Climate crisis: buffaloes, elephants and people

By Anshuman Behera, Balabhadra Mahapatra, Dinabandhu Patra, Likita Behera, Rashmi Kandulna and Seema Munda

A PARI story on human animal conflict – Buffaloed by the climate in Kolhapur – was used to teach students from Class 2 to 9 in many villages across Odisha’s Kendujhar and Sundargarh districts. The story resonated as many of them live near forests and must coexist with animals who live there. Since we have been teaching at common spaces in their villages, parents also engaged in our classes.

Dinabandhu Patra, 24, Golabandha village, Ghatgaon block, Kendujhar: I teach 60 students, a majority of who are first-generation learners from Munda Adivasi and Dalit communities. Their native tongue is Munda but they study in Odia. The Odia in this story was easy to read but students had never heard some words like ‘fertilisers’ and ‘mining’. These words do not exist in Munda, they do in Odia.

Before teaching this story in class, I wrote down the meanings of these words and also made drawings, showed them the photos and the video in the PARI story about buffaloes entering villages and destroying crops.

Dinabandhu’s student, Mohit Dalei, 11, holding the chart he made after reading this PARI story. Photo by Dinabandhu Patra

Students spoke about changes they had observed and gave many personal examples of how due to deforestation, elephants enter their villages and destroy the standing crop. They spoke about how yield has reduced for rice, wheat, dal, arhar, kolat and matar. Students discussed how the dahuk (white-breasted waterhen) used to help farmers and eat what was remaining from the harvest. But now they are seen less frequently. They also said crows used to feed on the carcass of dead animals, but their numbers are also going down.

I noticed that students started to clean up waste plastic from around them and planted trees like sal, guava, jackfruit, pineapple, and bargach (its fruits are small and eaten by birds).

Their parents work as farmers, agricultural labourers and other daily wage workers and they have observed the climate changing around them so seeing the students do something about it made them happy.

These stories are very relatable to students and should be included in the textbook to raise awareness about climate change.

Rashmi Kandulna, 28, Patamunda village, Koira block, Sundargarh:I am a Munda Adivasi and have been teaching since 2017. I work in two villages and teach 13 students, from classes 5 to 8. The parents of these children work in the nearby Adhunik mines but since the mines are closed right now, they have been doing agricultural work.

I read this story out loud to the students and then asked them what work their parents did earlier and to find out how their village had changed and why this had happened. The children asked their parents who told them that there used to be many buffalos, sheep and forest earlier, but it has all reduced because of mining in the area. The common grounds where they could take their animals to graze disappeared so they couldn’t feed their animals anymore.

Anshuman Behera, 25, Gadadharapur village, Ghatgaon block, Kendujhar: The experience of teaching this story taught me many new things about climate change; I also learnt a lot from my students.

My students related this story to an incident that took place near our area. There are elephants within 1 to 2 kilometres of our town. They once ate up all harvest and students asked if this also happens due to climate change.

I teach around 60 children from these 3 villages, from Class 3 to 5. When I first told them the stories were about climate change, they were intrigued and still bring this topic up in class. During our class on this story, they even followed the link which was provided with the short article because they wanted to get to know more about the topic. Their curiosity motivates me.

I think we need more stories like this for the children. It is change now that will lead to a better climate in the future. It is important for both parents as well as children to be aware of these things.

Anshuman’s students, Dibyaranjan Naik, 12, and Swetamayi Mahakud, 10, made a poster inspired by the gaur buffalo story in Kolhapur. Photo by Anshuman Behera

Balabhadra Mahapatra, 24, Pipilia village, Ghatgaon block, Kendujhar:I teach 37 students from ages 6 to 11 years in Pipilia, Kaliabeda and Badasahi. Most of my students are from Mahapatra, Mahanta, and Prusty communities and Nayak and Munda Adivasi tribes and their parents farm and are daily wage workers.

My students took away a lot from these classes, and keep coming back to talk about it. When there was a forest fire close to their homes, they came and told me about how they are very upset with the impact it would have, especially on the local species of animals. They got the community together to put out the fire.

While discussing this story, students also told me about how a hunter had harmed a bear who was stuck inside their village because it couldn’t move. With the help of one of their fathers, they got the bear closer home and helped treat its wound. The students were surprised to find that even after the bear recovered, it did not harm them or anyone in the village. The bear returned to the forest after it recovered. That’s how my students realised that if you help the animals, they will not harm you.

While introducing this story, I spoke about animals that are found near the village. I explained to them how their population is reducing by giving examples of local species such as barasingha [Cervus duvauceli] and how they are spotted less in the area.

When I spoke to their parents they told me that they are very happy that their children are learning about climate change and how it is important that they are aware about how the environment around them is changing. They believe that this will ensure that their children are more conscious about the environment and sustainable practices when they grow up.

More such stories like this should be shared with children at this age.

Seema Munda, 26, Fakirmunda village, Koira block, Sundargarh: I am Munda Adivasi, and have been teaching for the last three years. I teach 51 students in classes 5 to 8 from one village, but different hamlets, quite far from each other. Some students are unable to reach in time, especially those who do not own a cycle.

My students’ parents mostly work in agriculture or do loading and unloading daily-wage work at the railway station nearby. Many parents told us that when they used to go to the forest, they used to get some very important things, but now they have to go to far inside to get anything of value. The forest is an important source of means of livelihood and food for many here — they sell wood and non-timber forest produce that they find here.

In teaching, our aim is for students and their parents to be aware. If students understand, then they will tell their parents, who will then talk to others and spread the information.

Seema’s students, Rahul Munda and Raimuni Surin of Class 9, Saraswati Sing of Class 7 and Basanti Bage of Class 6, made posters after reading this PARI story. Photo by Seema Munda

Likita Behera, 23, Tara village, Ghatgaon block, Kendujhar: I teach in Manata village in Tara panchayat, 2-3 kilometres from my home. There is a dedicated community centre in the village and I use that space to teach 57 students between the ages of 6 and 12. They are from Munda and Nayak Adivasi tribes and Doloi, Sethi and Patra communities who live in different hamlets: Manata A, Manata B and Sanajamucasi. Most of the students’ parents are daily-wage workers and one or two of them run small shops in the village.

Textbooks only have data about all this which the students find very boring, but PARI stories helped them get engaged with the issue and relate to what is happening around them. So my students learnt a lot from the classes I took on climate change. They could connect with what is happening around them. As a teacher, I feel empowered teaching through these stories as it makes me feel we can create a positive change if we actively try, and this comes from teaching the next generation about it from a very young age so they can also be conscious about it as they grow older. Students shared information about climate change with their grandparents who in turn shared how the environment has changed since they were young. The children really enjoyed these discussions with their family members. They were able to understand how it has impacted their family personally as well, since they had to move away from agriculture to other jobs because of issues such as unseasonal rain. PARI stories led to them understanding their family’s livelihood better.

One of my students shared during one such class that a few elephants came into her father’s farm one night, and she saw the community members drive the herd away using fire torches. She understood how scared the elephants must have felt and expressed that she wanted to talk to the community members and ask them to stop doing it. They learn why it is important to be empathetic towards the animals, and work for their safety. They also made charts and posters about the story and what they learnt and presented it to the community.

They used to spot many sparrows when they were younger, but are finding it more and more difficult to spot them. The children understood the concept of species extinction through this.

This initiative by non-governmental organisation ASPIRE and Tata Steel Foundation is to bring stories of climate change’s impact on rural India into the classroom. 

The PARI Education team would like to thank student interns, Rohan Chopra, Sanviti Iyer and Shail Hundekar for their support in putting together this blog.

About the teacher

Dinabandhu Patra, Rashmi Kandulna, Anshuman Behera, Balabhadra Mahapatra, Seema Munda and Likita Behera taught the PARI story, 'Buffaloed by the climate in Kolhapur' with their students in classes 2 to 9.

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