The Kodai International School had been planning for this trip for a while and finally they arrived on the night of 29th September, bringing the monsoon showers along. Waking up to a rain drenched Kotagiri on 30th morning, the students assembled at the Keystone auditorium where they were given a sneak peek into the genesis of Keystone as an organization, and the inspiration behind the foundation, by one of founder directors, Pratim Roy. A short movie on the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve titled ‘Fragile Treasure’ set the context as they delved into the rest of the morning through fun activities (animal calls, treasure hunt) that oriented them to the fauna of the Nilgiris, and sited the work of Keystone and its allied organizations (LFE, APPCL, NNHS) in the landscape.
Post lunch, the students were split into groups whereby, some were taken on a campus tour which gave them a more detailed understanding of all the focal areas of work within the organizations, while another group was taken on an experiential interaction visit to Banagudi to meet the Kurumbas – visit their sacred sites, hear their stories of life, their beliefs and their art forms. The visit also took them through old growth shola forests introducing them to its associated flora and fauna.
The morning of day 2 saw a repeat of the previous evening as the groups swapped to complete the campus and Banagudi tours respectively. Post lunch was a complete field based hands-on session, as the students were divided into smaller groups as they followed different resource persons to understand the different areas of work undertaken by Keystone. While some engaged in wildlife monitoring, others took to wetland and stream restoration/ deweeding at different field locations. On campus activities ranged from nursery management and planting to creating radio programs for Radio Kotagiri. While the rains played spoilsport, the students maintained their enthusiasm coming away with valuable lessons on what it takes to do field work even under inclement weather.
A short presentation from each team allowed for exchange of learnings and experiences before they wound up for dinner, as their Nilgiri exposure trip came to a close.