Clean River, Love River – One tiny ripple that caused a wave
During our daily commute, we often see litter and dirt. We think to ourselves how horrible it looks. Why can’t someone do anything about it? Sagar Vasoya, a 24 year old youngster, was also travelling on his daily commute in the city of Surat when he saw the Tapi river full of weeds. He too thought to himself, why can’t someone do anything about it? And then he realized that ‘someone’ could be him. What else do you call community service then!
The year was 2017 and the Tapi river was filled with water hyacinths, a weed which creates filth in the river water, encourages breeding of mosquitoes and damages the machinery of intake wells used for drinking water. For years, the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) had been trying to eliminate the water hyacinths in the Tapi but with limited success. Sagar, then 24, lived just a stone’s throw from the riverbank.
He was an ordinary and unassuming youngster who had experienced a rough start in life. Due to financial issues at home, he had to drop out of school in eighth standard and had to work as a craftsman in a diamond shop. He had managed to complete his 10 and 12 boards through open school. But like most people his age, he had no particular ambition or goal in life. As Sagar said, “I had never even cleaned my house, let alone a river!”Perhaps it was the Landmark workshop he attended or some internal change, it is unsure. But something compelled Sagar to take responsibility for cleaning up the river and he decided it was all or nothing. Cleaning surroundings is also a community service.
Sagar wasted no time in speaking to a few of his friends who agreed to turn up over the weekend. Come the weekend, however, none of his friends turned up. Everyone had some excuse or another. Undeterred, Sagar approached a few fishermen close by with his idea. He explained to them how the removal of the invasive plant will make it easier to fish and navigate the river. One of the them agreed to help out and together they began removing some of the weeds, manually—a laborious and time consuming process. Encouraged by this small start Sagar went back to the river week on week, with a few more friends and acquaintances each time. Inspired by his passion for his project, some friends gave him money and others volunteered their time.
While he may not have had the formal education or background for the work that he had undertaken, Sagar had the determination and focus to make it happen. Any and all information that could help was used—including videos on social media. After some research, Sagar and the group developed a hand-rigged crane, similar to one used for lifting cows. “We developed the same type of manual crane which can lift a net with 250 kg water hyacinth,” he said. But that was just the beginning. Soon, earthmovers and cranes had to be employed. But all of this cost money. The group, led by Sagar, decided to contribute a small sum towards these expenses and through crowdfunding Rs 1 lac was collected.
With every step, Sagar became more and more motivated to carry on with his project. Despite his limited English vocabulary, he convinced a London-based water expert as well as a mechanisation expert to join the effort. The experts suggested mechanised and scientific methods of weed removal which would increase the yield manifold—in tons per week as against a few hundred kilos that Sagar and friends were managing to remove.
It was now time to go to the big leagues. The SMC had been spending close to INR 5 lacs/ 50 tons to remove the weeds. And yet, every monsoon, more weeds would return. Sagar and friends, now a 200 strong group of citizens, approached the mayor with a plan to do it at INR 0.26 lac/150 tons—three times the output at a fraction of the cost! The mayor and SMC would provide machinery and money and the citizens’ team including Sagar would provide manpower.
What began as one man’s obsession, became a joint effort of the community and the government to clean up river Tapi. A small ripple had caused a wave and in a matter of just six months, the mammoth task was completed. A pure play voluntary activity.
If you were to pass by the Tapi river today, you would see the waters largely rid of water hyacinths. Small patches may still be visible here and there, but nowhere close to 2017 levels. Don’t believe it? Have a look at these pictures:
Sagar, now 27, feels that the impact and energy generated by this activity gave his life a purpose and direction. Today he runs his own business of diamond tools and lab grown diamonds. While he no longer contributes to the weed-removal activity, he has moved on to other community initiatives, like education and nutrition of tribal children. We are sure that he will create a large impact in his new initiatives as well.
We at the Giving Circle take hope from Sagar’s story that despite our previous discouraging experiences or harsh circumstances we can still take up new challenges and succeed. It all begins with one small step and the passion to just do something, anything.
By joining one of our Giving Circles, you can be a part of the solution to a problem. Join those who have decided to solve it today!