Environment Support Group
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Urban Explorers

A week long Summer Camp for children at ESG

13 – 17 April 2009
Report of workshop on “Urban Explorers” conducted for young children
Take home kit for kids who participated in the workshop

Summer brings excitement for the kids and this summer as the schools closed for a long summer vacation we had 18 children in the age group of 11-15 register for the Urban Explorer summer workshop at ESG. Children came from different neighbourhoods of Bengaluru, different schools, a variety of family backgrounds and a wide range of interests but they all carried with them a high sense of enthusiasm and excitement to explore and understand Namma Bengaluru.

The first day after a brief introduction to the entire program, the children watched a short play by a budding free lance theatre group who performed a play titled S-cool. It was all about how fun school is and at the same time can destroy natural skill and talent in children in this age of rote learning madness. The children enjoyed watching the play and interacting with the three members Soumya, Andrea and Anish.

After a short break, the first day’s theme was history and heritage of the city. Children travelled back into history and each of them role played the different rulers under whom Bengaluru was governed chronologically until the time of independence. This helped them recognize the influence of the different dynasties, cultures and practices that are present to this day in the city. A game of 20 questions to identify some of the important monuments, tanks, festivals and places of Bengaluru helped discover the legends behind some of practices present even today. Children learnt about the significance of the Karaga festival of Bengaluru that takes place every year during April the December time groundnut festival of Bull Temple and historical details of some of the monuments,when they were built and how some monuments got their name like the Attara Kacheri or the High Court. It was a very pleasant way to learn so much about the history of Bengaluru, mixed as it was with a lot of fun and excitement.

In the afternoon Mr. Arul Selva, Editor of a magazine called Slum Jagathu, spent time speaking to the children about the growth of Bengaluru and the life of people living in the slums of Bengaluru. He shared some of his childhood experiences of growing up in a slum and the inequality that continues to grow in our societies. He helped children think about the work, the working hours, wages and other facilities that are lacking to people who work as drivers, sweepers, helpers, security guards, domestic helps, the newspaper delivery boy, the milk man and the flower seller who start work in the early hours of the day and continue to work till late evening only make ends meet for their families. He highlighted the fact that thousands of people remained homeless and slept under the flyovers only to be beaten and chased away by the police while Bengaluru was receiving enormous amounts of funds to develop its infrastructure. He shared how his work in slums in the 18 districts of Karnataka is helping people get some of their basic needs of water, sanitation and housing that are fundamental to life. A moving discussion left the children thinking about the disparities that plague our cities.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at the Kempambudhi tank and at the Kempegowda Shikara (tower) near the tank followed by a visit to the Gavi Gangadhareshwara temple. The location was a classic example of how tanks served not only as water resources but also as centres for religious, cultural and social activities too. The Gavigangadhareshwara temple was a very interesting place for the kids. The concept of how sunlight enters through the arch and passes through the windows placed perpendicularly to each other and then through the horns of the Nandi Bull to fall on the Shiva Linga on the day of Makara Sankranthi in January every year, which also coincides with the winter solstice was a thrilling moment for the children. It helped children understand and appreciate the scientific and architectural skills that were employed in the construction of the temple so many centuries ago.

The second day was dedicated to urban wildlife and it started with an impressive presentation and understanding of some of the most beautiful winged creatures- butterflies. Mr. Kishen Das, a naturalist and an engineer at Accenture, and a self taught butterfly expert, helped children appreciate the beauty an diversity of these graceful winged insects, their life cycle, their behavior and the various types through a slide presentation. This was followed by a field visit to Lalbagh where they were able to observe butterflies, identify some of them and also learn about some of the other forms of life in the urban wilds. The visit also facilitated in learning about some of the old trees in Lalbagh that date back to the Tippu Sultan time.

The afternoon was spent understanding the term ‘Urban Wildlife’ with Mr. Karthikeyan S. a well known naturalist and expert on butterflies, who works with Jungle Lodges and Resorts. He presented to them some of the common urban wildlife that is all around us and how they manage to survive in a city like Bengaluru despite the city growing tall with loss of many wildlife habitats. He also brought out the symbiotic relations that exist in nature and how minute disturbances could wipe out many of our wild species. He gave the classic example of the fig tree and the wasp where the wasp lays its eggs in the inflorescence of the fig and thereby helps the pollination of the fig. children learnt how such numerous symbiotic relationships exist in nature and the importance of the fragile symbiotic relation we share with planet earth. Towards the end of the afternoon, children started the process for making recycled paper. They shredded old newspaper into tiny pieces and soaked them in water.

“We are symbionts on a symbiotic planet, and if we care to, we can find symbiosis everywhere.”- Lynn Margulis

The third day was devoted to understand how much and what types of waste we produce and what are the implications of an inappropriate method of disposal. This learning stride was through a fun filled, exhilarating game of treasure hunt. The children were divided into four groups and were given very interesting, thought provoking clues which led them to their respective treasures of Biodegradable waste, Recyclable waste, Hazardous waste and Biomedical waste. The children then reflected on each of the clues, their significance and what could be done to solve this big challenge. As part of the discussions the children felt that the 3R concept of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle could have another R for ‘Refuse’ where people should refuse everything that comes in plastic! The session on waste concluded with a hand on experience to make compost at home by the Brick, Bagasse and Compost method. Children read the procedure given to them and with all the materials provided to them they set up a compost pit at the ESG office guided by Zeenat and Priya who maintain a compost pit regularly at the ESG office.

During the second half of the day, children spent time with Mr.Vijay Narnapatti, an architect and urban designer through a very interactive slide presentation to understand how we move in the city and what are the problems of the moving mess? The interaction helped them explore the neighbourhood of Jayanagar East End and list the different things they saw on the footpaths and the East End main road. The survey supported their study of how roads could be designed better to the needs of the different users such as pedestrians, children, senior citizens, street vendors, the differently abled, for motorized vehicles and for parking. As part of the learning children learnt to design roads and made sketches of their design illustrating the different needs and uses. The exercise not only left them thinking about how roads should provide for all users but also helped them understand the safety aspects in road designs and the need for monitoring and regulation. The learning experience helped them understand the great need and increased efficiency of public transport, the need to walk, bicycle and stay healthy and also how reduced use of motorized vehicles would help keep our air clean.

The fourth day of the Urban Explorers week focused on water resources of the city. The day began at the Agara tank on the outer ring road of the city near HSR Layout. Children observed some of the traditional uses of the tank such as fishing, bathing, washing of clothes etc. Seeing young children probably their own age return with a sack load of fish in a coracle from the centre of the tank amazed them. It was fascinating to many to see the variety of water birds such as Cormorants, Coots, Egrets and Darters in the tank. Sitting under the shade of the watch tower the children learnt a song “Mayadantha Male Banthavva” from Nandini Chami. This was followed by the history of the tanks in Bengaluru and how their numbers have dwindled. They also understood the structure of the tanks and the distribution of the flora and fauna in a tank by Sruthi Subbannna. Nandini also explained to them the efforts of a group like Environment Support Group in saving some of these last tanks in Bengaluru through people’s involvement and implementation of law with the intervention of the courts. Children spent some time exploring the shores of the tank before they returned to the ESG office for some exciting activity of making recycled paper.

They did get very creative and while preparing the pulp from the soaked newspapers, they added turmeric powder for colour, some added water colour paints and some even brought perfumes to make fragrant paper. There was such excitement and joy in each of them to be pouring the pulp, spreading it even and letting it dry in the sun, making sure to keep small stones at the corners so that it would not fly away.

In the afternoon the Urban Explorers group visited the Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology at the Indian Institute of Science Campus and met with Mr. A.R. Shivakumar, Executive Secretary I/c Karnataka State council for Science and Technology (KSCST). The group enjoyed learning the different methods of harvesting rain water and understanding the need to harvest rain water in Bengaluru. They learnt about the WHO standards of per capita requirement of water and the Bureau of Indian Standard requirements of per capita consumption of water and were shocked to realize the amount of water used in cleaning a litre of milk or a spoon of sugar that they all used every morning. Mr. Shivakumar very patiently answered all their questions about the rain harvesting methods and possibilities of harvesting rain water in old apartments and homes. They studied charts and models and the working rain water harvesting system of the KSCST building. The highlight of the visit for the children was to be sitting in the conference room and sipping a cup of coffee/tea with Mr. Shivakumar and it made them feel very important.

The last and final day started with a field visit to the Turahalli forest in south Bangalore to understand the impacts of urbanization on small patches of surviving forests that are ecologically rich in flora and fauna. Children enjoyed walking through the path leading to the temple and spent time observing the nature of threats in the surrounding areas to the forest. They learnt of land encroachments around the forest area. The children had an interesting discussion of stories across India where such encroachments have occurred and how the animals living in the forests had no option but to come to human habitat and would meet one of the two ends i.e. they would either be killed or would be sent to the zoo eventually leading to extinct species of wild life and ecological imbalance. Leo F Saldanha took the kids to the rocks from wherein one could view the whole of Bengaluru and explained how fast and vast the city has grown over the years by sharing his experiences over the years as stories.

Returning from the forest the group spent time sharing the answers to some of the activity and worksheets that were given during the week. The afternoon was spent in a lively mock discussion of a possible development of a new city outside Bengaluru and children were divided into small groups representing different sections of the city. The children did a brilliant job of representing Industrialists, farmers, street vendors, professors, students, low income neighbourhood groups, environmentalists, resident welfare associations and the chief minister. Each child argued for the needs of each of these sections of the society in the proposed new city. Their active participation and enthusiasm in each of the sessions and field visits was truly commendable and inspiring for ESG team members to organize such workshops in future.

he day concluded with Leo F.Saldanha the Coordinator of ESG discussing with students about the many different road designs the students had sketched. He also highlighted the group about how changes take place in a city? Who influences the changes in a city? He stressed the importance for the need to stand up and be able to make the right choices to protect and preserve urban areas from destructive development. He also mentioned the ongoing protest that was taking place in the city regarding the Metro and how the project was illegally encroaching the historic Lalbagh Botanical gardens without any regard to the founding fathers of the city such as Kempegowda, Hyder Ali, Tippu Sultan and many others who have contributed to Lalbagh. The workshop concluded with the distribution of certificates to the participants by a child’s grandfather Mr. S.Subramanyam and a vote of thanks by Bhargavi. Many of the children were so enthusiastic about the protest that they all proceeded to Lalbagh to join hands with the citizens in saving Nama Lalbagh in Namma Bengaluru.

“If a man walks in the woods for love of them half od each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen” – Henry David Thoreau

The workshop was well supported by a small take home kit (MS Word – 3.8 MB) prepared by the ESG team that provided worksheets on a number of themes, a few brain cracking puzzles, facts and activities to do with the family. It also provided an extensive list of books, movies and suggested lists of websites for environmental information for children. The interactive discussions at various times helped children reflect and understand the myriad of things they observe in their everyday lives. As a quick feedback from some families the families called and shared how happy they were about the workshop. They felt it was a very unique type of a summer workshop for children that helped children learn from outdoor sessions that provides rich opportunities for imagination and problem solving. A few parents shared how they were able to brush up some of their own knowledge on Bengaluru. A few other parents congratulated the team for the excellent take home kit that was provided to the students.

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