Bengaluru Bird Day in the first week of October to create awareness about environmental concerns and bird habitats.

Srinivas, Ulhas Anand, S Ravindran, M B Krishna and Subramanya who were a part of the birding group initiated by Joseph George and Zafar Fatheli have contributed to this company by taking private tours or activities such as nature walks and ant walks. While they charge for private tours or activities, birding organised on Sundays is free and open to all. On the first Sunday of every month, birding is organised near Ulsoor lake and on second Sundays in Lalbhag. This informal birding group has more than 70 members attending the weekend session during summers.

EcoEdu is an initiative that weaves stories from outdoor to help people understand the importance of the ecosystem. They have various activities like nature walks, ant walks, nature-inspired design and thinking camp, which help people understand the various aspects of ecology.

Some of the seemingly simple but useful activities offered by EcoEdu include: How can a cluster of dandelions teach us about space exploration? How can owls help us build quieter wind turbines? What can seed pod teach us about packaging? Such activities inspire the participants to know more about various effective patterns in nature.

Nature-inspired design thinking camp where participants sketch animals, birds and other elements of nature with patterns that are visible to them in nature is popular among youngsters.

Another such event Maya attended was nature-inspired thinking activity - where people had to form pairs with someone they have never met and one of them was blindfolded while the other directed the person towards a tree. They feel features of the tree and its elements before removing the blindfold and later express their perception of the tree.

Maya recalls, “The creative presentation of activities by EcoEdu acts like an icebreaker. So far, I’ve been able to experience nature rather than just knowing factual data and be unaware of my surroundings. I hope we all can come together for a cause and take a stand on doing something. Our stance should have an impact and should influence change.”

A student volunteer from the bird watching group says, “I’ve never had a chance to look at nature so closely, not even in botany and zoology classes. I’m sure many student enthusiasts like me want such activities as a part of our syllabus. It is impossible to connect with nature sitting in a classroom.”

Srinivas says, “The huge amount of loss of green cover and improper city planning have brought in drastic changes to Bengaluru’s environment. Now around 20 enthusiasts are active in the group, each one has a minimum of 16 years of field experience. Even as we try to expand the efforts to other places, we are falling short of trained people and it is not easy to find one.”

EcoEdu’s efforts have shown how stories from outdoor connect to people within four walls and make them proactive. 

Those who want to know more can contact the team at ullaspa@gmail.com

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