The SPED III Program acts as a plaform for communities to organize themselves, make connections with local leaders and institutions, and address a variety of poverty-related issues. Here is a wonderful story of a community defending the environment from one of our NGO partners, Raipur Diocesan Social Welfare Society, in Chhattisgarh, India.
In the village of Attarahgudi in Chhattisgarh, the villagers regularly meet to discuss their problems as part of the SPED III Program. During one meeting, the community examined a serious issue that emerged. The trees in a nearby forest were being cut down regularly, which was leading to environmental damage to this important resource. The villagers identified that those responsible were members of their own community.
After some serious reflection, members of the village committee, sanghams, and the local government decided to form a Forest Protection Committee. This committee was given the power and responsibility to safe-guard the trees in the forest.
However, even after taking action, they found that trees were still being cut down. This time, those responsible were coming from another village and could not be caught.
Once again, a meeting was called in the community to address this issue. With the support of the local government officials from the nearby villages, the community members decided to impose a series of sanctions. Anyone caught cutting down the trees would be penalized Rs. 500, their bicycle and axe would be confiscated, they would be socially isolated within the village, and any wood collected would be auctioned to support the Forest Protection Committee.
A few weeks later, a powerful person from a nearby village sent five of his thugs to cut teak from the forest. When the Forest Protection Committee came to know about this, a group of women went to protest their action. But the thugs would not stop and threatened the women with terrible consequences from their powerful boss.
The women returned immediately to the village and shared the story with the community. Together with the local government officials, they took up sticks and succeeded in chasing away the thugs. The next day, they registered the incident with the police.
The women were so affected by these events that they wanted to take some meaningful action to protect the forest in the future. In India, it is a tradition for girls tie beautiful silk threads called Rakhi on their brother’s right hand as a symbol of their emotional bond and their commitment to protect and care for each other. The women decided to tie Rakhis on the surrounding trees as a symbol of their solemn promise to protect the forest as a part of their own family (see above photo).
The action taken by the community of Attarahgudi village provides a wonderful example of environmental protection at the local level and the power of communities to make change when they act with unity and determination. The community did not give up when difficulties arose, but continued to work together to solve their issues. This provides a strong foundation for this village to continue making change in the future and a great example to inspire other communities to take action.