STORY OF CHANGELOOMER PRANABESH MAITI
Climatic and environmental disturbance vouched for its destructive consequences when the water level shot up and started submerging the island in its depth. Ecological imbalance and loss of biodiversity started reaching its deadliest form. Mangrove, the lifeline of the beautiful Sundarban islands began losing its life because of unwanted and destructive human interventions into nature. Soil erosion and cyclones followed, destroying thousands of lives and livelihoods.
Was this an end to the island’s beauty?
Zealous thoughts kept stirring in a young mind. Pranabesh Maiti, living in Sagar Block of South-24 Paragana, works in Sundarban Island at present. Belonging to a farmer’s family, Pranabesh had an exposure of agricultural practices since childhood. Gradually, with growing age and wisdom, he observed the harmful consequences of climatic change on agriculture and production. He had also acquired some knowledge about the causes of climate change from the village school he was studying in. After visiting some other nearby islands and interacting with the villagers, he understood the extent of soil erosion and the hazard it had caused on the island. After a deep realization of the degrading condition of the island and a quest to conserve their lifeline, in 2013, Pranabesh and a group of young people started brainstorming on approaches to carry out mangrove cultivation. The initial step was to carry out cultivation of mangrove trees in regions badly affected by soil erosion during ‘Aila’ Cyclone.
Pranabesh’s initiative took a quantum leap in the year 2014, when he was rewarded the Changelooms fellowship. Under the mentorship and encouragement from Changelooms, he started mangrove cultivation on a bigger scale on his island, and also began spreading awareness and motivating other youth cultural groups, to adopt mangrove cultivation as a part of their regular programmes. Pranabesh desired to create a new generation of inhabitants who pledged to conserve the island. So, he started motivating people from diverse sectors and age groups, towards Mangrove plantation. He approached women, school children and various youth groups, to spread the word amongst them. A remarkable consequence of his hard work led to many other kids and youth of his village planting around 35,000 trees of eight different species in an area of 4 kilometers along the banks of river. ‘Mangrove Man’, a new title gave recognition to Pranabesh.
Another segment which Pranabesh aimed to target, was to reduce the number of youth migrating to towns of employment. He found a solution of generating a source of livelihood for them in their very village itself. The solution again laid in ‘Mangrove’ itself. “We can extract honey from mangrove flowers, medicinal syrup from the kewda species and mangrove tress can also serve as a cattle fodder. I am planning to use these special benefits of Mangrove as revenue generating source for the unemployed youth”, explains Pranabesh.
But mere awareness within a few youth groups was not sufficient to save the island. Whatever conservation strategies are formulated should be effectively implemented on a large scale. Only then, a change can be brought about. Pranabesh wanted to expand and amplify his work, and also motivate more and more people for this. This is where a programme called UNMANIFESTO stepped up as a driving force for Pranabesh. Unmanifesto was a nationwide campaign initiated by CYC- PRAVAH and supported by UNFPA in the year 2014 and was run for a period of 3 months in 2015. With the objective of engaging youth participation in the political process, bringing social inclusion and effectively involving government bodies for a change, this campaign ran across 20 states and Union Territories of the country.
Under this campaign, Pranabesh came up with a charter of demands of the various sections of village residents. 10 demands including numerous sectors of development of their village was drafted. “We approached the Panchayat members and discussed our demands with them. The youth that remained completely disinterested about participating in the regular Gram Sabha earlier, came forward and participated in the Sabha meeting and presented the demands. Seeing the strength in the voices of the young blood, the Panchayat agreed to fulfill some of their demands including establishment of road connectivity, employment opportunities under NREGA, more number of Shishu Shiksha Kendra and more health centres”, mentions Pranabesh. He proudly expresses that the youth that had always blamed and cursed the government for all mishaps, now began to have a feeling of ownership and belongingness for the system processes. This has exponentially given a spark to their spirits and they have developed a ‘hope towards change’, a change that is in their own hands.
Pranabesh aspires to raise the powerful voice at the Block level in the near future, and use the strength of youth as a medium to facilitate good governance. He has also rewarded two members with the ‘Sundarban Biodiversity Conservation Award’, that has also inspired others to be a part of the revolution.
With energized spirits and enthusiastic actions, Pranabesh and his team pledge only for their paramount goal:
“WE WILL SAVE OUR ISLAND.”
Story by : Piyuli Ghosh
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