Arun Krishnamurthy is a busy man. He has, with help from his team and the eco-conservation foundations he works with, managed to cover 67 schools in three cities in just this one year. Three hundred and forty students have gotten involved in actively conserving the environment in various ways. Meanwhile, in Chennai, where Arun lives, work on their animal rescue centre is also underway. Founder of the NGO, The Environmentalist Foundation Of India (EFI), Arun has big plans for the planet.
The numbers are not small. But it isn’t about numbers. Arun and EFI are only trying to prove that more than a show of strength, it is a way for them and the world to believe that when people with a mission get together, mountains move.
His story starts years ago, when as a school-going child, Arun first went to a local Chennai zoological park to help as a volunteer for a conservation project. Little did he know it was going to become his calling. “Urban development has led to immense changes in the topography of the Chennai I lived in. I realised that somebody has to stand up and propose sustainable development. This planet is not just about us, it is about every form of life and we are nobody to interfere in the life cycles of other organisms,” he says. Now in his early twenties, Arun is a role model for many young people who take the restoration of our ecology very seriously.
Known most widely for his work with the TREE Foundation, founded by Dr. Supraja Dharini, Arun started out working on saving turtles but over a period of time, he has, along with the TREE Foundation, diversified. Inspired by the founder, Dr Dharini and by Dr. Jane Goodall, Arun works on various projects that include sea turtle and dolphin conservation, river and lake restoration programmes, child nutrition, Yenadhu tribe rehabilitation, plastic free cities, native herb species plantation and sparrow reintroduction programme. His own NGO works seamlessly with TREE and with Roots & Shoots, a programme of the Jane Goodall Institute.
“Every project that we have worked on is very important to the team. Each effort has taught us important lessons and kept us happy. Every time we released sea turtle hatchlings, got together as a team to clean a lake, installed a sparrow nest to see the birds flock to it after a few days, we felt our dreams being fulfilled. The best moments of our lives even now are during those zoo volunteering Sundays when we get to spend time with the inmates of the zoo parks in Hyderabad & Chennai. We have established a natural bond with these animals,” says Arun.
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The movement that started in Chennai and then spread to Hyderabad, is still growing. For Arun, Hyderabad was a huge milestone. Not only did he bring ecological conservation into the city at a grassroots level, but he also ushered in an important era into his own life. Arun was hired by Google. “As a college student, I always had this fear about my career. Google’s offer came at a very crucial juncture and helped me get to where I am today. The financial stability and the confidence that this job gave me has helped build on my work for the environment.”
When he quit Google to pursue his education, the association did not end. He has stayed in touch with his employer and its people. “Google’s current employees help us even today as volunteers for our Hyderabad projects,” admits Arun. In fact, this year, Roots and Shoots India, which Arun founded in association with the Jane Goodall Institute, won the Google Alumni Impact Award for 2011, receiving a grant of USD 15000. “This award establishes the fact that once a Googler, you are always one; it feels great to be acknowledged by them.” The NGO is now a part of Arun’s EFI, which aims at providing opportunities to young and creative minds to participate in working for the environment. Arun says the group does not believe in hierarchy because every member is a volunteer.
EFI plans to spend the award money constructively, with 30% of the cash going into the making of their third documentary film, ‘Caught By’, a movie that sensitizes people on the land-ocean connection and the fisheries by-catch issue. “Fishing is a fancy term for hunting in water bodies,” says Arun. The remainder of the money will be used for initiating work on the animal rescue centre that EFI is building in Chennai.
EFI plans to have another rescue centre ready in Hyderabad too, by 2015, clean as many lakes as possible in the cities of Hyderabad, Chennai, Delhi and Lucknow, and grow into a conservation and research group aiming at harmonious living for all life forms. It has helped them tremendously that TedX interviewed Arun a while back to throw more light on the projects he is working on, getting the NGO credibility and attention.
The story has not been one of success alone, though. Arun and his team face challenges every day, right from financing their various projects in a sustainable way to convincing the community to take conservation seriously. “A lot of educated people are desktop conservationists who believe they can save the world by a click of the mouse. That is our biggest challenge,” states Arun, who believes in result-oriented action.
And it is results that we need most desperately. If you have ever cribbed about how polluted our lakes and rivers are, about how thoughtlessly people litter roads and water bodies, if you have ever rescued any living thing, you will know, thanks to this man, that you can turn your concern into something massive and community-altering. Just by believing you can and then acting on it.