As the anticipation of melting snows and the approaching trekking season grew more and more in me, I started looking for doable trekking routes considering the trek was going to be in the last week of March and the high passes were still receiving heavy spells of snowfall. Eventually, I decided to head to Dharamshala and look for a trekking partner and then approach the Indrahar Pass as much as we could without crossing over to Chamba Valley.
On 22nd March, I set off for Dharamshala with the intention of going trekking and there I met a German guy, Kevin who was also travelling solo and was interested in doing the trek together. But as it frequently happens in the mountains, weather forced us to cancel our trek and stay in our rooms while it rained constantly for 48 hours and over. Receiving rainfall at this altitude of 2000 meters almost certainly meant that higher reaches above Triund would be receiving snowfall. With the weather showing no signs of relenting, we decided to cancel our trek for now. In the mean time, I learnt that Kevin had been volunteering with a waste management organization called The Waste Warriors for the past few days.
Waste Warriors is a voluntary organization and a registered society started by a British citizen, Jodie Underhill. They run door-to-door waste collection, distribute and empty dustbins, run regular clean-up hikes, keep communities clean and collect waste from popular trekking destinations. They have currently three projects running – Dharamshala, Dehradun and the newly started Corbett. The idea of going on different clean-up hikes around Dharamshala really caught my interest and I decided to volunteer with them for a couple of weeks. It will be my way of giving something back to the nature.
Initially, we started with short clean-up hikes to the Bhagsu Waterfall, Guna Temple and Galu Temple. A longer hike would be the Triund clean-up wherein the volunteers hike to Triund while collecting waste from the trail, then spending the night at a Forest Rest House in Triund which is kept reserved for the Waste Warriors volunteers for the night. The collected waste is then segregated into recyclable and non-recyclable waste and the recyclable waste is transported to a recycling facility in Pathankot situated about 80 kms from Dharamshala.
Apart from the clean-up hikes, Waste Warriors actively imparts educational programmes in schools in and around Bhagsu. The children’s day is usually held on the last Sunday of every month where young kids are taught the benefits of keeping the community clean and to distinguish between targeting schools like Euro kids and Rainbow School, Waste Warriors also gives presentations at various universities which helps in getting many students interested in participating in art projects, clean ups and volunteering.
During my stay in Dharamkot, Waste Warriors was also involved in waste management for the Indian Cricket Premier League at the Dharamshala Cricket Stadium. This involved managing waste of over 75,000 people over a period of 8 days with only about 100 workers and volunteers! One person being responsible for managing the waste of 750 people was challenging and tiring but at the same time exciting! Though the project was strenuous, the entire experience of meeting some amazing volunteers from all corners of the world and working as a team made it all worth it. We also managed to collect donations totaling Rs. 350,000 from Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) and Kings XI Punjab cricket team. And not only that, we also received the much needed 20 dustbins from HPCA and Waste Warriors T-shirt sponsored by Fortis Hospital, Kangra.
While we were busy with the clean-up hikes and the IPL project, Marc O’Gleasain and Raja Nundlall, two Irish filmmakers were documenting a lot of our work. They were in India for over 2 months making a full feature documentary on Waste Warriors. A major part of the movie was shot during one of the most important projects of Waste Warriors when we were managing waste at the Dharamshala Cricket Stadium. After editing, the movie is expected to be released by the end of 2013.
While many people may be repelled by the nature of the work that Waste Warriors do, namely to pick garbage, someone has to get their hands dirty and help in the much needed task of keeping the surroundings clean and to educate people on the damaging effects on nature such activities can create. The entire experience of meeting people from all walks of life from different countries and working collectively to attain a common goal makes the clean-up hikes much more interesting and enjoyable. While volunteering with the Waste Warriors, apart from the great learning experience, I have met some amazing people, made some wonderful friends and explored places that I never thought I would go to on my own. Waste Warriors is a small organisation with a big dream – a dream of a cleaner India. And this dream can only be attained if we step forward and take the responsibility in our own hands instead of waiting for others.
Waste warriors website: www.wastewarriors.org
Facebook page for Dehradun – https://www.facebook.com/wastewarriors1?ref=ts&fref=ts
Facebook page for Dharamshala – https://www.facebook.com/wastewarriors2?ref=ts&fref=ts
Some other links: