Every child connects to stories about the environment

By Balabhadra Mahapatra, Bharat Kumbhar, Deshabandhu Chittaranjan Mahanta and Rashmi Prava Patra

We taught the PARI story, ‘Counting sheep as grasslands shrink in Gujarat’ to introduce climate change and its impact on pastoralist communities. This story covers how the depletion of grasslands in Kachchh, Gujarat is forcing pastoralists to walk hundreds of kilometres in search of grazing lands for their sheep. We connected these challenges to the reduced rainfall and depletion of forest and farmlands in Odisha – impacts of the climate crisis that our students and their families are hit with everyday. 

My students were able to relate this story to their everyday lives. They often accompany their grandparents who take their goats for grazing. After reading this story, I encouraged them to speak with members of their family about how taking care of domestic animals has changed over time. 

Rashmi Prava Patra’s student Sangeeta Mahapatra, Class 5, made a poster inspired by this story. Photo by Rashmi Prava Patra

I teach 30 students across classes 3 to 6. They belong to the Bathudi and Dhaba Adivasi communities. Many students’ family members recalled how earlier, the grasslands were close, and they did not have to travel too far. But now, due to less rainfall and reduced green cover, people in the village have to take the goats and buffaloes further away for grazing.

The story allowed students to learn about the environment around them, and observe the decline in rainfall and grasslands first-hand. I asked them to discuss why this might be happening, and they suggested reasons such as the increase in pollution, population and deforestation. After a long conversation on the role they could play, my students decided to plant trees in our village themselves. “If we plant more trees, then the negative changes that are happening will reduce,” one of them told me, “If we don’t, then we will face the same changes that are taking place in Gujarat.” 

Rashmi Prava Patra, 22 from Dhenkikote village, Ghatgaon block, Kendujhar

Most of my students are from the Munda community, listed as a Scheduled Tribe in Odisha. 

I teach 36 students across classes 5 to 7. I taught this environment-based story in their homes and invited their parents and grandparents to participate in our class. They shared with us how they used cycles a few years ago and had switched to motor vehicles. As a result, forests are being destroyed to make room for more roads. Some parents also shared how they prayed to trees and spoke about how the traditional Munda dances that are associated with the forest. 

While teaching these stories, the elders and guardians shared anecdotes from their own life. This immediately brings the stories alive for students. As teachers, we can educate our students about climate change in different ways. 

I introduced this story by asking students to tell me why even winters are hot in our village and how it is not raining when it should. After understanding the situation in Gujarat, my students related it to how people used to keep cows and buffaloes in our villages earlier, but now they keep tractors to support farming instead. And so, they are unable to use cow dung as organic manure in agriculture, which worsens the impact of climate change.

Parents added how earlier, there was no path to walk, and we were afraid of going out because we live in and around the forest. Since humans have been clearing forests, there are paths to walk but this has added to climate change.

During one discussion, an older woman shared that when she was young and there was no path to go to school, animals such as tigers and bears commonly frequented the village. But she hasn’t seen these creatures around anymore. She added that the weather now is at extremes, “In summer, it is too hot, and during the monsoons, it is too wet; More than usual.” 

I usually explain the story in Munda and then in Odia. With most stories, I need to break it down in simpler words for my students to understand. Many students have bought android phones and learned how to do an internet search, but there are serious network issues in our block and we can only rarely watch videos in class. 

These environmental stories are nice to read and view (as they have photos and videos). This is important when teaching communities that are closely dependent on the forest and soil. 

Bharat Kumbhar, 23 from Sarashposh, Koira block, Sundargarh

After reading this story, my students observed that they don’t see birds such as eagles and sparrows that they used to see when growing up. They connected this to how forests and the farmlands near our village are being destroyed because of new constructions of houses. 

I teach 37 students across classes 3 to 7 in Pipilia Upper Primary School. Most of my students are from the Munda community. 

Balabhadra Mahapatra, 22 from Pipilia village, Ghatgaon block, Kendujhar

I began teaching this story with a question: What animals do you take care of at home? 

Balabhadra Mahapatra’s student Mohit Kumar Mahapatra (left), Class 5 and Deshabandu Mahanta’s students, Raja Munda, Class 6 and Soraj Munda (right), Class 5, created posters inspired by this story. Photo by Balabhadra Mahapatra (left) and Deshabandu Mahanta (right)

I teach 55 students, primarily from farming families. They usually have to take animals to graze and were curious to know why the brothers in this story had to walk such long distances to find grasslands. It was the first time we were learning about pastoralist communities who travel for months because of their culture and livelihood.

Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Mahanta, 25 from Parsurampur, Ghatgaon block, Kendujhar

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, Eesha Acharya, Siddhita Sonavane and Rohan Chopra for their enthusiasm and support in putting together this blog. 

About the teacher

Rashmi Prava Patra, Bharat Kumbhar, Balabhadra Mahapatra, and Deshabandhu Chittaranjan Mahanta discussed the story ‘Counting sheep as grasslands shrink in Gujarat’ with their students from classes 2 to 9.

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