Sister Smitha is the principal of the reputed St Mary’s Convent School located in Kanpur Cantonment. In an interview given to Eco-Friends, Sister underlines that only through environmental awareness can the condition of Kanpur be improved. She also speaks about the involvement of the school children in the eco movement.
Excerpts from the conversation:
You have been in Kanpur for the last eight years. What changes do you find in its environment?
Sister Smitha: Even though there has been technological progress, the pollution has increased manifold. Pollution from the factories, the multiplying vehicular fleet and pollution generated by the residents have made Kanpur repulsive. Eight years back, the city was much cleaner. The air has been fouled immensely and the open heap of garbage pose health hazards to the people.
What about the Ganga?
Sister Smitha: The ghats are so filthy. I have been to Golaghat and witnessed the garbage accumulated there. It is very unfortunate that we are defiling a river which we address as ‘Mother’. People should think about the future of Ganga.
Has there been a change in the attitude of the people in the last few years?
Sister Smitha: Not really. The common attitude of the people is to downplay pollution-related issues. They are not aware of the magnitude of the pollution problem.
Your organization is taking keen interest in reducing the environmental degradation. But it is like a drop in the ocean.
I don’t want to blame the administration for the sorry condition of the city. The people living here are equally at fault.
f you are given the charge of improving the environment of the city, what steps would you take?
Sister Smitha: I will launch a cleanliness drive. It will start from garbage removal, improving the quality of drinking water and checking pollution emitted by industries. Actually, no one is taking responsibility to stop pollution. I would appreciate your organization for initiating anti-pollution campaign. The local people should realize that Kanpur belongs to them and it is for their own interest to keep the environment clean.
How does it feel when you go out of your school campus?
Sister Smitha: Oh! I feel like coming back as soon as possible. Here, we have trees and the surroundings are clean and peaceful. But out there, it is dirty and noisy. When you enter the school, you can make out the change in the air. There is so much difference.
What is the response of your students to environmental activities?
Sister Smitha: Very positive. They have participated in seminars, rallies, workshops and sessions held by Eco-Friends. And the girls are also planning to form eco clubs in the school.
How do you think more children can be mobilized into joining the environmental movement?
Sister Smitha: First of all they have to be made aware about the core realities and the ground problems. Parents have a great role to play in nurturing and shaping the mind of a child. Then the onus lies with the school to work as a mentor to help them understand the importance of keeping the environment clean. Only then will they be able to motivate others to think about environmental pollution. It is good that your organization is preparing many children as Ganga Ambassadors who will spread the message of the river’s pollution and also contribute in safeguarding it.
In what type of environment did you grow up as a child?
Sister Smitha: I spent my childhood near Kottayam. The ambience was green and very pure. The entire landscape used to fill our hearts with joy. But now, trees have been cut, polluting vehicles ply in place of bicycles and population has increased. All this is harming the ecology.
Isn’t all development polluting?
Sister Smitha: No, we should go in for a development that can sustain future generations. I think that there should be progress, no doubt. But at the same time, we should take care of the environment. Because we are getting all our resources from Mother Earth and if we do not give back what we are extracting from her, we would be doomed.
There is a board at your school’s entrance gate which says: Don’t come chewing pan masala in the school premises. What is the idea behind it?
Sister Smitha: Chewing gutka and pan masala is a bad habit and we want to discourage this habit. Today, people possess degrees but they do not know how detrimental is pan masala for their health. It causes a host of deadly diseases including oral cancer.
How would you like to be remembered when you leave this school?
Sister Smitha: (Smiles) No, I don’t want to be remembered. This is my service I am giving to the school, to the children and to the society. Our ultimate aim is to give service. I do not wish to leave any footprints.
What message would you like to give to the people of Kanpur?
Sister Smitha: Love the Earth and take care of her. She is like your mother.