Of Grimmett Guides And Solar Panels

The E-Base, at first sight, seems like just about any other classroom. A laptop, a television, a few bulletin boards, a recently added library; how extraordinary could this space be? Very, explains Pooja Choksi.

The E-Base, at first sight, seems like just about any other classroom. A laptop, a television, a few bulletin boards, a recently added library; how extraordinary could this space be?

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Students at the E-Base. Photo: Pooja Choksi

But this small room, that runs on a kilo watt of solar energy, has become the hub for local students; a gateway to the world outside Pench, the Tiger Reserve near which they reside. Walk in on a weekend and you are sure to see the local children busy attending workshops, watching documentaries, conducting science experiments, catching up on some reading or simply marveling at encyclopedias. Our workshops cover everything from renewable energy, bio mimicry and analysing lifecycles of everyday things to bird watching by the lake.

Sher bachao, Van bachao’ has become a hackneyed slogan with diluted effect. To truly impassion the youth to participate in habitat conservation and make sustainable development the norm, we had to think outside the box. It is in this light that the Education-Base (E-Base) came to be. In 2011, Conservation Wildlands along with the Pench Tiger Reserve forest department and Robert Swan established the world’s second E-Base right in the centre of India at the Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh.

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Pooja in a session with students in Pench, Maharashtra. Photo: Monica Szczupider.

A Class Apart

The E-Base brings together environmental sensitisation, education and student enrichment to form an unconventional ‘E-Base Program’. The program includes environmental and science education, liberal arts, mobile libraries and reading programs, school and village level projects and much more. The curriculum engenders the holistic development of the students shaping the next generation of community leaders. It is this bunch of better informed and mindful youth that will champion the cause of sustainability in their villages.

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Students on a treasure hunt in one of the sessions at the E-Base. Photo: Pooja Choksi

The E-Base program employs the most creative ways to educate and sensitise the kids. Just this year, the students made a film on their relationship with the forest of Pench. Armed with cameras and tripods, in we went to the buffer zones to capture the gorgeous wood spider, baronets, langurs and more. The students stopped to observe, for the first time, how a wood spider weaves its web, and caught it all on camera; one can only imagine the thrill they experienced on having done so! These are the moments that shape their love and appreciation for the deciduous beauty of Pench- the forest in their very backyards.

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In a book reading by one of the E-Base students. Photo: Monica Szczupider

The passing of time and the success of the program resulted in the conception of an outreach program for students in other parts of the tiger reserve; we went mobile! The E-Base program officially hit the road last year. With our Boleros and Innovas packed to the roof with charts, globes, games and other materials, we take our modified workshops, projects and even a library to more students around Pench. Beginning with a handful of schools in Madhya Pradesh, the program has now crossed borders into Maharashtra and has covered a total of 1350 students over the last three years.

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Students enjoying the library books. Photo: Monica Szczupider

Seeing Change

Being the driving force behind this program has been immensely educative and gratifying. Developing personal bonds with the students has been a wonderful process. A seemingly insignificant question by one of our seventh grade students marked a very momentous step for the program and me. Just like that, he asked me, “Solar panel kaise banate hain? Mujhe mere ghar mein lagane hain.” (How are solar panels made? I want to install them in my home.) Of course, I was stumped by the question, as I certainly do not know how to make a solar panel. However, despite my inability to address his curiosity at that moment, it dawned on me that the program is setting the wheel in motion. If a seventh grader is capable of such thought, the program has got it right! To observe the journey of the growth of the students, which happens so rapidly, is inexplicably fulfilling.

Unique projects such as the E-Base adopt a fresh approach to conservation. Time invested in education and enriching the lives of the youth in their formative years will enable fruition of ambitious conservation goals of the future. Without education, there is little hope for conservation.

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Pench Tiger Reserve in all its beauty. Photo: Pooja Choksi

This article has been republished with the permission of Sanctuary Asia Magazine where it was first published. You may read the article here: http://www.sanctuaryasia.com/magazines/conservation/9878-of-grimmett-guides-and-solar-panels.html

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Author: Pooja Choksi is a wildlife conservationist pursuing her Master of Environmental Management at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She is a 2016 Wildlife Conservation Network Scholar and a 2016 Andrew Sabin Environmental Fellow. Prior to her arrival at Yale, she worked on a community based wildlife conservation model in the Pench Tiger Reserve, India. She strongly believes in the potential education, especially rural libraries hold to enable change for a more sustainable future. At Yale, she focuses on using spatial analysis for wildlife conservation and is particularly interested in species connectivity and creating coexistence landscapes. Pooja continues to work as a freelance writer for environmental and wildlife websites. She holds a bachelors degree in Banking and teaching experience in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, which she fondly calls her second home. She is interested in everything that involves tigers, forests, education and travel that includes tents and no cell phone reception. Follow her @Poojation


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