By Nibedita Saha
Visiting Chitkul, India’s last village on the old Hindustan-Tibet trade route in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh to explore its picturesque landscapes and breathtaking ambience, doesn’t probably pop up in one’s list of travel recommedations. But that is exactly what Mahesh Negi, an environmentalist, who visits schools in Chitkul and Rakcham to teach student on ‘nature conservation’ and lessons on environment at large, does every weekend.
Mahesh uses the practical ways to engage with students, teach them to understand the environment and develop a critical thinking about nature conservation.
“I have 41 students under my wing from three different schools in Kinnaur district. It has been a thrilling journey with students where I teach them and learn many things in the process,” said Mahesh Negi, who is an Earth Education fellow, run by the non-profit Youth Conservation Action Network (YouCan).
There are 20 educators under the YouCan fellowship; they are working in remote areas across India to develop learning experiences for children, exploring the natural world around us and build structures to bring positive environmental change in the society.
The fellowship was granted by the National Geographic society with the vision to bring together volunteers who are passionate about the environment and nature conservations, as young Earth Educators who can facilitates activity-based lessons for children to make an impact.
Speaking with Mahesh Negi, who is a climate activist from Kinnaur, this 11-month fellowship has bridged the financial gaps for him to continue his passion for nature conservation in his home district. He says,
“This fellowship has given me an opportunity to understand various ways to reform education system smartly with practical assignments alongside theoretical knowledge. It has also helped me to fix financial and economical issues for my passion project of opening a learning centre in my home district for Kinnaur,”
Mahesh invests his whole week in travelling the remotest part of Himalayas to conduct classes on nature conservation with school children in Chitkul, Rakcham and Recongpeo. Sharing his experience with students he thinks that today’s generation is far more intelligent and smart. As he narrated his journey, he says, “The very first day at the ground work was an eye opening for me as I asked students to draw anything from their mind and the result was surprising.”
“Most of the student at first came up with drawing of trains, factories releasing black smoke, parrot, save earth and etc which is mostly based on their bookish knowledge or what they have seen in TV,”
As Mahesh calls his lessons “nature class”, he took the opportunity to first understand the observation pattern of students to build his teaching methods for the fellowship programme.
“With students it was very important to break the ice as a teacher so that children can feel more comfortable in sharing their ideas and thoughts. So, I tried second time taking them out of the class and make them see the surroundings to conduct a second round of drawings with them. And this time they came up with rivers, mountains, Indian flag placed on poll, bridges, a teacher sitting on a chair,”
He conducts lessons to put together practical understanding and also to push the curiosity amongst students through nature walks and explorations. Coming from a tribal community of Himalayas, the journey to become a fellow of Earth Education wasn’t that easy for Mahesh since he has faced limitations with resources, funds and facilities.
But his passion for building community awareness programmes on environment and nature conservation never took a back seat. Mahesh went through a seven-day training in Tamil Nadu, Chennai after winning the 2022 Earth Education fellowship believing that it would get him required exposure to the people and also help him to enhance his skills to put consistent efforts towards his goal.
Mahesh’s vision is to build a learning centre in Kinnaur district to provide platform for the indigenous people to explore various aspects of life skills, enhance education. He aims to bring in people or volunteer from different academic discipline to share the knowledge with people of Kinnaur and promote sustainable tourism and sustainable development.
“The learning centre would promote agro tourism as my ancestral property is an agriculture land. The vision is not to build more concrete towers rather I want to develop an eco-system through which I can preserve our indigenous culture, customs and way of our living and people can use my platform to understand Kinnaur,”
Fellows like Mahesh has been benefited by the YouCan fellowship programme as it has provided them resources and networking to execute their ideas for nature conservation while working on the fellowship project.
“The fellowship was a big exposure window for me. It connected me with people who have same vision like me. The fellowship was a complete new thing for people of Kinnaur and it exposed us the world full new ideas of how smartly we can do nature conservation. I am hopeful that the change will come our way with constant efforts. This fellowship gave a different way to connect and think to me and to the people of Kinnaur,”