On World Environment Day, let me begin with a personal anecdote:
The first time I saw the street wall paintings on Adyar Bridge I was pleasantly surprised and excited. For here was something that made so much sense. It added color, and vibrancy, but most importantly a message for those who passed by. With paintings of animals and short snippets about their characteristics, the bridge itself is a learning exhibition. And with the backdrop of the river, stresses more than ever the vitality of keeping our ecology and environment safe.
These paintings were undertaken by EFI. I have to admit here, that it took me a couple of rides across the Adyar Bride and viewing more such wall paintings in other areas of Chennai, to finally register that there was something about this organization. A quick Google search and there it was –Environmentalist Foundation of India or EFI, founded in 2011 is a wildlife conservation and habitat restoration group that calls upon volunteers for India and her Environment. Headed by Arun Krishnamurthy EFI ‘focuses on the scientific revival of freshwater bodies through community-based collaborative efforts.
What stands out is that EFI stresses collaborative efforts. The organization has some unique programs, such as Schoolwale, ForesTree, Cyclakes, Wall-E, Lake Safaris, screening of Environmental Film Association documentaries, etc. The projects are smart ways to engage people. To spread awareness, and tap the potential of students and youngsters who are future change-makers. However, at the center of it all, lies getting the community together. To clean, restore, revive and truly care for its surrounding lakes and waterbodies. What started as a cleanup in Hyderabad with 5-6 student volunteers, today has grown to work in 19 states in the country. In the last 15 years, the organization has been able to revive and restore over 179 water bodies across the nation engaging nearly 82,000 like-minded volunteers.
Arun the founder of EFI quit his job at Google to dedicate himself to the cause that was closest to his heart. He has several accolades and awards under his belt. From being awarded the Rolex Award for Lake Restoration in Chennai to being named as one of the Environmental Heroes by CNN in 2021, Arun continues to steer EFI along with the support of his team and fellow volunteers.
In conversation with Arun, who talks about EFI and all things environment!
Q: What are some ways in which you encourage people to volunteer? Who all can volunteer and how?
E.F.I conducts a variety of activities ranging from cleanups, plantations, wall-painting to street plays and lake tours to engage and interact with our volunteers. Culture and art play a major role in connecting with the larger audience in India. The same is incorporated in our activities that help us in motivating our volunteers. The organization today has become a platform for like-minded and passionate individuals to come together to make a change. Anyone can volunteer for India’s environment with E.F.I! Just join us in our next activity at a water body near you!
(If you would like to volunteer click here.)
Q: How did the idea of EFI originate and what motivated you to start this not-for-profit trust?
A: I grew up in suburban Chennai in a lush environment with a lot of water bodies in and around my neighborhood. Mudichur was the influence to lead me to do what I am doing now. In 1993, when my family moved there, we would see snakes and wild dogs. There was a lake and pond and when it rained, the water would flow through our street. Right next to my house was a tiny little pond that was fast deteriorating and needed immediate help. I had approached the Village Panchayat, who was truly supportive and understanding. In a few months, the pond was back to its natural form. That sparked in me the realization. That people are ready for a change, but they just don’t know where or how to begin.
Q: How easy or difficult was it setting up the organization? What were some of the challenges and how did you overcome them?
A: No one man or one organization can resolve the current environmental crisis. It has to be a collaborative, result-oriented effort amidst stakeholders panning across the administration, the industry, and the civic society. Achieving this collaboration is easier said than done. A dynamic setup such as India requires a tad bit more effort in coagulating such a striking force. This has been an interesting yet achievable challenge for us at E.F.I.
Q: Reviving lakes or even painting street walls takes a collective effort and requires coordination with government bodies. Can you walk us through your basic approach and plan while trying to do so.
A: The government executes several projects to protect and conserve lakes/ponds and other water bodies. Including initiatives such as Kudimaramathu launched by the CM. Civic society organizations such as EFI seek administrative support in adopting a few water bodies & public spaces and work on them voluntarily.
Q: EFI tries to involve students in its various activities. Any particular reason for targeting this age group?
A: School students are some of the most committed and active nation builders. Through initiatives such as Science Badge orientation and Schoolwaale, E.F.I identifies young talent from schools across India & grooms them.
Q: What are some of the main reasons according to you that lead to high environmental degradation? What are some of your asks from people and the government in bettering the environment?
A: In the recent past, talks about environmental issues have been gaining momentum. But it is not at a level where it needs to be. We need to start talking about our lakes and ponds more, we need to ensure our waste does not reach our neighborhood lake. We should definitely participate in volunteering efforts in our neighborhood lakes and ponds to maintain them. This is definitely under the supervision of people with the know-how.
Q: Lastly, what are the future plans for EFI?
A: Local solutions to global problems are the key to a greener tomorrow. All of humanity is one, and the indigenous cultures of the land are what make us unique. A combination of knowledge from the past, experiences from the present, and thought about the future would help us take on thepresent-dayy environmental challenges. Community participation is critical to a sustainable future. The planet needs no saving, it’s the human race that needs to wake up to the real-time threat of climate change and volunteer towards combating the same. Overcoming the consumeristic attitude is vital to ensure the survival of the human in every being.
For more on EFI, check out their website here.
It’s World Environment Day and the theme of Only One Earth can’t be more apt in our times today. As needs, conversations, and actions of protecting and restoring our planet are gaining momentum, there is a definitive change in the mindset of people. However, change no matter how big or small, requires a step forward. Where some do their bit for the environment in their own little ways, there are others like Arun who dare to leap.