The past decade saw a surge in the number of citizen-led initiatives cleaning up the mess we have been creating for a long time. Such efforts have picked up pace since the last couple of years, especially in India. From Anand Malligavad reviving Bengaluru’s lakes to Afroz Shah-led beach cleanups in Mumbai, there is a sense of awakening among people to take up the responsibility of the environment.
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Hyderabad-based Sriram Arumilli belongs to the same elite club fighting against all the odds to save the world from drowning in its filth. The concerned citizen has been running an NGO—Earthlings, since 2016, which carries out cleanup activities across Hyderabad.
The NGO joins various marathons organised in the city and cleans up the garbage generated, what’s more, it also spruces up public walls with paintings.
So far, in the 15 marathons that the NGO has participated, it has removed a total of 15,000 kilos of dry and wet garbage from the city, but the best part is that the team does not let a lack of funds stop them from achieving its end, even if it has to dip in its own pockets!
The kind of work we do is more important than getting regular funds. Being an NGO, we rarely get money from marathon organisers and municipal corporations. There have been instances when my parents pitch in. Times are tough but nothing that we cannot tackle, says Sriram Arumilli.
Sriram’s entry into the world of eco-revival
When I was a student, I saw a tree being chopped down, and I realised there should be someone to protect them. I did some research and ended up working for an NGO called The Green Nest, Sriram told Telanganatoday.
Sriram volunteered with the NGO for its cleanup initiatives till it closed in 2016. Not wanting to slow down the momentum, he launched his own NGO ‘Earthlings’ in the same year.
Speaking to The Better India (TBI), Sriram says:
I come from an agrarian family living in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh. My father always tells me that trees are a precious resource. I moved to Hyderabad in 2008 for higher studies, and since then, I have seen the city lose its green cover and become dirtier by the day. I always knew that the power of the common man could bring concrete changes. So instead of being just another complainant, I took matters into my own hands.
Gowtham Reddy, a Chennai-based friend who co-founded Earthlings, began the Chennai Chapter of the NGO at the same time to carry out the same initiative in Tamil Nadu’s capital.
Though the NGO may have started with two friends, today, three years later, it has 100+ volunteers who diligently participate in marathons and spread the message with enthusiasm.
Low funds are no deterrent for Earthlings to carry out their numerous activities. During marathons, they do get sponsored for gloves, masks, and bin bags, among others. However, the majority of the time, Sriram has to rely on his savings and volunteer contribution.
Earthlings aims to be an NGO that means business, and thus, it selects its volunteers through three rounds—Group Discussion (GD), Personal Interview and Practical. For the first two, candidates are questioned about environmental issues that affect the immediate surroundings and the world in general. As for the practical, they have to participate in a small cleanliness drive.
The candidate gets selected based on the performance in each of the rounds.
“We want only those people who are genuinely interested in bringing a difference. Apart from judging their level of interest, we also test their knowledge. I have seen many people participate in the drives purely for their social media posts. And because they are selected via rounds, they will not undermine or take the efforts for granted,” says Sriram.
For many, the recruitment process has been a demotivating factor to join the organisation, but Sriram believes that it is an advantage, “If someone wants to stick around and contribute, giving interviews should not be a problem.”
Earthlings also gain a perspective through the questions they ask candidates, especially when they talk about Hyderabad, “The most common problems are water scarcity, overflowing garbage and spitting. Through our volunteers, it becomes easy for us to plan our events,” adds the 28-year-old.
Suvishal is one of the volunteers who went through the selection process, and he has no regrets about joining the organisation. “I did not want my weekends to be unproductive, and I always wanted to help society in some way. I did my research about local NGOs and their work, before approaching Earthlings. The selection process was impressive and a sure shot way to know that I will be working with equally passionate people,” the 23-year-old, an Analyst with Deloitte, tells TBI.
Towards Garbage-Free Marathons
Taking into account the thousands of people who participate in marathons and the number of times marathons are organised every year, the post-event scenario is a sweeper’s nightmare with roads covered with plastic bottles, cups, paper, and food items among others.
It thus becomes an uphill task for the authorities to clear the mess.
To resolve this problem, Sriram collaborates with the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) and takes responsibility to clear the garbage.
For every marathon, Earthlings hires GHMC workers to segregate the collected waste, “They are much more experienced in waste segregation, so it becomes easy for us to dispose of the garbage,” says Sriram.
The sanitation workers are paid Rs 500 for their services. However, for many workers, lending a helping hand is not just about money.
I have been working with the GHMC for 18 years now, and I know the amount of effort that goes in segregation. We are not helping them. In fact, the youngsters are helping the GHMC by making our work easier, M Tarun, a GHMC worker tells TBI.
The volunteers send the dry waste to local recycling agencies, and food waste is given to piggeries to ensure scientific disposal.
Marathons have also been a great medium to spread awareness says Sriram, “Our volunteers are stationed at every point during marathons. They stand with garbage bags and shout slogans. Seeing the volunteers, many participants make an effort to throw bottles and other items in the bin bags.”
Beautifying the City, One Spot At A Time
Sriram and his team of volunteers made their debut at the Begumpet railway station as they are the entry points for tourists visiting the city.
Like all their activities, the volunteers gathered at the station at six in the morning and each team was given a specific task. While one team cleaned the stains on the walls, the other removed posters and swept the place. The third team painted the walls and wrote informative slogans on them.
The quotes differ from area to area. For example ‘Carry cloth bags’ is for market areas and ‘Do not stick bills’ is written near railway stations.
Painting is the most crucial aspect of Earthlings’ cleanliness drives, “No one likes to dirty a beautifully-painted wall. We visit the same places a few weeks later to check the status, and we have noticed that all of them are free of posters and stains,” says Sriram.
Sriram also started a challenge earlier this year. As per the #CleanupChallenge, every volunteer had to nominate their friend or relative. On getting nominated, the person was required to carry out a cleaning drive in their locality and post a photo on a social media platform.
The 4-year-old organisation drops a mail to the GHMC every time it has to conduct a drive, “We have established cordial relations with the corporation, so we do not require permissions, and our process is smooth.”
Earthlings is also expanding its arena of work, starting with seedball plantations.
Recently, the volunteers planted around 1,000 seed balls of trees across the city. “Monsoon is the best time to throw the seed balls as the rainwater ensures that the ball of mud is properly mixed with the soil,” adds Sriram.
Despite having full-time jobs, Sriram and his volunteers are striving to make Hyderabad a clean city.
With so many motivating examples of citizens making an effort to keep their surroundings clean, it is time every person takes some responsibility for a cleaner and greener India.
Get in touch with Earthlings here.
Images are sources from: Earthlings/Facebook
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)