It Is Easier To Build Strong Children Than To Repair Broken Men
August 2010: That stark sentence from Frederick Douglass more or less sums up the raison de etre of Cub magazine, launched soon after Sanctuary Asia began publication in 1981.
Not satisfied with reaching conservation messages to children through print alone, the Sanctuary team, headed by Noel de Sa, an educationist, Anish Andheria, a remarkable wildlifer and I, combined heads and hearts to launch Kids for Tigers, a programme fashioned around the proposition that children exposed to nature will grow up to be adults that will respect and protect nature.
At the time, in 1999, Sunil Alagh, a long-time friend who headed a company that manufactured ‘Tiger’ biscuits, sat me down and worked out a straightforward strategy: “Don’t make Kids for Tigers boring... no long lectures. Don’t give teachers even one hour of more work to do... in fact see how you can save them time. Don’t charge schools anything... get the money from your sponsors. Do bring nature into schools through slide shows and films. Do strengthen school nature clubs. Do involve children’s guardians and make them a part of your massive campaign to save the tiger. Do take the most enthusiastic and intelligent kids and teachers out on nature walks and camps. That’s it. Do this, your job is done.”
We followed his advice. Ten years later, looking back, we realise we have touched over five million kids, taken over 50,000 children out on nature walks and mentored over 1,000 Tiger Ambassadors, capable of explaining at least one simple rationale for protecting tigers to adults: “We cannot save the tiger, without saving its forests. If we save the forest we save every creature residing therein, plus the sources of over 600 of India’s purest rivers. In the process, the forest will sequester and store carbon and help us fight off some of the worst impacts of climate change.”
Today many of the kids we mentored are young men and women in whom the seeds of nature appreciation have been sowed. Perhaps over 70 per cent of Sanctuary’s financial and intellectual resources are dedicated to the proposition that reaching the conservation message to young India, (plus the two parents/guardians that normally come bundled with them!) is the finest way to build strong children, so that tomorrow’s conservationists do not have to go through the painful process we must go through today – repairing broken men.
By Bittu Sahgal