NATURE EDUCATION AT BANGLAPADIGAI
May 18th & 19th 2016
Banglapadigai is an Irula settlement of approximately 27 households. About an hour’s drive from Kotagiri, it lies in the Aracode area which forms south-eastern slopes of the Nilgiris. The forest types on these slopes range from Moist deciduous to Scrub Jungle as the slopes meet the Bhavani reservoir at the foothills.
Aracode region has seen massive tracts of forest cleared up for establishing Coffee and Tea plantations in the colonial times. Only a few of these are fully functional today while the others are wild and deserted. As the thin line that separates forest land and revenue land blurs evermore the man-animal interactions in this region have risen.
Awareness is vital to understand such complex man-animal interactions. However, the conventional school education imparted to the current crop of children of this area, does not necessarily deepen their understanding of their environment, sometimes even distances them from it.
The lifestyle of the Irula community has certainly changed and so have their interactions with nature. Facilitating dialogue between the older generation and the children of any given community has to be given utmost importance to bring about the transfer of traditions, folklore and knowledge. This will deepen their understanding of their heritage and their environment.
The two day summer camp at Banglapadigai created an avenue/medium/platform where such interactions within the community would be encouraged. Moreover, the other activities for the children centred around their immediate environment.
18th May 2016
The first day’s activity began at the Community centre in the village, where about 25 children participated.
The aim of this activity was to help children understand the surroundings that they lived in, through art. Each participant was given a sheet of paper and some crayons. The process of visualising their homes, and its surroundings prompted them to realise that the trees, plants and other animals are crucial inhabitants of the environment.
Prey & Predator
In this game, the children played the roles of different animals to understand feeding stress, and the food chain within the ecosystem. The children were divided into two groups, ‘Frogs’ & ‘Snakes’. Some stones and stone fruit were kept in the middle of the ground which were ‘Food’ for the frogs. The aim of the Frogs was to hop to the feeding ground and make it back to safety, while avoiding the snakes. The Snakes were allowed to run, to capture the feeding frogs. This game put into practice the food chain and food webs that they learnt at school.
19th May 2016
The second day’s activities constituted the Village Elder Programme at Banglapadigai. Balraj the headman of Saamaiguda along with Shivanan and Rangasamy from the same hamlet took time to indulge in storytelling, knowledge sharing and singing for a group of 20 kids. The elders were well over their 50’s and they were specialists in their area of interest.
The stories took everyone back in time and beckoned us to use our imagination a little more. They were told in local tongue(Irula). There were tales about great kings and their adventures in which they forged friendships with the great beasts of the jungle. They let the kids in on some of their folk songs. One of the elders’ had a dangerous encounter with an Elephant in the past. He barely managed to escape from it with his life, yet he lives to tell the tale. They also talked about the ceremonies, practices associated with their marriage and some of the reasons behind them. One of them was a medicine man too.
They talked about a past where seeing an Elephant was not so common and not so dangerous. They talked about the changes in people’s perception of forests and their interactions with it over time. Shivraj, an employee of Keystone Foundation and an Irula from Banglapadigai himself along with the elders managed to handle this interaction with poise and diligence.
The Children listened to them rapt in attention…for most parts. They fired away questions at their elders and they were egging to carry on their way of life. What will remain with them what will not, only time can tell!