Taking environment-conscious decisions is something that many of us hesitate from or may not have contributed to much. Among the common arguments, people give for the same is,
"Plastics are cheap, greener alternatives are expensive" or "There's only very little that one person can do".
Breaking apart many of these notions, 27-year-old Mohammed Siraj from a small town in West Bengal has been proving the impact that even one individual could bring. Having worked with Non-governmental organisations for most of his career, Siraj had found his leaning toward social work. He believed in individual social responsibility and turned it into a much bigger mission by advocating and creating a collective responsibility. These efforts evolved into the Pahchan Foundation, which Siraj founded in the year 2017.
Bringing together the youth from different parts of India, they undertook several campaigns and missions that paved their way to being recognised by the United Nations(UN) India.
Mohammad Siraj hails from a humble family based in Titagarh in West Bengal. It was this very place that also nurtured his interest in social work and built his interest in building a better tomorrow. While he was in the sixth grade, an NGO visited their locality to work with the children and educate them on many relevant topics. Being introduced to an NGO for the first time and understanding the way they contributed to the community left an imprint on him, which he has been able to cultivate positively.
Starting off as one of the child members coordinating with the NGO, to a youth member, a youth leader, and ultimately founding his NGO, Siraj has consistently been passionate about social work. Even at the times when he took up the role of the breadwinner in his family, he ensured to continue his social work simultaneously. Soon after his high schooling, he stepped into the NGO sector as an employee and opted for a Bachelor's degree in Social Works through the distance education option offered by the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).
Initially, he began the Pahchan foundation as a group with his friend, and it came to evolve into a bigger concept gradually as they connected and worked with national-level organisations and networks. Around the same time, he was also posed with the dilemma of choosing between the full-time work that was paying him sufficiently and Pahchan, as he was not able to dedicate his time adequately. He made the conscious decision to nurture Pahchan; the rest is history.
A Drop In An Ocean Of Waste
A common sight for many in West Bengal is the Hooghly River, the eastern distributary of the Ganges River. Second to this common sight is the reckless disposal of waste in the Ghats that chokes the rivers. Siraj says that thousands of people visit the river every day, either for recreational or religious purposes and end up leaving behind their garbage. As someone who grew up watching the Ghats around Titagarh, he visualised a campaign that would revive the Ganges. Siraj also believed that advocating could only do very little and stepped into the field to be the change he wished to see.
Under the Pahchan Foundation then came about one of the most prominent campaigns- 'Insan Teri Ganga Maily'. A clean-up drive that now completes 83 weeks of dedicated efforts into restoring the legacy of the Hooghly river. As of today, the campaign has been able to collect more than 5,000+ kgs of waste from two Ghats (Glass Kal Ghat & Peer Ghat) of Titagarh. The collected waste would be bagged securely and handed over to the responsible Nagar Paalikas, who would go with advanced segregation and waste management.
Dedicating their weekends to the drive for about three months, Siraj and several volunteers have often spoken of how they find the most absurd materials from the waste, ranging from aadhar cards to syringes. The medical waste, in particular, posed a hazard for the volunteers initially since they did not have much safety gear. It was only after an incident when a volunteer's feet were wounded by a glass shard that they all decided to contribute and purchase basic safety gear such as gloves and gum boots. Despite all the possible risk factors and minimal funding that goes into the foundation, they have sincerely worked towards a cause they collectively believe in.
The ghat cleaning mission was something that many people were hoping to see but held back from initiating it as they believed it to be solely the policymakers and implementers' jobs. Changing this narrative, Siraj and his team of about 70 to 100 volunteers have been doing their part in keeping their environment clean and protected.
Every Little Conscious Choice Matters
The many campaigns undertaken by Siraj presented him with the opportunity to attend the 2019 UN Summit in Indonesia on ecological issues and represent South Asia. The summit was also an eye-opener for Siraj, who got to know more about many impactful global movements, including the young Greta Thunberg's Future for Friday's.
Around the time when the world was struck by the pandemic, he mobilised volunteers and expanded the foundation with impactful initiatives. These include the 'Bacha Toh Baato' campaign that distributed food to many identified slum regions. During many such campaigns, Siraj's team consciously avoided plastic waste and carried food to the slums in drums and buckets. Even today, whenever an event comes ahead, they do their best to ensure that they conduct it in a zero-waste manner.
Many such little conscious decisions from their end have now been recognised nationally. On August 12, Siraj was chosen as one among the six YuWaah Advocates by the UN India. He has been appointed among the selected ones for the next two years to be working in close coordination with the UN ecosystem and be an active part in their decision and policy-making about climate change.
Starting off with small individualistic efforts, Siraj now works toward building the world's largest environmental movement by activating individuals and governments to invest in our planet, with a special focus on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) number 13, 14 and 15.
Also Read: India Slips To Rank 120 On 17 SDGs Adopted As 2030 Agenda, Lies Behind All South Asian Nations