It's 'Aboat Time' we save our lake: Here's the mission 15-year old Renee George has embarked on in Bengaluru

Renee's project is a part of the Future Leaders Program by the 1M1B Foundation that mobilises youngsters to work in the fields of climate change, environment, education and health
Renee George at Lake Doddanekundi in Bengaluru | Pic: Sourced
Renee George at Lake Doddanekundi in Bengaluru | Pic: Sourced

Adolescents taking up the mantle to save the environment and holding older generations accountable for the devastation already caused has been a trend ever since young leaders like Greta Thunberg garnered attention on the world stage. Today, there are several school-goers in India who have instilled in themselves a zeal to bring about change that matters to their community. Take Renee George for that matter. A Class X student of National Public School in Koramangala, Bengaluru, she has been advocating for awareness regarding a pertinent environmental issue in her neighbourhood.

Renee lives next to Doddanekundi lake and has watched it dry up slowly, lose its vegetation and eventually, reach the lifeless stage it is at today. She believes that allowing a lake to perish right in front of one's eyes makes one equally responsible for its demise and so, she thought it is about time someone takes action. This then led her to form Aboat Time, an initiative that is much more than the play on the phrase ‘about time’.

When asked about the very beginning of Project Aboat Time, Renee says, "Identifying the problem was the first real big step for me. Something that Manav sir (Manav Subodh, Co-Founder of 1M1B Foundation) advised me to do at the very beginning was to fall in love with the problem and not the solution. So, when I first pinpointed the exact target audience and the problem statement from there, I could build on the solution very easily."

Any environmental concern brings with it the involvement or dis-involvement of the people living close by. Renee goes on to explain her community's role in reviving lake Doddanekundi. "In a project like this, especially with lakes, it is very knowledge-intensive. One of the initial setbacks that I was facing was that I had no prior knowledge about the subject. But once I began, there were many adults who pitched in and explained to me what exactly was happening to the Doddanekundi lake. The community that I live with has been a part of what I have experienced and therefore, they were willing to join the cause with me," she said.

Renee explains the present ethos of the lake and how COVID inadvertently gave it a second chance at reviving itself. She says, "The lake goes through a cycle of its own each year. At this point in the year, it has started to dry up. One thing I have noticed this year is that there is less litter beneath the water as compared to previous years, perhaps due to the COVID-induced break in everyday activities, with the lake being closed to the public for a while."

At just 15 years of age, Renee certainly had help on her side when she needed to understand the problem deeply. She acknowledges this and explains, "To get an expert opinion, my mentors from 1M1B advised me to reach out to people with dedicated knowledge in this area. One of them was an IT professional who has experience in lake rejuvenation. I had reached out to Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) as well. They have experience in studying lake nutrient content and water quality. What I learnt from them is that immediate solutions are not always the most sustainable ones. For instance, my initial plan was to set up a sewage treatment plant. But it was explained to me that it is not always effective in terms of sustainability besides not being feasible in terms of cost. I was then apprised of floating treatment wetlands which consist of small islands that contain certain plants which can absorb toxins from the water. It is the method I have identified to implement at Doddanekundi."

When asked about the status quo of her project, Renee explains that a detailed project report has been submitted to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike. The prospective plan is to conduct a few experiments on a part of the lake that is cordoned off and the solution which is found to suit the water in the best way would be carried out on the entirety of the lake.

Renee also feels that change need not begin in a grand way to create an impact on the environment. "The biggest change that people can bring about, and which is also fairly easy, is to just to be aware of the changes that occur in their locality. Another facet is social media activism. I have been active on Instagram and Twitter from the beginning and tried to collaborate with like-minded people to spread the news of the issue and its relevance today," she says.

Manav Subodh, Co-Founder of 1M1B Foundation, has guided Renee during her project from the very first day and is a continuous source of inspiration as well as an ardent admirer of her work. "1M1B aims to mobilise 100k youth leaders every year in the realm of climate. The leadership shown by Renee is just an example of what can be achieved if youth are activated on agendas that matter to the planet. More human-centred leaders who value people and the planet over business and profits are what the world needs today and if done this way, inclusive development is indeed possible.”

Project Aboat Time, which started in March of 2021, has seen Renee raise over one lakh rupees towards the cause. She has also been selected to showcase her work at the 1M1B summit at United Nations in New York later this year. In the next two years, Renee hopes to be able to see water back in Doddanekundi Lake and have it set up as a model lake for others to turn to for inspiration. In this way, she hopes to set off a chain reaction until every lake in Bengaluru, there are over 200 of them, has clean and safe water. Renee, whose favourite subjects at school are Biology, Geography and Economics, wishes to engage herself in more lake conservation projects across the country in the future.

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