Kohima: While people across the globe are increasingly raising their voice over environmental protection, two young sisters of Nagaland in Northeast India are taking those concerns a step forward.
Meet 12-year-old Jentina Yaomei Shangkhu and her nine-year-old sister Kirennaro Leesha Shangkhu, who joined the green league about two years ago when they started ‘Environmentally Conscious Children’s Organisation’ (ECCO), an eco-friendly club, to engage children in environment-friendly activities and make their hometown Kohima a greener and better place to live in.
With inspiration from Severn Suzuki, ECCO club was formed by Jentina and Kirennaro in 2018. It currently has a total strength of 15 children who gather once a month to plan and execute their vision of a greener Kohima by picking up litter, planting fruit trees, recycling used products and crafting environmental-friendly decorative items and toys.
The club has also formed an ECCO ‘junior group’ to educate children in the age group of 4-7 years about the need to protect the environment and spreading the need to love and care for the environment.
Speaking with EastMojo, Jentina said: “We are a club of kids, we don’t do big things. We only do small things like participating in cleanliness drives, collecting litter. We also have art and craft days where we up-cycle wastes like papers and boards. Last year, we also planted trees in and around our colony and we also do social works occasionally. We also formed a new club the ECCO Juniors which is for the smaller kids and we teach them about cleanliness and consequences of pollution and how to recycle waste.”
Jentina had also recently started an online petition to the chief minister representing kids of Kohima to show that children have the right to live in clean and green space with spaces to play and enjoy childhood. Talking about how she realised the need to launch the petition, Jentina narrated an incident that took place while she was in Class III, which later moulded her mind. “My friends were climbing a tree back then, but I was scared to climb. So my teacher asked me if I had never climbed one. I nodded and then realised that we do not have big enough trees to hold the weight of humans. It kept me wondering as to how it’ll feel like to climb a tree or sit, and read on it,” she said.
The Class VII student of Little Flower School Kohima added: “My sister and I don’t have space to play in the flat where we live. So we have to go to my grandmother’s house since she had a compound. I have also noticed that other children play cricket and football on the streets.” Unlike other cities, she wondered why Kohima has green spaces, parks and other recreational facilities at the localities.
“It is hard to find space because every year new buildings are being erected and I am worried that Kohima would become a concrete jungle. I know that there are so many other kids like me who don’t have the opportunity of living with nature. That is why I started this petition and it is very important for me and other kids in Kohima,” the 12-year-old said.
Through the petition, which already garnered by nearly 1,900 persons as signatories, she hopes to reach out to the chief minister and to voice out the need for parks and open spaces. She also added how the eco-friendly activities at school have taught her to be aware of the surrounding that she lived in.
“My school principal said that kids have power and I really believe in that because children can make a difference”, she said. With more children seeking participation for the ECCO club, Jentina suggested that many such eco-clubs can be formed with friends. She hoped that the little habits of not throwing litter and loving and caring for the environment, that are now being practiced by children will take to adulthood, thereby creating a better sense of responsibility and awareness among the citizens.
“I wasn’t really sure of it because we were kids and we cannot do much,” said Kirennaro, a Class V student when her sister Jentina proposed the idea of the ECCO club. However, she supported her sister and they later began to invite friends to join.
When asked about her favourite part of being in the club, she said: “I do like to save the environment. I also like upcycling stuffs and teaching the eco juniors. But my favourite part of ECCO is that kids can learn how to be responsible and save the environment and become a responsible adult in the future.”
While a sibling squabbling happens, she said that the joy of working with her sister is that they can “work together and plan on what can be done together while having fun time”. The little girl hopes to one day see a cleaner and greener Kohima where children can go and play in the green parks and families can go for outing and fun. “Well Kohima is a very dirty place but if we put our hands together we can make it a better place,” she optimistically added.
She said that initially the club was not taken seriously, but now “people believe kids can also make a change”. She added how elders did not take the club seriously but after her sister was chosen for pitching ideas at the recently concluded Ashoka Changemaker Day organised by Entrepreneurs Associates (EA), the club received recognition.
Charity begins at home
Sharon Longchari, mother of the two young environmentalists, recalled how the little girls began the environment friendly club two years ago. “Initially I thought they started the club to have fun and did not take it seriously. Eventually, my husband and I noticed that they would often call their friends and even sought permission to use the house for their ECCO club meetings,” she recounted.
Longchari revealed that when her children asked for permission to go around and pick up litters, the parents refused, but later permitted them cautioning them about the roadside safety and advising them to care for the other children. With a little pinch of regret for not fully supporting them in the beginning, Longchari assured that they will try and help the children in all possible ways.
“We always tell our girls to find a passion and do something which excites them to get out of bed each day,” she shared when asked if they have any plans for the girls. Blessed with two daughters, Longchari said that although Nagaland is always considered safe comparing to other parts of India, she felt the need to educate her girls on being alert about their surroundings and how to approach adults if there are any problems that they face.
“It’s sad that we our living in a generation where we have to advice our kids to protect themselves and as a mother, I am always worried but we can only pray that our children are informed and educated about certain things so they are prepared,” she added.
The mother of the girls expressed her delight in seeing her little girls proving themselves worthy. “Girls can do so much. All they need is the support and belief in them so to the parents who have girls lucky you! Girls rock!” she proudly said.
Meanwhile, Ango Konyak, the father of the girls, also told EastMojo about how the girls began executing their ideas. “They were both much younger back then and I thought they would forget about the club after a couple of meetings. They played and used papers, toilet papers, boards and other things during their meetings and it was impressive to see them taking initiatives. But unlike my prediction, they kept it going,” he recalled.
Forty-year-old Konyak, who works in the state’s forest department, said that at a young age, he had also always felt the need to protect the environment. While he thinks that this little trait has encouraged the girls, he credits the learning to school and to YouTube for the girl’s interest.
When asked if he has any fears of raising daughters, he said “I have never had fears for them for being women. Maybe if I had a son I would have thought about it but being surrounded by girls I never thought of it. In Naga society I don’t see much discrimination based on gender but still then there are people who have different thoughts and motives and don’t care about girls. This happens in all societies, even in Western societies, and that is something which we can only pray so as to avoid such husbands.”
“I don’t have anything to say to the women folk but to the men I would like to say that girls are doing much better and it is time to recognise the value and contribution of women. It is high time we acknowledge them and give them the proper platform and opportunity to grow and develop,” he added.