Monday, January 23, 2017

Being Pro-Planet: “Taking Personal Responsibility”

Tshering, third from left.
Tshering Uden Bhutia, is a community leader from West Sikkim. A former mountaineer, Uden now works through the community organization Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee to promote eco-tourism in Sikkim, particularly in the trails leading up to Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world and sacred to the both countries it straddles (Nepal and Sikkim in India). She and her organization helps build resilience and create sustainable livelihoods in the Himalayan state through a wide variety of activities. Uden has represented her state and organization in many fora but the APAN forum was her first international venture.  Here is an interview with her by Raakhee Suryaprakash.

Ms. Tshering Uden Bhutia was one of two South Asian community leaders invited to the 5th Asia Pacific Climate Change Adaptation (APAN) Forum in Colombo for the parallel session “Enhancing Gender Responsive Adaptive Capacity in Communities” on the last day of the three-day event. It was held from October 17 to 19, 2016, in Sri Lanka. Underrepresentation of South Asian women in the seven plenary and thirty-five parallel sessions of APAN 2016 was an issue. The presence of community leaders like Uden in the parallel session lessened the regional gender gap. The session was renamed “Enhancing Women Responsive Adaptive Capacity in Communities” and all except one panellist were women.

Uden a former mountaineer has been involved with sustainable livelihood projects and waste management for over twenty years. Her love of the mountains translated into community leadership. She hails from the Himalayan state of Sikkim, in a district at the base of the sacred and majestic Kanchenjunga. And leads the Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee (KCC) which “comprises of community representatives, community based organization and other key stakeholders highly committed toward nature conservation.”

The social entrepreneur from Yuksam in West Sikkim had insightful and anecdotal information to share on how the populace can be pro-planet. But her main contention was that each and every one of us must take personal responsibility and commit to inculcating eco-friendly habits in ourselves and others. As she mentioned, it’s easy to preach and teach but hard to do, but the best lessons are the ones taught by good actions not big words. And each individual’s actions build up and will counter the gigantic ecological footprint and resources used, abused and wasted by mankind. The habit of being pro-planet needs to be adopted and scaled-up now; for we are dangerously close to the tipping point of irreversible climate change and environmental damage.

In her childhood Uden’s family tearoom served varieties of dishes using Maggi 2-minute Noodles. And over her lifetime she witnessed the noodle wrappers take over her home. While climbing the peaks as well the debris consisted of food wrappers. Instant noodles and other instant foods cooked with just hot water are a great convenience for mountaineers and for people cooking in the open.  It is used everywhere and is the fast food of choice as it is both easy to carry and easy to cook. Yet the plastic wrappers forms a non-biodegradable wake behind tourists, trekkers, and mountaineers for only a fraction committed to “leaving behind only footprints.”

Since 1997, as a personal contribution to reducing waste she decided to avoid Maggi products and the like.  She made her own instant noodles and carried it in reusable containers that she brought back, without littering in her wake. She opted for fruits and nuts to processed foods and though it was hard and sometimes expensive – and literally extra baggage, she developed and fully committed to the pro-planet habit.  For as the KCC website puts it,

Conservation cannot happen with an empty stomach, hence KCC strongly believes in providing livelihood support to mountain people and facilitating them for alternative livelihood with minimum impact on nature and the rich culture, thus creating a win win situation among nature and its people.
KCC conserves natural and cultural resources through skill development programs, micro planning, awareness campaigns, monitoring of natural resources as well as by advocating for appropriate policy changes. Through KCC and other community level activities Uden now has more waste management, reducing, reusing and recycling programmes. The habit turned into a job creator and in turn she and other community leaders build pro-planet skills and capacities through training, exposure and other participatory means.

When asked about her impressions about APAN 2016 she mentioned that it was her first time at an international forum and was pleasantly surprised by the number of women and young people on panels.  The participation of young people and women is essential for the protection of our planet. Their quest will be helped by better access to information and funds.

Uden also mentioned that while status of women in Sikkim was better off than in other states, they were still hesitant to come forward and raise their voices and stand up for their rights and problematic gender issues. And she emphasized that to be fair, to avoid “na insafy” (injustice) to women, their voices must be heard. Just like with feminization of poverty, the adverse impact of climate change is felt more by women and girls than men, thus it is essential that their experiences and stories are shared.