Published: 06th December 2021
Here's how this Kolkata virtual museum won the Climate Action Grant and how they intend to spread their message
The Living Waters Museum, a virtual museum exploring India's diverse water heritage through storytelling and digital media, has just bagged the Climate Action Grant from the US Consulate, Kolkata
Climate change has gradually become an integral part of every discussion — from policymaking to education — over the past decade. We have seen young environmental activists voicing their opinions on the biggest stages of the world. But are all children really tuned in to what's going wrong with the planet's climate? What is the best way to reach out with the message?
What connects and engages us more than music and art! The Living Waters Museum, a virtual museum exploring India's diverse water heritage through storytelling and digital media, has just bagged the Climate Action Grant from the US Consulate, Kolkata. The grant is worth $10,000 and the project — Engaging Youth on Climate Action: Combatting Ecological Challenges Beyond Borders — will be spread across a year. The project will be a trans-border initiative and will involve school students from Kolkata and the Sundarbans in West Bengal and Dhaka in Bangladesh, said young architect, musician and disaster management expert Sukrit Sen. Sukrit is the Arts and Outreach Coordinator with the Living Waters Museum and will coordinate the project. Sukrit plans to use local art forms and music to spread awareness about climate action and how mangroves are an integral part of environmental restoration. But it doesn't stop there — they want to take a step towards implementation as well.
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The project will focus on the Sundarbans areas of West Bengal and work very closely with the local communities. "I have been visiting the delta region since after Cyclone Amphan hit and one thing that came out very evidently is that the locals have started getting back to their traditional methods of sustainable living. These are cyclic processes — there were traditional methods that were followed earlier, then the government came in with modern science," said Sukrit. "Now, the community has realised that those are not the best ways — they might be good but not sustainable. Once they realised that, the only answer that they found was growing back the mangroves. They have themselves come up with a seed bank that will help bring back the mangrove cover. The government's initiatives were not the best way because they used to come and spread the seeds out which would eventually be washed away by the tide," he added.
But it is also extremely important to spread awareness about climate change and what effects it can have on the planet and our surroundings and the project will aim to make the younger generation their target. "We will be focusing on youth voices. Till now, the work for the seed bank or planting the saplings is being done by the women. This project aims at involving the school children now. We will be going to eight schools in the Sandeshkhali region of the Sundarbans delta to hold workshops. The first step would be to know what the students understand about the issue. If we just start telling them that we need to plant mangroves, it will be a top-down approach. We don't want to do that," said Sukrit. "I have spoken to the kids and it seems like they have an idea about the entire thing. They have grown up seeing mangroves around them. But they do not have a clear idea about the future or why we need to plant mangroves with the future in mind. What we will try to do is understand the entire process — right from the collection of the fruit to the saplings being planted — from the students' perspective," said the young architect.
The plan is to connect with local singers and artists to develop the awareness material — from folk songs to local scroll paintings. Sourav Moni a folk singer from the area, has been working on these projects at the grassroots level and will be working on this project as well. "We are trying to use local artforms to create awareness material. We have assigned a team in the area to talk to these students and conduct workshops. We kick-started in November and will be holding a hoard of events including eye check-up camps, health camps, cancer awareness camps, which will also work as ice-breaking sessions," said Sukrit and added that while creating awareness and conducting workshops is the first phase of the project, the second phase is going to be in Kolkata.
But in a local environment where everyone wants to go global from anywhere in the world, why would kids from the Sundarbans enjoy something that they see every day? They might connect to it but folk songs or scroll paintings won't have them awestruck or even look cool to them. "The moment we go to a global platform, it becomes cool. Amit Trivedi took Baul songs to the rest of India in a cooler format. It's all about making it cool. And I am not a believer in preserving music the way it is. It's a creative form for a reason and the artist has the independence to evolve his music. I might play a folk song with drums," added the musician.
The Kolkata chapter will involve students from the city and its suburbs and students from Dhaka. Sukrit said that the plan is to have roundtable discussions on the problems and solutions of climate change and the action needed. "We just had our first discussion and even in that, the consensus was that mangroves do hold an important position and we have to look at its economic sustainability. If we tell the communities there to plant mangroves, why will they sacrifice their job to do this the entire time? There has to be an incentive for the opportunity cost," he added.
Eventually, they also plan to talk about how each student can try to reduce their own carbon footprint. "One major part of my grant application was that we do well at the awareness level but the lack when it comes to implementation. That is why the third phase of the project is going to peer learning — the students from the Sundarbans and the students from urban settings like Kolkata come up with ideas and discuss them. We will take the kids from urban schools to the Sundarbans and the students there will conduct workshops on what's being done there and then everyone will engage in the process itself. So, the third phase is the plantation of mangroves," said Sukrit.